I was collaring a few breakfast burritos for the troops the other morning when I got the old "so how's your day going so far?" from the well-meaning person ringing me up from a socially distant and be-masked six feet away. These interactions go best if I just kind of smile and wave, because if someone really wants to get into whether I'm heading into work or what my day actually looks like, I inevitably succumb to some version of "well, I like what I do, so going to work is o.k. with me." Which can sound kind of supercilious while simultaneously begging the question, "Oh yeah? What do you do, then?" But somehow, amongst the green salsa, the flour tortillas and the debit card gizmo, that's where we wound up, at which point I said, "well...I'm a guitar teacher."
Now, at various points in my past, I would have gone to great and probably quite unnecessary pains to specify just what it is I really do – well, you see, I write this kind of music, and I do these articles, and there's this Youtube channel, uh, I have a gig this weekend, playing someone else's music, but my record, if I ever get it mastered, is coming out when...blah, blah, blah.
Which – come on, how much of that really matters? Lots of people are doing lots of things all the time, and while there are layers and levels of detail to what I do, I know that of course this is not what they're really asking anyway. So I've often just tried to pick the coolest thing I have going on at the time and make that the thing, to keep it simple. At various times I've answered "I write music for television" (but not at the moment, so, kind of inaccurate), "I'm a music journalist" (doesn't really count, makes it sound like I write for Rolling Stone, which I've never done) or particularly hopelessly, "Do you know what a pedal steel is?" (now I'm enthusiastically explaining the history of honky tonk, the mechanics of the push-pull undercarriage and the etymology of the Sho-Bud guitar brand while my interlocutor regrets their choice of words no end).
But having my wrist in a brace and not being ready to shoot new lessons yet has left me with a lot of time to think about what I'm teaching, how I'm teaching it, and what teaching projects I want to work on next. And as I've found with so many other things already, when you fix your gaze on something with more regularity and focus, it has a tendency to get increasingly interesting. At the moment, I'm as fascinated with teaching as I've been with anything else I've worked on getting good at. The puzzle of creating cool material, organizing it in the clearest way, with the most direct path through the subject, in a way that won't leave anyone behind yet still provide the momentum and excitement of wrapping one's hands around some real music, is as fun as puzzles get. It's up there with solving for counterpoint, learning Mike Auldridge licks off of Seldom Scene records, successfully cutting three beats out of a thirty-second ad track or realizing how Hank Jones uses diminished licks over the IV chord.
So while my 18-year-old self would not have seen it this way, that moment in the burrito shop felt like the final press conference in Iron Man when Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark goes off script. They've rehearsed it, he and the government wonk in charge of cleaning up the movie's climactic monster-suits showdown, and the whole thing is going to somehow get swept under one massive, totally fabricated rug. But of course, once he gets out in front of the mics and the cameras, Stark can't play ball. What he's created is so inherently cool, it would be criminal not to own it. "The truth is..." he pauses. "...I am Iron Man."
That's right...I am a guitar teacher. Right now, I even have the mechanical left hand to prove it. But hopefully not for much longer.