encouragement

Exit 189. Even though I haven’t talked to her in a decade, what she said stuck with me.

I had a rough day at work on Thursday.  Many of the students are at a point where they just don’t care.  They don’t yet have the maturity to understand that they need to do some work in order to be successful in school or in life.  So, as a consequence of that, they are completely lost in class, and they can’t tell me the main idea of what we’ve been learning all week even though they literally should have been writing it in their notebook at least once a day and using it on their homework.  (You know, the homework they didn’t do.)

I was sitting in my classroom, looking at the music on my phone, trying to figure out what to listen to while I graded papers during my prep period.  My prep is the second to last period of the day, so I had one more class to go after that.   I came across a playlist with a noteworthy title: “Listening To A Hug.”

I made this playlist, but I didn’t coin this title.  Someone who I used to know from Carbon Leaf‘s online fandom did.  In 2004, when Carbon Leaf was first touring nationwide and I was very active in their online fan community, they recorded and released a song called “Let Your Troubles Roll By.”  The song has regularly been on their live set lists ever since, usually played toward the end of the show.  Another regular on their fan message boards, we’ll call her “Naos,” wrote something about how she loved this song.  “It’s like listening to a hug,” she said.

For a few years in the middle of the last decade, I made a lot of friends through Carbon Leaf’s online fan sites, and I met some of those people in person during my 2005 travels.  Some of them I am still friends with today.  Naos, however, is not one of them.  One time I was bored online as I often am, I messaged Naos on AIM to say hi, and she replied something like, “Don’t you ever have anything better to do than message people online?”  We never spoke again.  Thanks for showing me your true colors.

But, even though I haven’t talked to her in a decade and have no desire to, what she said about listening to a hug stuck with me for many years.  Several years later, I was listening to Let Your Troubles Roll By, and I thought about this, and I thought about other songs that have felt that way to me.  So I made a playlist of such songs, and I called it “Listening To A Hug.”  I hadn’t listened to it all the way through in a long time, but I rediscovered it a few days ago when I was having a rough day at work, as I described above.  And I listened to it, at least as much as I could until the period was over and the students came back.  And I was much more calm for the last class of the day.

Some of the songs on my Listening To A Hug playlist are well-known classics by some of the greatest artists in the history of music.  But some are by lesser-known artists.  Some are down-album tracks by well-known artists.  Some were big hits for a brief time that have mostly been forgotten.  (Interesting side note: I was curious exactly when I first put this playlist together, because a few of the songs were by artists well known at the time I made the playlist but haven’t really followed since then.  The original file on my computer says it was created February 18, 2013.  Exactly five years ago today.  Weird.)  Also, normally when I make playlists like this, I try not to use the same artist too many times, and with a playlist of this length I would normally not use the same artist more than once.  I kind of violated that with two songs with Michael Jackson on vocals, but one of them was from early in his career with the Jackson 5, and the other was the last song he completed in his lifetime, so they really don’t sound all that similar at all.

I should also point out that I left Christian music off of this playlist.  I was really into Christian music from the mid-90s until the mid-2000s, and I still listen to Christian music occasionally.  But I already had a lot of comforting playlists with Christian music.  I wanted to try to do one with secular music just to see what it would turn out like.

Here’s my playlist.  I know I have a very eclectic taste in music, I don’t expect all of you to like all of my songs, but maybe you’ll find something here that is like listening to a hug for you too.  (I tried to use legal official videos and songs wherever possible.  If any of the links don’t work someday, let me know.)

Exit 134. Thankful.

Since 2009, I have been attending a weekly partner dance event at a dance studio in Sacramento.  When I first started, it was a combination of blues dancing and West Coast swing; it has now changed to blues-based fusion dancing.  Since around 2011, I have volunteered to work the front desk, taking people’s money for part of the night.

Every year, on the weekend of Thanksgiving, this group has an event where, essentially, we write notes to each other to tell others why we are thankful for them.  Everyone has a bag with their name on it for people to just drop notes in as the night goes on.  This is one of my favorite nights of the year, at least as far as dance activities go.  I’m not trying to be an attention whore, but it is a great uplifting encouragement to see that someone took time out of their evening to tell me that they enjoy dancing with me, seeing me welcome them every week, or that I make great chocolate chip cookies.

In addition to this, I also look forward to the opportunity to tell others that I enjoy dancing with them, or just talking to them between dances.  I’m not always good at saying this kind of thing to someone face to face, because of my introverted nature, and this gives me a chance to express something I might not be able to do otherwise, as well as to make others feel the same way I do about this night.

What always strikes me about this is that it is provides a contrast to the way I often feel about the blues fusion community in general.  Specifically, I often feel that I don’t fit in, to the point that I question whether my continued involvement in blues fusion dance is helpful or harmful.  I enjoy the dancing itself, but I am not a dancer by nature.  I had no experience with dancing, other than a few awkward moments at middle and high school dances, until that brief time in the late 90s when swing dancing was a huge fad.  I got back into swing from 2007 until about a year ago when I got really busy with life, and I still go occasionally.  I got into blues a couple years later through some regulars there who I already knew from swing.  To this day, I still feel like I’m doing this more just for fun, as opposed to trying to be the best dancer ever and win competitions.  I don’t have time to devote to training for dance competitions, taking lots of classes and workshops, or traveling to multi-day dance festivals in other states, as many of my dance friends do on a regular basis.  The blues fusion community also tends to attract people with lifestyles and values very different from my own; I want to be accepting of others, but given my much more conservative and sheltered upbringing, I often find their lifestyles strange and a little frightening.  I often feel isolated because of this, and sometimes others will say things, or share links on social media, that I find hurtful toward people with values like mine.

But despite all that, the blues fusion community continues to surprise me with the kind of notes they write to me for this event.  Sometimes I get complimented by people I don’t know well about things that wouldn’t even have crossed my mind as something I did that others would appreciate or remember.  I even had someone tell me in person that she started to write me a note, but didn’t put it in my bag because she had a lot more to say than would fit on the card, and she didn’t want to write me a “half-assed” note, so she would give it to me next week after she finished.  Of course, that made me feel like the three-sentence note I had written to her was pretty half-assed, but that’s not the point.  The point is that, despite the fact that I feel so different from these people on the surface, there are many nice people in this group, and so often human beings have so much more in common than the differences that we choose to obsess about.  So maybe I need to be looking for the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives.

Exit 105. A little recognition and encouragement would have helped.

On Friday, one of my students was carrying two Mylar balloons filled with helium around school with her.  Both of them had congratulatory messages on them, and I overheard her telling several of her friends who apparently did not read the balloons that it was not her birthday.  I asked her what the balloons were for.  There was a special barbecue lunch that day for students who had made honor roll the previous quarter, and she said that her aunt and uncle (whom she lives with) had gotten them for her because it was the first time she had ever made honor roll.  I said good job, and gave her a fist bump.

Then I started thinking.  This student really has made a turnaround since the beginning of the year.  Some of it certainly seems to be related to changes at home.  She started the year living with her mother and doing just enough work in my class to get a D.  She moved in with her aunt in December, and she has been doing pretty solid B work ever since.  I reserve Thursday afternoon for students who want to come to the classroom to work or to get extra help, and while she is often chatty when she comes in Thursday afternoon, she has been the most regular of any student all year, and she usually at least gets work done while she’s chatting and being silly.  Some of you who know me in real life, or from Facebook, remember her from a story I told about a Thursday afternoon a couple months ago.  She showed me a worksheet where she had to label diagrams of a penis, testicles, vagina, and ovaries, and she said, “Look what we’re learning in science class!  It’s disgusting!”  Later that day, she said something about her history class, where the regular teacher is out on maternity leave.  She then holds up her science homework and proclaims, “When she comes back next year, I’m going to show her this, and I’m going to say, ‘I KNOW how you got pregnant!'”

Anyway, the first thought I had was that it was nice of her aunt and uncle to encourage her for making honor roll.  She really has started working harder, and she deserves some kind of recognition for it.  But then I thought of the hundreds of students who made honor roll and did not receive any balloons from their parents.  Of course, they are recognized by the school with certificates, and this barbecue, and students with straight As additionally received a coupon for In-N-Out Burger.  (As I was passing them out, I told the students that if they didn’t like In-N-Out Burger, they could feel free to give me their coupon, and I’d put it to good use.  No one did, unfortunately.)  But I know that it often means more to a child, or even to an adult, to be recognized by those closest to him or her.

My past is full of times when I felt that my talents went unrecognized.  Mediocre students would often talk about their parents giving them money or rewards for good grades, and nothing like that ever came up for me, because I always got good grades.  I’m not saying that I necessarily agree in all circumstances with the concept of material rewards for good grades.  But a little recognition and encouragement would have helped.

Friends, if you have children, encourage them at things that they are good at, even if they are already consistently performing well.  If you have adult friends who are overcoming challenges of any sort, encourage them.  Tell them that it is inspiring to see their hard work.  Maybe they need to hear it, even if you never doubted their ability to complete these challenges.  And those of you who are running marathons, practicing healthier lifestyles, pursuing advanced education, or doing volunteer or missionary work in disadvantaged environments, good for you.  Thank you for sharing.  I enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor and your hardworking spirit.