Anatomy of a Thing

Most of my life, I’ve had things. Other people call them hobbies or obsessions, but probably the best description in my case is a thing. When I was in college it was music and playing bass. Lately, it’s been WoW and gardening. With these it’s very hard to trace where they began. I’ve always loved video games, gardening and music, and the beginnings of those loves are lost in my own pre-history. But with my newest thing I want to try to trace the very beginning of it all right here, and follow its evolution as it happens. It’s my new project, and I like projects.

It started last summer while grading. I hate grading papers. I would rather grade 100 exams than papers. For those of you who thought that your teachers loved grading papers, let me pop that illusion right now. Real teachers like teaching, getting in the classroom and making you smarter. Evaluating you is just part of the gig. Grading papers is to English teachers what the act of emptying the catbox is to indoor cat owners. While it’s not our favorite thing to do, it is a necessary byproduct that can’t be ignored.  And if it is your favorite thing to do, you’re just fucking creepy.

Anyway, I was getting less and less motivated to keep plowing though the latest intellectual abortion to cross my desk, so I went into YouTube to find my favorite ambient meditation video. After it finished playing, I saw this lovely green forest image in the suggested videos, so I gave it a click.

The flute I heard was more soothing than anything I’d ever encountered before, and staring at that lovely emerald image calmed me down and helped me focus and get through the mental colonoscopy of grading my 26th paper about Poe. Not even Enya can smooth me over like flute music. Give it a listen, and you’ll agree it’s not like the European idea of a transverse flute or recorder. There’s something to this, something deep and ancient and spiritual.

This got me interested in Native American flutes (NAFs) in general. I started reading about what simple instruments they are, how easy they are to play, and how they’re being used to help people with anxiety, PTSD and traumas. I also noticed how different the YouTube comments for NAF players were. They were all supportive and very positive, not the normal hate faucet you see splattering all over even the most universally agreeable videos. Then I started wanting one. You see, I’ve spent my entire life wandering from instrument to instrument, from bass to recorders to Irish whistles, looking for the one that I can pick up and be a god on in ten seconds or less. Strangely, my search has yet to yield such an instrument.

For instance, I always sort of wanted to learn piano, but it’s so intimidating, both in expense and instruction time. I have images of sauntering over to tickle the ivories at a party and get the crowd going with “Tiny Dancer”, but that doesn’t come easily. It usually means being the victim of a piano teacher who somehow escaped Nuremberg, who corrects my posture with a cattle prod and screams, “Now play!” After two years I’ll be able to stumble through “The Wheels on the Bus” like a drunk toddler, and I’ll hate myself for my lack of commitment and failure to meet my impossibly-high goals. Bloody hell, I can get a gym membership for far cheaper and get the same end result.

But the NAF is different. Granted, my untutored fumblings with recorders and tin whistles laid a groundwork, but this really is an instrument you just pick up and go with. If you’re playing from the heart, you’re doing it right.

So that’s how my interest started. My next post will be the next step down the road to a new thing.

3 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Thing”

  1. Mat – I’m so glad I get email notifications for your blog. I always love reading your blog posts; your analogies make me laugh. Keep ’em coming. 🙂

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