Tuesday, October 25, 2005

No pressure: teaching English and making music

I now have two excellent things on Monday. I teach a small group of Korean women who belong to a church that is "nesting" at mine until they can have their own place. A little over a year ago, when their pastor was introduced to our church, he mentioned that he'd like someone to help the housewives with English. I introduced myself to him, and sent a follow-up e-mail saying I'd like to do it, but never heard anything back. Then, a few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from him saying he had been going through some old e-mails and found my message. Now I go there two mornings a week, and the housewives are very cultured, very educated ladies and I sometimes feel bad that all I have to offer them are some pronunciation exercises and conversation topics. I really enjoy talking to them.

Meanwhile, I had started taking piano lessons in an adult class at a local music store on Monday afternoons. I felt bad that I had no piano to practice on at home, but it hit me the day before I started doing the English class: I go to a giant old church that must have about a zillion pianos in it. I asked the man in charge of facility use if I could use one, explaining that I was a total beginner. He said that I could use the one in the chapel, which is a lovely, relatively quiet and uplifting place to practice. There is one intimidating factor, though: The chapel is right next to the Korean pastor's office, where his wife assists him. She was a piano major in college and teaches piano, their daughter is a graduate student in piano at MSU, and their son sings for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and they have to listen to some idiot pound out "The Star-Spangled Banner" every Monday and Wednesday at noon. (I just started using the C, F, and G chords this week, and I know they wait with bated breath while I wait for an eternity between each note trying to find the chords.)

Actually, they came in once to talk to me (the wife is in my class) and they were actually very sweet to me. (However, I suspect the lunch at the Korean restaurant my group treated me to last week was to get me away from the piano.;))

The best thing about the English class and the piano class is NO PRESSURE. I have to plan, but I don't have to give tests or grades. If we get a really good conversation going on one topic, I don't have to shift gears so I can complete a curriculum. It's just ladies talking...in English. (...except when there is animated conversation in Korean explaining what I am talking about.) Then I get to go practice the piano and go to my lesson.

The cool thing about my lesson is also NO PRESSURE. The teacher's two favorite phrases are "Whatever you want" and "Just have fun." There is a philosophy about teaching adults being promoted that they are generally not preparing to be concert pianists; they're just looking to have fun and make music. There is actually a magazine discussing this philosophy, and I really like it. A long time ago, a lot of people sang and danced and played music, but somehow we now think that we're supposed to entrust those very human activities to professionals who will do it for us. I don't know if it applies, but there was this great line from the film
Hustle and Flow: "Every man's got the right to contribute a verse." I feel that way about singing and dancing. I mean, I love to hear and see excellent singing and dancing, but everyone's got to participate in some way at some point.

As I said to my husband, I wouldn't say, "I'm not an athlete, so I'm not going to the gym."

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Van Man

One day my son came home from high school and I asked him how his day had been. He said, "We had a van man." I had never seen Chris Farley's character on SNL at that time, so he had to explain that they had had a motivational speaker. Well, yesterday I got to see a "van man": Stephen Covey.(The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His new book is The 8th Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness.) The community college where I work sponsored this event, and generously set aside a certain number of free seats for interested employees. It's very expensive to see him (although the people who paid real money got a luncheon, but I doubt that the food was worth what they were charging the general public...or maybe it was by invitation only. According to the local paper, several local businesss leaders were there, but the only one I recognized was the president of our college.)

The presentation, although hot and long, actually contained some interesting, useful, and yes, motivational information. I also bought a book (continuing to assure that Mr. Covey will never have to live in a van down by the river) and had it signed by the author, who said "I see you as a trim-tab." He explained earlier that a trim tab is the small rudder that turns the large rudder on a ship...so he wrote that in my book: Mary--a trim tab! Stephen Covey

What I am really happy about, though, is I have an addition to my esoteric collection of autographed books: Chuck Pahlaniuk (He wrote Fight Club, but I have Diary and another book whose title I forget, but it's true, weird stuff he's encountered which informs his fiction), a collection of articles by Mitch Albom (before he wrote Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven) because he is such a good writer I actually started reading the sports column in The Detroit Free Press) and Growing Up Brady by Barry Williams (Greg on the Brady Bunch). I used to have a signed book by Mary Daly (GynEcology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism), a former Catholic theologian turned radical lesbian feminist, but I threw it away during a crazy time. I don't buy them already signed at the bookstore: I must meet the author. Another prize possession is my photo with Mitch Albom, except it's on one of my dorkiest-looking days EVER...and that is saying something.

I went home from the Covey presentation all motivated and fired up, then on the radio I heard a soldier in Iraq say, "If I'm breathing, it's a good day." I thought, "Cool! That's my new motto! " and it took me all the way to about 3:00 today, at which time I started questioning the meaning of my life again. Apparently it's amassing an eclectic collection of autographed books.