Be Steel My Pulsing Heart

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StPls.jpg"And," he added, turning to Katrianna, "it's nice to meet you, too."  Sidney held his hand out to her...

Oh no! She was suddenly shy-struck.

STPpe.jpgHere? Now? This, despite all of our exaggerated & exuberant "How do you do, And how do you do, And how do you do again" nursery rhyme handshaking sessions begun almost at birth, Richard Scarry's Polite Elephant reinforcement of the finer points of etiquette, and my own determination that our homeschooling kids would not be socially inept? And yet, at various times throughout their childhoods, Mikaela & Katrianna have alternately been overcome by silence. Or experienced urgent, rapt absorption with any stray object located on the ground. Or have inexplicably lost all sensation & mobility in their arms, hands and the cerebral cortex-common courtesy region (could it be an involuntary response of their fluctuating nervous systems?).  

"Well, okay then," Sidney said, "I'll just take a hug instead." And he did.

Though it happens with predictable regularity, the girls' rude-imentary lapses in social skills still take me by surprise every time. Their extroverted phases lull me right up until the sporadic moments that they re-intro-vert themselves. Now I know this cannot really be attributed to our homeschooling. I remember doing the very same thing when I was a kid, repeatedly bewildering my mom at the most inopportune or embarrassing times. When she tried to talk with me about it later & ask what had happened, I was unable to explain it, even to myself. Then, when I was a teacher, I watched freshmen high schoolers work through those first weeks of insecurity with about as much self-assurance & panache as the 18-month-old toddlers who'd so amused me when I'd taught preschool...

Still, there's nothing that adequately prepares a parent to handle those awkward moments that persistently arise in spite of one's conscientious efforts to prepare a child to conduct herself with civility & charm... and then watch as she completely blows it. Well, there was nothing, until Katrianna met Sidney.

StPlsH.jpgWe were introduced in person for the first time this past summer while Steel Pulse was on tour. Sidney Mills plays keyboards & is the band's musical arranger. That afternoon, Chris was meeting with lead singer & songwriter David Hinds, Selwyn Brown - also on keyboards, band manager Rich Nesin & Sidney to discuss marketing ideas & potential internet campaigns, especially those promoting charitable partnerships. The girls and I had come along because we were all going to attend their concert later that night. But, to be honest, it wasn't just Katrianna who felt a little self-conscious, so M&K & I quickly left Chris alone to impress the rest of the guys by himself & went off to do all kinds of important things while we waited (primarily reading Calvin & Hobbes comic books in the restaurant next door).
But, we'd known Sidney - even if he hadn't known us - for many years prior to that. Long before we had kids, Chris & I globe-cooled: we would travel anywhere in Texas to see Steel Pulse in concert. (Ok, so Texas isn't truly "global" & we weren't actually cool, but...) Theirs was our first date concert & a valid enough reason to skip work anytime to drive 800 miles for a Reggae SunSplash festival. [The most strange & memorable being a San Antonio concert happening in concert with the 1994 World Cup's opening day & the Houston Rockets' NBA Championship playoff game 5, watched on a tiny, borrowed, handheld tv while driving - amazingly, Hakeem stood .610" tall, yet still managed to dunk on Ewing! Then, part way through Steel Pulse's show, the big stage screens broke away from close-ups of David singing or Grizzly on drums to show a white Bronco in a slow-speed police chase? The music stopped & an announcer explained it was OJ Simpson. Everybody stared at the images & each other. StPlsSAo.jpgThe jamming resumed. The next morning, at our favorite, most popular, jam packed 'secret' bakery in San Antonio's Market Square, every single table had ordered not the usual coffee or tea which complement Mexican pastries, but glasses & whole carafes full of orange juice... It just doesn't take much subliminal messaging, does it?]
Over the years, I'd also consistently taken every single opportunity to play Steel Pulse's singles in my classroom (the long-play versions whenever possible). Sometimes, it even fit in with what we were studying! On the first day of school, students walked in to Grab Education. Certainly, that set the right tone in the kids' minds: this woman is so dorky she plays music about education - or - this woman is so cool she plays reggae music & calls it school. If it was a successful year, I kept 'em on the fence (or should I say on the ropes?) & guessing like that, unable to come to a definitive conclusion, until well past spring break (if ever).

MLK2.jpgWhen I'd first begun teaching, the headmaster chose to emulate the I'm-not-ratifying-it-hold-out-hero-senator John McCain & refused to honor Martin Luther King, Jr Day (although, acting under the auspices of a private school charter, they seemingly found it appropriate to take every other Monday off as some sort of patriotic holiday). So, I respectfully showed up for work anyway - to moderate debates about the validity of observing MLK's Day as a national holiday and play Steel Pulse's Taxi Driver, Sweet Honey in the Rock's Peace & Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday for my 9th graders. The juniors got to read Alice Walker's 1955 Elvis fable, then listen to Steel Pulse's Roller Skates & tie it all back into our studies of the relationship be'Twain Huck Finn & Jim... Within a couple of years, our school's board voted to take MLK day off after all. Accordingly, I switched my curriculum. Our MLK class celebration was moved to the preceding Friday so the kids (and their parents) could dwell on it all 3-day weekend long.

My American Lit scholars also learned that David Hinds & ee cummings have a lot in common: Wild Goose Chase & pity this busy monster, manunkind seemed a perfect pairing to write about Modern disillusionment. Yet, interestingly, Chant a Psalm hearkened back to Puritan era selections. And Throne of Gold might just have been the sequel to Anne Bradstreet's To My Dear & Loving Husband (I also put Your House with Upon the Burning of Our House, July 10, 1666, so they could prove to me how thematically unalike? they were). For Civil War literature studies & our related, subsequent discussions about apartheid in South Africa, we had an obvious State of Emergency. And, along with contemporary political & environmental poetry, Earth Crisis (matched with Marvin Gaye's Mercy, Mercy Me & What's Going On) inspired some spirited exchanges, as well as good creative writing pieces.

Whoops, sorry about that, went off a little bit here
--- we teachers get so bogged down in believing that what we do might actually matter to others. My bad. Now returning to this decade & the 21st century... Once again, let me hear ya put your hands together for the real, live                     STEEEEEEEL PULSSSSSSSSSSE!

From then on, each time we saw Sidney that evening, he'd offer his hand to Katrianna. As she added another scuff mark to the toe of her tennis shoe by way of response, her emerging smile grew increasingly visible. Sidney'd give her another gentle hug, along with an extra backstage pass, & continue with his equipment prep and pre-show routine. 

During the concert, we got to sit in the special "Friends of the Band" roped-off section, a privilege to which the girls were completely oblivious no matter how many times their impressed parents tried to convince them it proved Mom & Dad's ultimate, verifiable hipness. Frankly, Mikaela was too preoccupied with maintaining her tween 'rep,' regardless of the fact that no other tween, besides her sister, was anywhere in sight. Still, she kept busy looking nonchalant, taking some photos & bootleg videos, as well as alerting us with "Timber!" every time some Man No Sober guy was falling in our direction. And, despite the fact that once upon a time she rocked [asleep] to Rally Round the Flag, Reggae Fever & Brown-Eyed Girl as her most preferred lullabies, now she stood-fastly refused to dance. [Again, I tried to be as understanding as I could -- that is, while simultaneously jumping up & down in my signature, syncopated, reggae rhythmic, spastic style. For I'd acted the same way long, long ago when my mom took me to St. Stephen's Coffee House, a 1970s hippie version of an Episcopal church. Everyone sat in a big circle on the floor, a couple of guys played acoustic guitar & people joined hands to sing folksy, Cat Stevens-type tunes by candlelight. I never let on that I liked it, shrugging off encouraging participation nudges from Mom and all those other annoyingly warm, glowing faces. As we (I mean, they) crooned only slightly altered C'mon, baby, light my fire sanitized lyrics, all that was missing was a real bonfire - perhaps that would have brought me in? So hard to tell with a tween... Although, while we waited between Steel Pulse sets, I asked our friendly, frazzled usher if reggae or rock audiences were more difficult (well, after allowing for those notoriously riotous Christian rockers). No, she set me straight, it was the bluegrassers- they'd set fire to the seats & rope lines only weeks before. There, now we know who's really got it going on, don't we?]

StPlK.jpgHowever, 'bashful' Katrianna happily danced, bounced & sang alongside me until pure exhaustion made her smooth moves more of a hang-over-mom's-shoulders sway. Yet, once the concert was over & we went backstage again, she instantly revived by running up & down the ramps as the stage crew broke down the equipment. We joined the band in their "headliner" dressing room, standing around at the edges trying to be both unobtrusive & take in our first-ever, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the rockstars' world. Soon, Sidney took control again, sparing us from the overwhelming strain of trying to summon & then project our own auras of coolness (good thing, since I'd forgotten to bring mine... plus I couldn't even remember where I'd seen it last). He directed Katrianna to please take his seat, a primo, overstuffed, fully-featured deluxe chair. Ahhhh, so that's where her comfort zone had been hiding! Immediately, she turned to David, confidentially sharing - amid giggles from her Throne of Recliner - "When I was little, I used to think you were singing 'Sitting on a doughnut hole!'" Somehow, David managed to laugh as though that was funny, but Katrianna was so tickled with her own hilarity that she didn't really notice. Then Chris tried to help the joke along. By singing aloud a few bars from Throne of Gold directly to David. It worked, all right -- it was so embarrassing to everyone involved, the whole room's attention was promptly diverted completely away from us...

StPlsDH.jpgWhich gave us more time to look around. And notice a fridge well-stocked with varieties of organic, soy & almond milks and tables laid out with abundant choices of fresh fruits, avocados, tomatoes, whole wheat breads, bottled waters & all-natural juices. Though David offered, Mikaela was much too shy to partake in any of it, but fully appreciated observing that his after-concert meal was "All vegetarian!" Her confidence now bolstered, without warning she blurted out, "So, David, have you finished Dreams from My Father yet?!" And, again, one of our daughters had managed to leave him slightly stunned. Not that it was a fair contest exactly, since previous to this moment David did not know he was embroiled in a competition. StPDFMF.jpgBut, when Mikaela had overheard her father talking with him on the phone about Obama's autobiography, apparently that was the impetus she'd been looking for - she started reading it herself that very day (a unique approach to preparing for an upcoming reggae concert, no?). Valiantly, David rallied to her cause, teasing Mikaela about his additional incentive now that he'd finally learned of their fierce reading rivalry race. Mikaela was smug, content in the political coup she'd just pulled off - which, in her mind, was definitely equal to the bands' being invited to play for Bill Clinton's inauguration or their releasing an election-coinciding single entitled Vote Barack to encourage getting out the vote last year.   

When it was finally time to go, Katrianna forgot to shake hands with the members of the band. She was too distracted with giving high-fives & hugging Sidney to remember her manners. Darn it, we proved once again that homeschoolers lack all social graces, didn't we?

Seems another review of our Missed Manners is in order. OK, I'm putting it on the family 'To Do' list right after "Rehearse our barbershop quartet remix version of Handsworth Revolution." There's just so very much to do to get ready for our next Steel Pulse concert...

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Back in 1983, the night before my Calculus finals, a friend in the college dorms convinced me to join him to go see Steel Pulse. Luckily, I made the right choice and went. They were the best band I'd ever... Read More

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