We were living in the metropolitan Phoenix area in the summer of 1995. The girls were at that very tender age of loving all things Disney…and the recent releases of Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast were not helping our pocketbook! Normally we would spend the summer out of the heat of the Valley and in a county RV park in Show Low, AZ in our pop up camper. Literally out of the kiln and into a skillet on slow simmer! This summer, however, my wife was pushing to finish her teaching degree and we remained at home during the week…going north only on weekends and holidays. The year before we had discovered a drive-in movie theatre and watched The Lion King there. Yes, I know this sounds awful in the Phoenix heat, but remember that drive-ins wait until well after dark to run the film. And when you are a struggling beginning teacher, with a wife in school, and four very young girls, it was an obvious financial choice. Actually, the girls had a blast as we brought bags and bags of goodies from home and at show time the temperatures had cooled off to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit!
For the release of Pocahontas, we traveled to the drive in with our friends – my colleague, a brilliant musician and composer/arranger, his wife, and their three young girls who were the same age as our oldest three – and enjoyed a rare night out. The best thing about Disney, from a music educator’s perspective, is that Disney can be counted upon to generate a hit song from virtually every movie they make! Pocahontas was no different. As soon as I heard “Colors of the Wind” I knew it would be one of their biggest hits. And my wife and I liked it as well, which was a HUGE plus! I was on the phone for the better part of the next week contacting friends in the publishing business to see when I could get my hands on an arrangement for my students. We were one of the first to do so at the beginning of the next school year.
Our girls have never outgrown their love of Disney…and our grandsons are catching that virus! Of course, it didn’t help that the Christmas before my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we had managed to discover that Disney had released a box set of every movie, most animated shorts, and television specials they had ever done on DVD (except for “Song of the South”) – 172 discs in total – and we bought one for each family. Our third oldest, who I knew was going to be a great singer actress when I came home from work one day and she, in her proudest four year old voice, said “Daddy, look what I can do!” – and promptly proceeded to push herself up on our big bean bag chair and sing “Part of Your World” with perfect pitch and a healthy vibrato – had “You Got A Friend in Me” played for their first dance at their wedding reception in the Grand Hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne….I’ve never been able to get away from Disney!!!!
Rather than focus on the misery that has much of the country – indeed, the world – gripped right now, I have forced myself to take the time to focus on the good stuff. Videos of my grandsons in home school due to quarantine – and my children obviously experiencing thoughts (but nor verbalizing them) along the lines of “How the F@%* did mom and dad do this for over 20 years?” Reading and meditating start and end my days…I’ve recently finished JG Bennett’s “Sex” (no, not a how to manual, but rather a discussion of how spouses complement each other in a relationship), Solovyov’s “The Meaning of Love,” a couple of Winston Graham’s “Poldark” novels, Boehme’s “40’Questions of the Soul,” St. John of the Cross’ “The Dark Night of the Soul,” Tolstoy’s “Where Love Is, There God Is Also,” Alex Lukeman’s “The Lair of Anubis,” and I am still working my way through Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Donne. I try to avoid watching too much television because I don’t feel it engages my mind or my body. After my recent bout with vitamin deficiency (see the Flintstones post from earlier in April), I know that staying active helps avoid the coronavirus, helps keep me out of deep, dark places, and it gives me time to focus on becoming a better human being.
Besides, for one of my birthday surprises last week, our children convinced a very famous cyclist to video record a personal birthday greeting! This guy was one of our favorites at the Tour de France every year – no, not THAT guy! – and we always felt he embodied what it was like to be a true pro and good human being – a feat often aspired to, but almost never achieved in professional sports. Now, I kind of HAVE to ride! I’ve been inspired!
So what does it mean to be a pro? An amateur? An enthusiast? Does getting paid to do something make you a pro? Hell no! All one has to do is look at the Detroit Lions or Newcastle football club to realize that! Pretty sure that the Lions would be TROUNCED by a college all-star team these days. Before you laugh, you should know that there used to be a game every year between the NFL champs and major college all stars. The All Stars actually won the game nine times and tied twice between 1934 and 1976! Those wins included one over the 1958 World Champion Detroit Lions! Interestingly enough, the first AND last win in the series came over the NFL Champion Packers in the 30’s and the 60’s! Newcastle? They’d find a way to lose to an average club from the Scottish Champion’s League! Nope, pay doesn’t determine professionalism. Outside of sport, there are other examples…Bieber’s “singing”…Jennifer Love Hewitt’s “acting”… Earl Scheib’s “paint jobs”….
A true professional also cares for every aspect of their performance. In my quest for the medicinal Scotch Ale, I have discovered what I know to be very good amateur brewers. They may make a fine ale, but they branch into other areas and styles that perhaps they should not. In my opinion, the best brewery, top to bottom, that I have ever seen is Central Waters out of Amherst, Wisconsin. I believe I may have sampled their entire catalogue, and I have never yet had a brew that I wish I hadn’t. Their Brewer’s Reserve series (Scotch Ale, Stouts, etc) is the very best barrel aged samples I have ever consumed. They care not just about their flagship stuff, but really work hard to make every single beer/ale that leaves under their label the very best example of the style there is. Dedication to quality brewing over such a vast repertoire of styles is simply unheard of. Every brewery has their signature beer…for Founders it is All Day IPA…they also brew a Scotch Ale, but, curiously, they use the same yeast strain in every single one of their beers. This gives them an unmistakable flavor, but it doesn’t capture the style of the target brew as often as does Central Waters.
In undergrad, one of my professors – himself a very famous performer – told us to look around the hall. He said that for 9 out of 10 of us, we would never be more professional musicians than we were at that moment. His next words have remained with me, and I often drilled it into the heads of my students – “You see, a dilettante musician practices until they can get it right. A very good amateur musician practices until they get it right most of the time. A true professional practices until he can’t possibly get it wrong.”
This pro cyclist that recorded a video for me had impeccable timing and cadence skills, as most true professional cyclists do. They know their body’s limits, know how to respond to each fluctuation in road surface and terrain, know when and how much to push, shift, and hydrate….the potential for errors is endless, and even a flawless performance by these phenomenal athletes could end in defeat in a sport frequently determined by hundredths of a second. As much as I have fantasized over the years about being a pro cyclist….no…not for me. And this last month that has been okay.
Watching videos of my grandsons on their bikes has reminded me that I am, after all, a grandfather, and there will never be a Credit Lyonnais bicycle babe waiting for me at the finish with a bouquet of flowers, little stuffed lion, and a yellow jersey. That simply isn’t why I ride. And besides, I would rather it be my wife at the finish line, but….. No, the reasons I ride I have laid out before (see We Can Never Go Back to Before, for example). The joy Rhett and Clark had on their first ride outside this spring…actually, watching Rhett mash away on his two wheeler pedals, and the accompanying look of awe and disappointment on his younger brother’s face as he tried so hard to keep up on his balance bike…priceless! My other grandson’s pre-school had a bike race just before quarantine….Theo’s little legs have all the explosive power that mine do! Pure joy of riding. That’s it.
We had what I hope will be our last snowstorm of the year a little more than a week ago. I wasn’t feeling a hundred percent just yet, but I clearly felt my wife telling me she wanted to go out for a ride. Really? She never liked the cold, and liked to watch the snow fall, but only thru the windows or bundled up on our deck while sipping a protein infused, chocolate heavy mocha! Three inches of snow had fallen – and more was still coming down – but it hadn’t really been sticking to the roads. So after getting all of my heavy winter gear on, I (we) went out on Spartacus.
I hadn’t pedaled more than a mile down the road before I felt her voice singing “Velvet Shoes,” a choral setting of Elinor Wylie’s beautiful text recalling two friends walking through a snow fall. This was one of my favorite texts to teach junior high girls’ choirs. (BTW, the link below is not one of my ensembles…I unfortunately don’t have one) There are several settings, but the one she was singing was one of the two I frequently used – Randall Thompson’s. She would stop singing every so often to call my attention to the sound of the falling snow. At this point, Michigan was still following the governor’s stay at home order and the rural roads were deserted. The sound of the snowfall was deafening for its softness!
About 15 miles farther down the road, I heard her say “Look!” into my right ear, and I turned my head just in time to see a herd of deer come out of the woods, look at me, and run along the roadside beside me for about a quarter mile before disappearing into another copse. How do I know it was her? Because my attention was drawn to their white tails and how they literally were prancing as they ran. I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of deer over the years as I ride. I never before was drawn to details like that. I knew she was delighted and wanted me to simply enjoy the ride without getting caught up in the stats. Before I turned down the final few miles to home, she started in with “The Colors of the Wind.” Really difficult to focus on the road when you have frozen tears coming down your face and your deceased wife’s voice ringing in your ears. And I loved every second of it.
I’m not a pro. My mileage is impressive to many this year, not a big deal to others. But after that ride, I have made a decided effort to not look down at my Garmin. I’ve allowed myself the luxury of taking new roads – even dirt roads on a carbon road racer with skinny tires – not for what it brings to me for points on the wandrer.earth app, but for feeling that same joy that my grandsons do when they take their bikes out. So I can share with them as they get older and they can see that the joy never has to leave you…if you don’t let it.
A good amateur has the right equipment…has most of the knowledge…some of the skills…but doesn’t want to lose the thrill and wonder by making their past time into a job. I’ve had jobs. Several of them. Most of them I even liked. I’m old. I’m a grandfather. My job now is to keep that wonder and thrill going in my grandsons’ eyes so they too can imagine a wider world. One of the best things that has resulted from all of this quarantining is that nature has been able to catch a collective breath. I’ve seen more wildlife near the roads lately…in bigger flocks/herds. The air is purer…there is more quiet. You can hear things like your own heartbeat…and your own conscience…let’s not screw this up!