Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shakesphere and Mr. Ecklund

I was just reading the blog of a friend of mine. She's a teacher. From what I can tell, she's a good one. I make that distinction because they aren't all good ones. But the good ones make all the difference. At least they did for me. See, I was that kid. I was that sad case. That little black boy who's father died when he was seven. That kid who had so much potential. You know the story. You've seen the after school special. The kid that could go either way. Smart as a whip, but doesn't much care. Seems a little distracted, but look at that smile. That was me. Mom's working hard just to feed me and my siblings now that dad is gone. I'm getting into mischief at school. Nothing serious, mind you. Just talking loud and saying nothing. Skipping class. Not doing my work. You know that kid. That was me.

I remember always wondering why people looked at me the way they did. It took me years to realize what that look meant. It was the "oh poor kid" look. That look of pity that you give someone when you don't know how to fix them but you really want to. I got that look a lot. People used to say, "If you would only try harder, you could do anything." People say that, you know, and I'm not convinced they really even believe it themselves. But they say it anyway. The idea of potential is an interesting one. But, lest I get on some psychological rant about the infinite potential of a child, I'll save that part for another entry. I digress....

So there's me. That sad case. Flirting my way through high school, good at girls and not so good at geometry. Skipping English class to practice my trumpet. Not caring at all that the only subject I got an A in was band. And then there was Mr. Ecklund. Dennis Ecklund. English. Senior year. By about November of my senior year, I had already been awarded a scholarship to go to music school, so Mr. Ecklund was lucky to have ever met me. I tended to not be in class my senior year. The band director and I had an understanding. I needed to practice. I didn't need much else. So, I got a lot of late slips and other teachers got a lot of excuses. But Mr. Ecklund saw something in me. I suppose they all did, but he decided not to JUST give me that look and that "potential" speech. He decided to make me a bet. He bet me that I couldn't get a B. Me being a cocky little so and so, I never backed down from a challenge. Of course, I was too stupid to know it was a trick. That quarter was Hamlet. Hamlet is not easy for a 18 year old that pretty much only reads music. So I had to go to class if I intended to know what the heck old William was talking about. Of course, I thought it was stupid. It was a waste of my time. That's actually where the bet came from. I was mouthing off in class about how I didn't need blah blah blah. Mr. Ecklund saw an opportunity. I fell for it. We had to learn a monologue. That was the graded part. He bet I couldn't earn a B on it. I chose "To be or not to be."

And so it was that for a few weeks that quarter, I actually paid attention. Of course I was doing it out of spite. Who's the old white dude to tell me I CAN'T get a B on some 5 trillion year old play?! I'll show him. Well, I suppose I did. I worked. I read. I went to class. Along the way, I started to like it. Until that moment, I had not liked anything other than music. I had not cared about anything but me. And for a couple of weeks, I was pushing myself to something different.

Here I am, 17 years later. I look back on that moment in time and I can honestly say that it changed me. It took years for me to realize how and why. But it did. I got my B on the monologue. But that's not the point. The point is, Mr. Ecklund was one of the few people that didn't look at me with that pity look. The smile he gave me after I stood in front of him and acted out Hamlet's famous speech was not one of pity but of pride. In that moment, I had REACHED the potential. It changed the way I saw myself. It changed what I thought of my abilities. Years later, after I had left music school, I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh where they allowed me to design a major for myself. I studied all kinds of things. Film. Dance. Photography. Poetry. Fiction writing. And.....yup, literature. I wrapped them all into a behavior modification system for helping wayward kids like me. When I really think about it, I can say for sure that I wouldn't have done any of that without learning that monologue.

Everyone knows a kid like that. The kid with all the potential. Everyone gives him that speech. "If you'd only just try......." People say it, probably not ever realizing what would happen if the kid listened. I mean really listened. But I am that kid. And I listened. I've got two college degrees, and I'm working on a third. I've helped more kids than I can count. I've lectured on my own research at a major university. I've had my music on the radio. I've had my photography published. In a few years, I'll be Dr. Brock. My daughter, who was born around the same time I learned that monologue, is graduating from high school next year. I play ball in the backyard with my son every chance I get. I'm that kid with all the potential, only I am reaching it. I truly believe that I can do anything. I prove it everyday just by being and doing all that I am. And in a strange way, I owe it all to Shakesphere and Mr. Ecklund.

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