Last night was the “season finale” of an online astronomy club I host for kids. Zoom is typically a deadly boring format, but with a lively bunch, we electrify each other with questions and discussion about the cosmos.
“Could you send a robot into a black hole to get photos?”
“What constellations can you see tonight?”
“So…all these gas giant planets out there, right? If you farted enough, could you make your own planet?”
I laughed, and then told him how to figure it out.
“Google the mass of Jupiter. Hmmm…Well, that seems a tall order, however….”
Later on, the same kid: “The Milky Way looks like a sandwich. Could you…eat it?”
“Practically: no. Philosophically: maybe. Actually: the elements in your lunch started out in the core of a star, so you already are, buddy.”
Another kid got wound up about this concept of ancient materials, waving his arms around. “It’s like…it’s like….we’re so YOUNG, but then, we’re so OLD, but then…we’re so YOUNG…it’s like…WHICH ONE IS IT?”
The hour was up before you could say Albert Einstein, and with cries of “have a great summer! Clear skies!”, we parted.
I wandered out, said hello to the horse in his paddock, ate some noodles, and prepared for the Grand Finale.
My last “guitar student” was about to call in for his last lesson.
“Hey Mary, this is Josh the Guitar Teacher, calling about a reschedule.”
“Hey John, this is Josh the Guitar Teacher, calling to confirm tomorrow’s lesson.”
If I had a dollar for every time I left those messages, greeted those folks….oh wait, I do.
I was a guitar teacher for nineteen years.
Was is usually a weak word to write. It’s very lazy, just a distancer. (ha.)
Unless it’s used for the first time, when it becomes a distancer of one’s own history, the stake in the ground that marks the difference between Then and Now.
I was a guitar teacher.
That will get it’s own essay. The early years, the patient students, the epic jam sessions, the dazzling skill of “ordinary” teenagers, the vital conversations, the continued friendships…But that’s for later.
“Wait…what?” I asked “Amir.”
It had started years ago, when he was fourteen or fifteen. He had sat in my studio with purple and green and graffiti walls. “I have these thoughts, but don’t know how to say them.”
I leaned in, gray hair starting to show under my neon hat. We were both on the verge of taking life seriously (in a good way).
“Of course you don’t. You’re a teenager. Why would you know? Figure it out, and start fumbling around to see what happens.”
I wondered then if I had leaned a little too hard on him. There was probably coffee involved, and the influence of wisdom that wasn’t mine.
The Jordan Peterson video was circulating in my brain: “It’s terrible when people say to a kid they’re perfect the way they are. It’s like no, you’re not, but you could be something if you tried.”
I’ve told a lot of kids a lot of things. Some have taken the major scale, and thrown it in the trash. Others have recorded albums with it. I’m a butler, someone who says “yes sir, you’ll find who you’re looking for down the hall and to the right.” What happens after that is a mystery. Sometimes there’s a direct influence, but it’s usually indirect, echoed, jumbled, and on them. It’s an honor to simply be in the same room when someone sees the music to “Smoke on the Water” and then runs with it, for whatever reason.
For whatever reason(s), Amir became a thinker. (And a good guitarist.)
The Present Day
“Let me start from the previous paragraph.”
My guitar sat ignored on my lap, a formality.
He propped a copy of Plato’s The Republic on his desk, and read me what Socrates had to say about the arts of medicine serving people, not the other way around.
My face was in danger of getting stuck in a bewildered, dimly comprehending scrunch.
“Okayyy….I think I get that. And hey wait, ow do you think that could fit with Artificial Intelligence, if we were to look at that?”
We figured that a machine in a way is more beholden than people, counterintuitive as that sounds.
The crowning moment of the whole conversation was in the middle. This dude who had sat in front of my neon wall and told me he felt inarticulate….
“Your concept of God is Platonic in how it exists outside of time and space, and it’s a higher ideal, like one of his Forms.”
I fell back in my chair, stunned, seeing some of my most important thoughts suddenly clarified, snapped into focus, a fuzzy tower of ideas reassembled, articulated.
The call wound to a close. We’ve got a meeting next week: our first ever philosopher’s club, something I’m threatening him with indefinite membership until one or both of us is dead.
I played an E chord - the first I had ever learned, and the chapter of nineteen years resonated for a moment, and then faded, done.
Thank you, Waldorf.
For those about to rock…We salute you.
Keep on rockin’, and subscribe (it’s free).