UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

December 24, 1994

December 24, 1994


Dear friends and relations,

The Christmas season is always a time for looking back, remembering with affection those whom we seldom see or whom we may never see again. It is easy to say we remember each other and love those memories, but the here-and-now keeps making us think our actions speak louder than words-and my actions toward most of you are a big fat nothing. The hypocrisy of a yearly letter that makes a pitiful grotesque gesture of devotion and which is not followed by anything but a pitiful, grotesque letter a year from now makes me ashamed. I've always been a terrible friend. My only hope is that we are meeting regularly, or will meet, and some higher dimension where there is no time, distance, or money to keep us from enjoying the community of those with whom we share an affinity. We must cling, in the hypocrisy of our lazy actions, to the idea that like minds can never be parted, and will one day be joined in mutual acts of praise of and in the One Consciousness that creates and binds us together and timeless, distanceless love, with no end-of-the month billing statement or interest accrued “sic”.

With that cheery overture let us turn to the details of this year's events:

This year has been one of momentous change in preparation for even bigger changes in the coming year. As most of you know I've been teaching at Lewis and Clark College in Lewiston Idaho for the past 5 1/2 years, teaching most of the real music classes (music survey, electronic music, piano, violin, theory, composition, conducting, orchestra, and piano class), rendering the fall of 1993 I began teaching survey at the University of Idaho. These developments, which have taken place over time with practically no effort on my part to make them happen, have reversed a prophecy which was made at UCLA 15 years ago to the effect that I would never teach college. 

I have now been teaching college for six years, with great success. That is to say my teaching has been a success-I have a very extensive, positive reputation throughout most of the area, and a large class a very devoted students. However, anybody who thinks this career has been lucrative, is not understand the meaning of the term "adjunct faculty". Adjunct faculty are people like me (professional failures) who are willing to work for practically nothing, and pretend to be on a college faculty. Their unknowing students refer to them as "Dr." and “Professor " while the administration treats them like shit on their shoes. I saw an Ernie Kovacs comedy routine a long time ago about the difference between 1st and 2nd class seats on an airplane: 

The people in 1st class got to drink champagne and eat caviar, while the 2nd class passengers got Cheeze Whiz on a stale cracker; 
at the end of the routine, the second class passengers are instructed to de-board the plane, after which an announcement comes over the loudspeaker, to the 1st class passengers, that the plane would be landing in 10 minutes.

This is what it is like being adjunct faculty. I make about 30% of what the regular tenure-track faculty make for the same amount of work. Consequently, since I practically AM the music department, in terms of the number of students I see and the number of courses I teach, I am working constantly for an amount of money that will simply not support a family. Since I never thought I would ever make it in the academic world, the success of the past six years is a startling surprise for me—so much so that Louise and I decided to try to do something about it-to act on this success and try to get a position somewhere for real money, with the real identity in the bureaucratic structure.

At first I began applying for jobs. I've applied for several jobs in the past year (maybe 10, I get them mixed up with the competition I enter, since I never keep track of them was the stuff is set off, and applying for a job is just like entering a contest-a lot of xeroxing and mailing) with no positive response. Not that I think 10 applications is a lot, but I know that if I could get to the interview stage with some of these jobs I would be a very strong contender, and I also know that the applicants with PhDs get first choice. Therefore, WE decided that a trip back to school was the only sane decision to make. It is a long shot, but I am still young, and if I could get a degree and get a job before Emlyn is 16 I can probably send them to college. If not, Louise has to get a job at McDonald's and my kids have to attend Podunk Community Trade School.

Louise’s father died this spring. It was a very tragic affair, since we were getting on the plane to attend his wedding and three weeks later we were attending his funeral. It was really shocking since Louise’s father seemed to be the most indestructible person will knew, but his death, and the inheritance associated with it, gave us a little leverage to think about investing in an uncertain, life-altering future. This summer, I got the chance to do something I've always wanted to do —go on a long car ride with my boys to see some of the country (Mt Rushmore, Chicago, the Badlands) to be with them for an intense period of quality time, and to check out possible places to relocate to an appropriate graduate school. We went to Lincoln, Nebraska, Lawrence, Kansas, and Champaign, Illinois. In Illinois, my boys got to see where I grew up, meet my Aunt Dorothea (who was like a mother to me), my cousin Judy K (who was like a sister to me), my aunt Betty (who, as a professional teacher for the past 35 years, has more in common with me than probably any other relative), and my father and his family. I felt a renewed interest in family at that time, and since the death of Louise’s father has weakened all ties with California, it is an inviting thought that I might give my kids a sense of family with people I have not had anything to do with for the past 20 years. I'm not confident that I can be any better of a family member than I am a friend, but if convenience counts for anything, I might be able to pull something out of the toilet.

Louise (good and faithful, hard-working, patient, diligent, resourceful, and humble Louise) and I copied a mass of papers and forms this fall, and this week I sent the last of the applications off. I had to put together resume packages, take two major pain in the ass standardized tests, print music, make tapes, and write letters. I'm sure I worked harder this semester than I ever will when I finally get to college. We have financial aid forms to face in January, but I will know by March if either the U of Kansas, U of Illinois, or the U of Washington (Seattle) wants me. Then we have to discern if there is any chance of an assistantship.

My main problem with getting into graduate school is the same as my problem with every music job I ever had-I'm over-qualified and under- certified. I filled out an assistantship application for the UW that listed about 12 types of classes (piano class, choral conducting, accompanying, etc.), asking what experience I had teaching any of those classes; it turns out that I already taught every single entry at least twice of the college level. I say this is a problem, because the current educational biases in favor of specialization. It is going to be hard for a bureaucrat sitting in a fluorescent-lit office somewhere to believe that anybody can do so many different things with anything like a professional level of competence, so the compelling conclusion will be that I can't really do anything. The problem is compounded by the personal ambition I have of continuing to do all the things I do now. I really like having my own orchestra, my own class of college piano students, my own electronic music studio. I don't want to give up my job at LCSC, I just want to make more money.

I’ve never cared about money. I know I could have stayed in LA and made lots of money, but I rejected the madness. I've always cared about reputation a lot more, and have cherished the high regard in which have been held by the many international musicians I've known; however, I have not cared enough to implement a steadfast aggressive tactic for acquiring fame. Part of it is laziness, and part of his knowing that I have been too far ahead to be understood by the decision-making, check-writing establishment.

The third part is something I've always known about myself-that I would be a late bloomer. I feel that I've arrived at a major crossroads in my life. I feel that my work is beginning to come into focus-I'm entering my prime and may never get much better than it is going to get in the next few years. I learned to adapt, I've learned how to be liked, so it is now or never.

My family is growing up. My boys are always achieving new levels of us copies but in the arts. They're both writing music with me at the computer, and wowing the locals with their creative precocity. Ambrose keeps creating wonderful abstract computer drawings, and he has begun writing very intense, literate poetry. Emlyn continues to win prizes for his fiction writing and is now involved in converting one of his stories into a radio play. He plays very good oboe for a 10-year-old, both holding down the second part and major orchestral literature we play with the LCSC Community Orchestra, and improvising Windham Hill free jazz with me. Ambrose is the second worst violin student I ever had (he just broke his second violin bow in a fit of temper) but Santa Claus got him a guitar for Christmas, which he is very intent on learning, and he is the Pullman's foremost expert on the music and history of the Beatles. Louise is getting a piece published in an anthology of feminist articles about grandmothers, and has a serious offer from the U of Idaho press to publish her grandma Val’s Square Island Journals.

Our marriage has his ups and downs. It's in the shithouse today, fine tomorrow, like life I guess. I hate the dog, but other than that, there is not much else to report on that front.

The orchestra played a concert of piano concerti (Beethoven #1, and Bach A major) and my students played like Angels. We're now involved in preparing a concert of student compositions created in the compositions/arranging class. I seem to have an even more remarkable talent for teaching composition than I do for anything else, and the works produced this semester can bear comparison with any undergraduate composition program in the country.

Then there's the Chinese connection. I'm getting interested in a major way in moving to China to teach. I've had better than 80% Asian students for the past six years, and I'm really wondering if my destiny is not leading me to the east. DMA first, then we'll see.

I'm running out of things to say.

It is hard to feel that I'm not talking to myself, so if this letter is not going to out into a vacuum let me hear from you. We all had to say goodbye sometime. When will it be?

Yours,


RFT

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