Tag Archives: high school

X is for the xylophone I almost stole…

… and I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you pesky kids!

(Scooby Doo? Am I the only fan? Ruh roh…)

But seriously, I almost stole a xylophone from Lincoln High School in Ypsilanti, MI.

(And good thing, too, because I don’t know where I’d go with the letter X otherwise.)

Thankfully, we’ve just recently passed the statute of limitations on xylophone-related crimes and I can no longer be prosecuted… so it’s finally safe for me to share this story with you.

Band, and particularly marching band, is a super big deal in high school… if you’re in it.

Nerd alert, right?

Except it doesn’t matter because if you’re in the band, particularly the marching band, you’re too busy learning music and having a blast to care whether it makes you uncool or not.

Which is why that band camp line in American Pie is so universally funny to everyone. If you weren’t ever in band, you probably think they’re making fun of band nerds. But what you don’t realize is– we’re totally in the joke. Because band… well, band is like that. It’s insane. There’s long hours, physical activity, forced closeness, long periods of inactivity, huge commitments, ridiculous uniforms, so many things that make it so unique. And when you’re in it, you know you’re a dork, but you don’t even care. Because band is freaking FUN. Hard, yes. Intense, of course. But so much fun. So bonding. So cool to be a part of.

So that xylophone…

I told you how I was in the drumline, but drums were mainly my thing during the marching season… and only because we didn’t march with any keyed instruments and I liked the snare. It was fun to be part of the group that kept the rhythm– the cadences, the roll offs, the taps after the whistles. But during the concert season, I was dedicated primarily to keyed instruments… bells, chimes, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone. And oh man, I loved, loved, loved playing the xylophone.

NOT the almost stolen xylophone-- this was the completely intact one.
NOT the almost stolen xylophone– this was the completely intact one.

(I also loved playing the beaded gourd, but sadly… only got to do it once during a performance. Perhaps in another life.)

At good old LHS, we actually had two xylophones (perks of having a percussionist as a band director, our section of very expensive, school-owned instruments was quite well-stocked)… one was in need of repair, but was great for practicing. It just had a broken string on the bottom that made some of the keys sound kind of dead, but otherwise completely intact.

Between my junior and senior year, the band director I’d come to know and love/hate (because that’s another thing about band– the director is like a parent and sometimes they throw tantrums and sometimes you do, but at the end of the day, you love each other, so it’s all good) offered to let me take home that busted xylophone for practicing… except he made absolutely no note of it for the incoming director. No one, except the people I chose to tell (you know, other band nerds who would be excited that I had a xylophone in my basement) knew anything about it. It was wonderful!

I kept it all year, no one ever the wiser. I practiced and practiced and practiced on it– particularly Sabre Dance, because it was fast and exciting and made me feel awesome when I played it. (Ugh, my poor parents!)

Until the day after I graduated from high school, when another kid from the percussion section showed up at my house to pick it up. I don’t know how he knew… I guess I must have said something, or maybe I said something to the new director out of guilt? I don’t know. But he came and got it and I was so sad that I got busted. Because that xylophone was sweet.

The other thing that was sweet? Being in the band.

Although I haven’t played a single note on anything other than a table top or a steering wheel since 2001, I still feel like music and being part of the music is a huge part of me. I hum Honor’s Band songs I haven’t heard since 2000 while I’m washing dishes. I play the cymbal part to Stars and Stripes Forever with my bare hands.

I loooove marches. (So does my two month old niece, Claire— it’s spectacular!)

I am a band nerd, through and through. I even almost stole a xylophone.

Maybe I’d still be a musical type person if I actually had.

Regardless, the band was a big part of my life and I will forever love all those people who experienced it with me (Kelly! Christin! Laura! Emily! Other Emily! Tammy! Kacey! Dolly! Alex! Stevie-D! yes, even Evan a little bit! and so on and so forth! you know who you are!). I told you about Tim Haight and making assumptions before… but that was just the tip of the iceberg. I have a million and one stories and even more lessons, but the biggest one is this: cool doesn’t matter. Not nearly as much as you might think. What really matters is what you enjoy. If you enjoy doing the “cool” things, more power to you, but if what you enjoy is anything else– do it anyway!

Turns out: cool, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Understanding that at the age of 15 is a challenge, yes. But when you’re in the band, your peers are in the same boat and at band camp (it’s a very real thing), during sectionals, while marching on the football field or along a parade route, on a long bus ride to band festival, you are cool, because you’re part of something big and fun and empowering and musical.

I imagine any group activity you really enjoy is like that, whether it’s a sport or drama or the school newspaper or yearbook or television station or whatever. These days, for me, it’s blogging (which is surprisingly communal) and book clubs and loving dogs and doing “homely” things that give me that community. That empowerment. That joy. And at 30 years old, it’s a lot easier to not worry about what other people think is cool.

Especially now that I can no longer be held responsible for any xylophone-related crimes. Whew.

The Thing Tim Haight Taught Me, A Long Time Ago

I was in the band starting in 6th grade. I played percussion. I could read music decently well, so I primarily played the bells (the little xylophone-looking thing made out of metal rather than wood) until high school, but also dabbled in drums and other keyed instruments of various sorts (like an actual xylophone).

Any excuse to show off my band uniform– that’s a xylophone, bells on the right. Well, it was a glockenspiel, actually, but same thing.

My freshman year of high school, I officially joined the drumline and played the snare drum when we marched. I don’t know what it’s like to be in any other section of the band because I’ve only experienced what I’ve experienced… but my impression was that drumline was a bit different.

Drumline! My senior year at a football game. See that lady quad player??? The coolest... be impressed by her. Very, very impressed.
Drumline! My senior year at a football game. See that lady quad player??? The coolest… be impressed by her. Very, very impressed.

You see, we had to play cadences (da! dig-a-dig-a-dig-a-da! go!) and keep time while everyone else was marching along between songs. It makes sense, really, since our instruments didn’t require lung capacity (only bladder capacity– those harnesses press down right on your bladder) so we could play and play and play without needing the break everyone else did. Except that meant extra practice, a special drumline coach, and a general level of rowdiness that was disconcerting for a nerdy little goodie-two-shoes like me. Which is what made Tim Haight so scary to me.

Tim was musically gifted, but alternative– to say the least. He didn’t follow the rules and didn’t care if he got in trouble for it (gasp!) and he scared me because people who don’t follow rules and don’t care about the consequences are unpredictable. I made a lot of assumptions about him.

He called me on it one day.

I don’t remember what I had said, done, or assumed or why Tim felt the need to call me on it at that moment, but he said to me, “You know what happens when you assume something, don’t you?”


“You make an ass out of and me.”

Jaw drop, heart stop.

It was a pun (a very, very clever and punny pun!) and it was crazy true.

I had never heard that adage before and I’m sure I reacted to hearing it that time very poorly, but it was a good lesson for me. I’d like to tell you I stopped making assumptions right then and there, but that would be a big fat lie and Tim would probably happen to read this one blog entry and call me on it in front of all of you… so I won’t lie. I do still think of that day from time to time though, and every time I find myself ashamed at the assumptions I continue to make.

Most recently, I’ve found myself making assumptions about other people’s intentions. My therapist called me on it this morning. (I’m not certain, but I suspect Tim may have grown up, changed his name, purchased some khakis, and moved to Marshfield to practice psychology…)

It’s never easy to hear someone else talk about your weaknesses– the things you don’t like about your character, the way you should have acted, the assumptions you shouldn’t have made. But that’s what I pay the good doctor for, so I had to choke it down. And now I’m forced to think about it. Ugh.

Self-awareness can be so obnoxious.

It was a lot easier to live in an assumption-fueled rage.

It shouldn’t be though. Because truly, I pride myself on putting my faith in other people and trusting in them to be doing the things most suitable to their own conscience. At least, I thought I did. But I think when it comes to moments why I feel personally hurt or affronted, I automatically assume that the hurt was intentional. Even though, logically and rationally, I can recognize that that’s probably not the case.

My freshman year of college, I lived in West Wadsworth Hall at Michigan Tech (West Wads!!!) in a hall called Good Intentions… as in what the road to hell is paved with.

The Good Intentions broomball team 2002... cleverly named Cruel Intentions. Because it's the opposite. And opposites are... clever?
The Good Intentions broomball team 2002… cleverly named Cruel Intentions. Because it’s the opposite. And opposites are… clever?

And it’s true. Because despite our best intentions, we still end up inflicting hurt on other people, and no one is immune to that. Myself included. (Waaaahhh!! I’m not perfect!!!!) I have a much easier time forgiving myself for hurting someone with my best intentions, though, than I do forgiving someone else for hurting me– based largely on the assumption that I know their intentions to be malevolent.

(Btw, I really like the words malevolent and benevolent. They’re good words.)

I’d probably be a happier person if I assumed the reverse. If I could think “wow. That hurt. But I trust that to hurt was not the intent, and I can move on” instead.

It’s not nearly as satisfying, of course, because very little feels more satisfying in the short term than self-righteous anger. But it’s probably a lot healthier, emotionally speaking, in the long run. Dang.

I’m certainly not there yet, but having had my assumptions pointed out to me, I can feel something inside me breaking. It makes me feel like I understand why people hold on to power and anger and resentment so desperately though, because it’s painful to let forgiveness and understanding and patience take their place. It’s painful to admit that you were wrong. And nobody likes to be in pain, no matter how temporary.

Tim was older than me and different from me and our paths crossed only briefly, but he was fascinating and he left a mark on my life that I’ll never forget. At 14, I never would have expected his silly words (and a swear word even!) to be so profound, and yet here we are… amazing, isn’t it?

Words With Friends

If you went to a typical American high school, you’re probably familiar with Homecoming.  (If not, please see the movie Grease for a pretty accurate description– you know, the Rydell High pep rally.)  At my high school we also had something called Coming Home and it wasn’t until I moved on and sounded like a confused weirdo talking about Coming Home that I realized that wasn’t exactly normal.  Coming Home is essentially the basketball equivalent of Homecoming… except instead of a parade with floats for each class, we decorated halls in the school (on account of I grew up in Michigan and it was cold and snowy during basketball season).  Every year there was a different themes for hall decorating and each class chose a theme within the theme to decorate their hall.  Tons of fun, in my opinion, way to go LHS!  (Although, despite the hours I remember spending drawing, cutting, painting, taping, etc, etc, etc, I literally cannot remember a single one of the themes… all I remember is a large, cut out Spiderman.  I wonder if that memory is real…)

Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about high school, homecoming, coming home, or pretty much anything I’ve mentioned so far.  What I do want to talk about is recurring themes.  And the fact that sometimes I feel like my life in general becomes suddenly inundated with one.  I come here to share words with you, friends (see what I did there?).  Therefore, the theme du jour: WORDS.

Words are obviously a big part of my life.  I’m a science writer by day and I spend the majority of my time at work reading or writing… putting words together to make other people understand science.  And more recently, with the beginning of this blog, words became even more important to me.  Writing, sharing these words with you, has become so incredibly cathartic.  A powerful dream come true.  A release every night as I put my thoughts down on the page.

Of course, two things don’t make a theme.  A theme is something so much more.  And I’m getting to that.

We talked before about how I like to follow a lot of blogs.  Most blogs consist of words, so again, I take in a lot of words.  But just this week, I read two great posts about the power of words.  My friend Dawn at Cups Running Over was discussing the negativity she was encountering on social media and she said,

“…all these negative words are bad for us!” Then she committed to “using the power of words for good.”

Love, love, LOVE!  Dawn is so right, I highly recommend reading her post.  She says some really thought-provoking things about the way we use social media.  And I love the idea of using our words to spread good.

Next up in this theme of words was a blog post by Bridget at Stumbling Towards Perfect where she describes her knee-jerk reaction to some extremely negative words and the beautiful way in which her daughter responded.  Again, it was a negative post on social media and her daughter chose to respond calmly, to explain to the person who tried to use words to hurt the power of those words, and in the process, taught a lot of people an important lesson.

And still, two more things to go to complete my theme…

I just finished (tonight, actually) reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It was a beautiful book.  And so much of it is about the power of words, for both good and evil.  There were several passages throughout the book that described the power of words that I thought were just so interesting.

“‘Don’t punish yourself,’ she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too.  That was writing.”

Wow.  Yes.

In my experience, writing is cathartic.  Sometimes it is hard, it can be painful.  But it is so rewarding, and sometimes I even make myself laugh out loud.  (Because, as you already know, I am so funny.  And humble, too.  Hmmm… humility.  I have a LOT to say about that.  But one thing at a time.)

And then the last line of the Book Thief’s book.  She writes:

“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”

Dang.  Yes again.

Words can be so personal.  They can be so personified.  Seriously, I find myself falling in love with the words I put on the page.  And when I find that magical turn of phrase, I simply can’t imagine it any other way.  But then sometimes the words don’t come out right and they don’t sound like I want them to sound and I hate them for not being just so.  Writing.  It’s complex.

And in the midst of all this, because of all these words, I reconnected with an old friend who is now an English teacher.  (Oh, I am going to say some things about what I consider the vocation of teaching someday.  So important.)  She told me she like reading along (so nice!  she made me feel so good!) and we talked for a while about the power of words and she told me that people don’t think of English as a powerful subject and write it off as “touchy-feely.”

Ugh.  No.

Words are crazy important.  And the people that teach us to use those words are the people who give us power… yes, they give us the power to express our feelings to one another, but they also give us the power to inspire, to persuade, to share, to reason, to communicate.  There is immense power in all of that.  Think of just a few extreme examples: of Hitler persuading his countrymen to kill millions with words, of Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy persuading thousands and thousands of parents not to vaccinate their children against deadly and debilitating diseases with words… but on the other hand, Martin Luther King, Jr. used words to inspire thousands to take to the streets and march for equality and John Stewart uses funny words to make serious points about systems that are very broken.  Do you see how powerful words can be?  (Do you also see how italics and heavy use of parenthetical statements and elipses (that’s the dot-dot-dot) make you read my words in the same way I would speak them to you?  Cool, huh?)

So that, friends, is my thing with words.  (See, I did it again… yes! title for the win!)  It’s a recurrent theme, these words, and I hope you like the way I’m using them.  I also hope that someday my teacher friend will take me up on my offer to share her words, too.  Because I know she’s got some good ones inside of her dying for an audience!

Update 9/9/13:  SoMeOne, who shall reMain nameless (seriously, how clever am I?), pointed out that there are several typos in the post above– ironic considering it’s all about words.  Dang!  I was going to read it again, find them, and correct it, but… when I actually got here that all seemed like an awful lot of work.  So, the typos remain.  Please accept my apologies!