Sunday, March 10, 2013

# 50 Train I Ride

   Today, I've been thinking about ideas for my last blog on my career in teaching. I don't know why, but I keep sliding back to my last days in high school, and notice a similarity between then and now. I realize hindsight is often 20/20, and true to that insight, I have a vivid picture of those days. I remember, at 18, I was so anxious to get on with my life! My eyes were fixed on independence, and adventure, which in retrospect, set the tone for the rest of my life.

   So, I finish high school, and with my BFF, I hitchhike from Ottawa to the West Coast. Six days later, we make it, wander over the island, and end up living out of a pup tent on the famous nudist beach below U.B.C., Wreak Beach. It was hard, or should I say demanding, for 18 year old boys to live in that neighbourhood.

   At the end of summer, we hitchhike back East, but get stuck in the Northern Ontario town of Ignace. It stinks of sulphur, and the late summer nights are getting cool by the side of highway. We just waste away for three days on the side of Highway 17, waiting for the elusive ride to take us home. Then, a crazy idea gives us hope. We walk over to the freight yards, sit back, observe the system, and fearlessly hop a train out of town.

   For me, it is more than just an escape from this barren one horse town. I grew up watching western movies where the cowboys ride the trains in every installment. In addition, I've been reading, and listening to recordings by great American itinerant Bluesmen like Robert Johnson, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee and others; they sing about riding the rails a lot. I even carry a Marine Band harmonica like Sonny Terry uses, and know a few of his songs. So, for me, jumping on these iron horses is an unlikely romance come to life.

   By this time, I have read enough about these Bluesmen to develop an opinion about their message to listeners. I conclude that their songs have been delivered a unnecessary backhand by history. The songs are always promoted as "sad" music, but this really isn't the case. I even suspect the tag is rooted in racial conspiracy rather than fact. Blues is similar to all folk music; it is a collection of songs written by people, about people, who are living their lives; the sad subjects are just a part of that bigger picture.

   For example, consider, almost all of the lasting popular songs of any period, and you will hear the lamenting of lost love, broken hearts, or a longing to go home; happy songs are definitely in the minority. So, why do listeners have this thirst for sad songs?  Well, it's cathartic. A catharsis allows us to purge ourselves of emotions we keep bottled up in our minds, and in the process we feel better.

   So anyway, we ride several freight trains through the remote wilderness of Northern Ontario, living on smokes, canned ham, and prewar blues songs played on my Marine Band. Three days later the romance with the lifestyle is smothered in dirt, grease and fatigue, and my body feels like it has been shaken, not stirred. At 18, I am invincible, and the danger of such an adventure is such a nominal price to pay for the experience. It proves cathartic to take the chance, and then live to look back at it with fondness. However, when it's over, I know I'll never ride those trains again.

   So, last spring I am thinking about the end of my career as a classroom teacher, and decide to record my thoughts as my own catharsis. I figure, the writing will help me purge the memories, and provide a record for me to look at when I am too forgetful to remember. So, I decide that I'll just write myself a diary, and then file it somewhere.

  Then, I am introduced this idea of writing a blog. I like the idea, but I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about exposing my personal thoughts to the world. I'm humble enough to know the whole idea is little self indulgent. As well, it is one thing to keep your thoughts private, and quite another to expose them to an audience of unknown readers. Let's face it, Everyone has baggage, but do you really want it opened up on the driveway for the neighbours to view?

   So, like all good teachers, I set up a plan: I decide to write a blog a week for fifty weeks, nothing specific, just spontaneous ideas, observations, and conclusions I collect along the way. I've never done any sort of disciplined writing before, so I don't have a clue what I am doing. After some back and forth thinking, I reluctantly figure, fuck it! I'm just going to ride that train until I get thrown off.

   During the process, I have learned quite a few things, some technical, and some psychological. For example, I sure have learned the value of an editor, which I obviously didn't have! Another lesson I learned is that writing is one thing, it is quite another to do it with deadlines. Also, when you are thinking about the past a lot, you spend a lot of time inside your head. My advice, when you spend that much time in one neighbourhood, it's a good idea to get along with the neighbours. (That's a joke!).

    Anyway, my catharsis is complete. I'm jumping from this train. I have definitely had some positive encouragement from readers. I don't know if I could have traveled this distance without their support. I just checked my blog statistics menu, and I have close to 5000 reads, in ten countries! Wow! This is quite a surprise for me, but I suppose I should mention that there are seven billion people on the planet.

   Often, the past is a great place to visit, but I don't think I'd want to live there. I actually became a teacher as the result of an impulse, and never intended on devoting such a large chunk of my life to the craft. In retrospect, it turned out to be a good choice for me, as well as for the system. However, just as was the case at the end of my adventures riding those freight trains, it is time to jump onto something else. My body is sore, I got my hands dirty, most of the romance has been shaken out of me, and one thing is for sure, I'll never ride that train again.

  Thanks for reading!