12 June, 2009

Big Small Gestures

Obviously, I write this ’blog to be read and in trying to make it more widely read, I’m not above a bit of cross-promotion. I’ve tried two communities so far with opposite degrees of success. I made a submission to www.blognosh.com well over a month ago and only heard back from them this week. I can’t even remember which post I submitted but I know it was something to do with political commentary. (So that narrows it down!)

My piece was declined, and fair enough since it would be completely out of date, but I found the other reason for passing rather curious. The editor said, “part of it is that I'd really love to read more of YOU in that post.”
Well, sorry folks, but this IS me! This is what I talk about and anyone who knows me personally will tell you as much. Also, I don’t know how much of the writer’s life they are expecting to glean from a post on political commentary. As brusque as I can be on the subject, I do try to make my commentary just that – some (hopefully) well thought out analysis rather than my own personal story. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter approach, it’s just that I’m more interested in writing about what I think than what I feel. My personal history and feelings only come into it when they’re relevant to the topic – and they will be next week, but you’ll have to wait for that one.

The most used tag on this ’blog is “comment column” and the way I usually approach anything I post here. The great thing about ’blogging is that it can be whatever you want it to be. For some it’s a diary, for some it’s a place to hawk their business, for some it’s way of keeping in touch with friends and family, for some it’s a place to post adorable childhood photos. For me, it’s an otherwise unpublished comment column, which has the added advantage of not having a weekly deadline. It’s that weekly deadline that is the undoing of many great columnists because sooner or later, there are going to be weeks when they don’t have any great observations on what’s been going on lately and will inevitably fall back on writing an essay about what they did on the weekend.

This is all a very long-winded way of introducing the topic of this entry which comes by way of a very nice community at www.blogthis.com.au. Although I seem to be an odd-one-out in the group, they’re accepting of all contributors and they have started issuing weekly challenges for members to write or post about. I will only be responding to the topics that I feel I have something to say about, but this week’s in one that I felt I could get my teeth into,
If you could name one small gesture someone else has made that had a big impact on your life, what would it be?
Blogthis Challenge 4
Well, being the pathological bystem sucker that I am, I can’t name just one. Instead, I’m going to mention four. I could mention five, but the other one is reserved for next week’s post. It’s partly because I couldn’t decide on which of the four to highlight, and partly because if you’ve only had one small gesture turn into a big impact on your life, then that’s a very sad story.

Mrs B was my kindergarten teacher and she would sometimes play guitar for us. I liked to sit right up the front for this because I was fascinated by guitars, even at four. One day, she had to get up and attend to something in the middle of our session, and that meant she had to put her guitar down – right in front of me. Now, it was probably just a $30 learner’s instrument but I knew nothing of that at the time. What I knew was that I was staring right at a real, live guitar! I couldn’t help myself, and I started touching it and picking the strings.

Of course, a couple of girls saw me do this and decided to tell Mrs B about it. And they were quite right to dob on me too. After all, I had no right to be touching it. But when they called out, “Mrs B! Bill’s touching your guitar!” she just replied, “That’s okay, he’s experimenting.”

What felt so good about this was not getting away with it but realising that Mrs B got it. She understood that I wasn’t being naughty, but that I was having a discovery.
Now that I have a few guitars, and ones of the kind that little boys like to touch, I never discourage kids from playing with them because I remember how I wasn’t discouraged from touching Mrs B’s. And if they knock it out of tune, so what? I know how to tune it, and I can even show them how. The only stipulation I have ever made is that one refrain from using it to play AC/DC.

The second small gesture that comes to mind is also to do with music and encouragement. I was about 13 and we were on a family trip to visit Uncle O – and event that I would live to regret not doing much more. I had been playing guitar for about three years and had just started learning the recorder. Uncle O played the bagpipes and gave me his chanter to have a play with.

For those who don’t know (and I would imagine that would included anyone who doesn’t know a piper), the chanter is the part of the bagpipes that is fingered. It can be detached from the bag and blown into directly for practise. It’s in a different key to the recorder, but the principle of playing them is the same, except that the pipes are a reed instrument that required a lot more wind than a recorder, which you merely breathe into. So I picked it up, played Amazing Grace, put it down and wondered why everyone was surprised. I spent the rest of that evening playing with their piano. I learnt to pick out chords and basic songs that night.

I’ve never improved on the piano from that evening, but from that evening, Uncle O convinced my parents – particularly my father – that I did actually have some talent. That was important.

I was in Melbourne one day, having just got off the bus at Spencer St Station and in need of a tram ticket. At the time, they had recently changed the ticketing system. In fact, the Melbourne public transport ticketing system is a whole series of comment columns going back twenty years. They should do university courses in it.

So I was staring at the ticket machine trying to figure out what kind of ticket I had to get when before I knew it, someone who had just gotten off a train shoved his ticket in my hand and said, “Here ya go, I’m finished with it,” and was gone before I could even turn around and notice his face.

People say that country is far more friendly than the city but I don’t see it. I don’t see the country as being particularly friendly and I don’t see the city as being unfriendly.

My fourth example relates to my current job. WF worked with my mother at the centre where I work now. At the time, I was basically unemployed and had no prospects that I could think of. I had run some introductory guitar courses there before and W had been in one of them. This showed her that I could teach and handle a class. Since she was retiring at the end of that year, she suggested that I take over the computer courses that she did there. She already knew I had a keen interest in computers, I used to use the internet at the centre and helped others there while I did, and I needed the work. At first, I didn’t think I could do it. I’ve noticed that some people are really good at getting jobs and some people are really good at doing jobs and the two don’t always cross over. I have a bad habit of selling myself short but W was kind enough to look beyond that. My role there progressed, taking what was basically a sideline and turning it into one of the centre’s main earners for a while. And all the work I have obtained since then, can be traced back to that offer from W, without which, I don’t know what I would have done. Everything I have, I owe to her.

Finally, for those who prefer adorable childhood photos, here’s what I looked like around the time I was experimenting with Mrs B’s guitar.
File under “What went wrong?”


  1. That's a great post Bill! I must admit I struggled to only write about one act of kindness. They are all such lovely stories, especially the first one. I grew up in a musical household and the only instrument we weren't allowed to touch was mum's expensive bass guitar. She encouraged us to experiment every day! Must have driven dad mad!
    I sometimes stuggle about what I want to blog and what the right things are to blog (especially being new to the whole gig!) but then I figured what does it matter! I can do whatever I want! It's my blog and if people find it interesting that's good, if not, it's no loss.

  2. Yours is far better and much more appropriate.

    But I am insanely curious about your mum's bass now.

  3. great post Bill and thanks for sharing the photo! I too found it hard to write just one and to truely express the emotion that surrounds these acts I have experienced.

  4. "Happiness is not to fear your feelings. Happiness is to know how to talk about yourself...Stones in the way? I keep them all. One day I will build a castle"
    - Fernando Pessoa

    See, people always want to see the heart behind the mind, the more you hide it, the more you show it.
    My mother never told me I was good doing music. She never said anything at all when I was a child. The only thing she said when I was a child: "You're very intelligent". I was always the smartest kid around, teachers loved me, I was sweet and so kind and innocent, it hurts to think about it, LOL. I always loved music and unfortunately nobody noticed that when I was a child. I had zero stimulation. I got a fucking 6 chords little piano when I was 4, BY CHANCE while Nagela, the goddaughter of my godfather's wife got a big pink piano and she didn't care, she never played it. Detail: I wanted to play it so bad, it was sooooo big and beautiful but I wasn't allowed to touch her piano. :(

    My godfather's daughters had a fight one day and they broke my little piano. The first song I made in my life was in that little piano. I still remember it, it sounds so japanese, lol. You know, the moment I made my very first song, nobody noticed, nobody care, nobody was there. Shit!

    I wrote a stupid lyric (the melody was in my mind) when I was 8. Everybody laughed at me :p.

    My mother was so busy working in 2 jobs, she didn't have time for me at all, so I was always with somebody else ( bastards) and when I was 8 I became responsible for myself (because if I didn't grow up I'd have to stay with mean people who abused of every single me).

    At school, no music at all. My Portuguese teacher noticed my drawings and the notes I used to leave in every drawing. She thought that was interesting and stimulated me so much. She always put my name for those poetry competitions and that was so magic because I always won all competitions and I always received expensive tous as prize, so the absence of my mother in those moments was not so painful. I always had connection with Portuguese teachers.

    My mother always loved to listen to music so I grew up listening good stuff. When I was 14 I told her screaming: "I want to take guitar lessons". She was shocked and couldn't afford ahaha so I found a very cheap place and I took few classes there. I got my first guitar at 15 BECAUSE my mother and the teacher fell in love and he told her about my passion for music.

    Today she is my biggest fan, isn't it crazy?

    Today I can play some little chords and I have some few loyal fans who follow me on myspace and ask me for more songs...All I am saying is, it's so important when someone notices your talent when you're a child and invest on it somehow, noticing it, AT LEAST. If I had the same luck as you had Bill, I'd be a better person, ahahahahahah. Hug.

  5. It's very interesting what you say about luck. Regardless of what anyone might say, luck has a lot to do with success (whatever you consider success to be). I wish I had the luck of some of my friends, or their determination or self-reliance. I was never strong enough. I always played it safe, always felt a greater responsibility to others than to myself. There are times when I feel I've wasted my life.

    You're right. I never expected to write that here, but feelings do come out. And that's how I like to write. I'm not going to lay it all out for everyone, but you can put the pieces together. It's far more interesting that way.

  6. "I was never strong enough. I always played it safe, always felt a greater responsibility to others than to myself. There are times when I feel I've wasted my life."

    That's right. You wrote everything in past. What about now? You're lucky to be alive and you have the opportunity to start new things. What do you choose? To live in the past wasting more life just because you already know what happened and it's safe or you choose to start something new without knowing if it will work or not?
    There you go, when you have the opportunity to be strong you sabotage yourself and you know that. I'm good at that also, lol.

    Control freaks can't be strong citizens you know that.

    "And that's how I like to write. I'm not going to lay it all out for everyone, but you can put the pieces together. It's far more interesting that way."

    Whatever makes you happy Bill. If you want to be the mysterious guy, do it. I just think you are more interesting when you are yourself and show your little head and smile, little turtle. Give me a call. I already know how you write. I want to know how you talk so I can have a point. =P