Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Too Many Words.

Wasn't that a line from Amadeus?

It's also a good name for this post - which is my next 3 answers.

Ok – got out of work later than expected (9pm, sigh) so can’t play with this as much as I’d hoped to tonight – but I will start with Scott-O-Rama’s 2 easier questions. Might do a 3rd if I get going well. Here goes…I think I’ll start light & fluffy!

1. If you could have any one super power, what would it be?

I think I would choose the ability to telepathically communicate with animals. Are there any extant superheroes that do that? Aquaman could communicate with sea creatures – and then of course he had the breathing-underwater thing going on – but I’d like to be able to talk to land animals as well. It would be especially fascinating to see how wild animals think – I already know a fair amount about how dogs, cats and horses communicate, having spent a lot of time around & read a lot about these three. For example – did you know that a direct look, to a cat, is a challenge, whereas if you glance at them & then close your eyes or glance away, that’s friendly? I think that part of why cats always seem mischievously drawn to people who dislike cats is that those are the people who are least likely to be staring at the cute kitty & kitty interprets that as “I mean you no harm”. But wild animals – that’s a whole different kind of mind in there, not one bred to be amenable to people’s whims. Just to be able to somehow let a wild animal know that I mean them no harm, so that they’d keep on about their business – that would be amazing. My grandparents on my mom’s side used to live in Basking Ridge, and there were whitetailed deer in the woods that backed up to their very large backyard – they’d come out at twilight to graze, and I remember going out and sitting with my back against a tree, waiting for them to come out, then when they did, holding as still as I could so that they would come close enough for me to really see them. And then my nose would start to itch. How nice it would have been to be able to just tell them that I was just going to scratch my nose now, no need to go bounding away.

Now I did go take the Quizilla "which X-man are you most like?" quiz just to get in the superpower frame of mind. I was most surprised to find that I am most like Professor X.

2. What do you most fear?

I have terrible stage fright – I literally start shaking when all eyes are on me. Ensemble performing is fine - I’m actually a pretty good singer, and at one time sang with an excellent choir – I loved the blending of the voices, fitting mine in with all the others. I also play Irish traditional music on the tin whistle - I used to play the flute when I was younger so that would’ve been the obvious choice except that my good concert flute with the B-flat foot got stolen in college, the cheap student-flute replacement I bought a few years back just isn’t the same, and a tin whistle has decided benefits – it costs fifteen bucks tops and I just keep one in my backpack so it’s there if I get a whim to go play at the Tuesday night session I attend one every few months. Mixed in with other people, I am a passable, or at least inoffensive, musician – I can relax and just let the tunes unwind. But if it comes my turn to start a tune, and I start something that nobody else knows and find myself playing an unplanned solo – even if it’s a tune that I can play perfectly well – I just get more and more scared until I stop.

So how does a person with stage fright become a kayak instructor? Actually, the reason I can is that when I’m teaching, and a class is going well – it becomes very participatory, feels more to me like an ensemble than me giving some sort of performance for an audience. Even during a dry-land class like chart reading, or tides and currents, I’ll strive for a discussion, not a lecture – I’ll guide it enough to make sure we get to the points I think the students need to know, but the less I have to steer things to do that, the better I like it.

3. What are you the most proud of?

I am very proud of the number of people with whom I’ve been able to share my knowledge of paddling and my love of the Hudson specifically and “live water” (which is how I tend to think of oceans and rivers and lakes in general, as opposed to…well, pool water, which is tamed water, not alive in the same way). But I think the thing that gives me the most confidence in myself, at a level I never had before that day – was something I did on September 11th (yes, sorry, going there again) between the 1st & 2nd hits. I had run into the mall at the base of the towers when the first plane hit WTC 1– as the police began to evacuate the mall, I ended up leaving via the Church Street subway station, which extended pretty far north (I wanted to stay underground as long as I could because I didn’t know if it was safe up above). I walked through the doors to the station to find that an E train had just come into the station & let off a trainload of morning commuters who had NO idea what had just happened (remember – this was maybe 2 minutes after the first plane) and all started to walk towards me to go into the mall to go to work.

I stopped. I looked behind me into the mall. No police. I looked at the token booth clerks. They didn’t seem to have any clue that anything strange was going on. No announcements were being made. So I stopped where I was and began to make announcements myself - using my strongest river-guide “authority” voice to say that there had been an explosion, and the mall was being evacuated, and no one should go in there. I kept it up until people were mostly turned around & the word was clearly being passed to people further back. I didn’t want to be there – I was scared half to death myself, I didn’t know what was happening, I had just heard this terrible explosion above me just as I was going inside & I fled inside without looking up (cold war “don’t look at the fireball” training kicked in). The whole time I was turning people back from going in (which felt like an eternity but can’t have been more than two or three minutes max) a rather resentful little voice in my head was whimpering “This is not my job, I shouldn’t have to do this” – but then there was another not-so-little voice saying “Somebody should do this and nobody else is. So do it.”

I would not call it a major act of heroism – more a minor courageous moment – and just one of a whole lot of courageous moments of all magnitudes went on there that day. But the fact that I was able to listen to the not-so-little voice, the one that was thinking about other people’s safety, not the little voice that said “Not my job!” (which was actually absolutely true, it wasn’t) and have even a minor courageous moment even when – I think that was pretty good.

Understand, of course, that I’d give it all back in a snap if there was some way to undo that day.

And talking about it feels like bragging.

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