It’s just like starting over… by Evan Jacobson, August 16, 2010
It takes years to master things, feel good about one self, get comfortable, be positive, venture into undiscovered territory, struggle, and grow even more. I read an article about the legendary RUSH drummer, Neil Peart, many years ago. Neil was one of my main drumming influences in my formative years, as I emulated just about every pattern he put forth on recordings. Learning his patterns helped me achieve a higher level of drumming mastery. After High School, I branched out even more, musically speaking. I attended a legendary performance in 1987 in NYC: The Michel Camilo Trio. Anthony Jackson played Bass (or Bass Guitar), Michel played Piano, and Dave Weckl fried my brain as he executed some of the most incredible drum patterns I’ve ever heard. That show at the defunct Mikel’s (97th and Columbus in NYC) changed my life forever. Once again, I experienced an even higher level of mastery. I went to SUNY Oswego College for Communications and Music. A few years passed and then I went to Radford University to attain another higher level of musical mastery. I paid my dues by working in various musical groups, teaching 40+ students per week, and even working nights and weekends at RadioShack. I was a busy bee, but I put the time in to strive for another higher level of greatness. Where are we going with this conversation? I’m getting to that and thank you for your patience. I moved to Seattle in 2000 and attained a second Master’s Degree in Teaching English. Then, I relocated to NYC to begin my teaching career. It is currently 2010 and I recently finished my 7th year of teaching. Years 6 and 7 were great and occurred in the Bronx (Hunt’s Point). I was comfortable, felt a sense of mastery, and achieved so many great things that I lost count. Here’s the part that you’ve been waiting for: I resigned from the NYC Department of Education to support my wife in a move to Maryland. Even though I achieved a great level of mastery, it was time to “start over.”
I began this post discussing Neil Peart and Dave Weckl because we share many commonalities. In short, we’ve become masters, but reached a point where it was necessary to start over. Both Neil and Dave decided to reevaluate basic hand technique (A.K.A.Chops) and study with the legendary Freddie Gruber, a great drummer and teacher who befriended Buddy Rich—arguably, Buddy was one of the greatest drummers on planet Earth. That in itself, has to be a blog for another day…
In short, achieving mastery does not stop until inevitable death—it is a choice to grow, become complacent, get rigid, stop learning, or keep on going because we enjoy the challenge and/or never become satisfied with one’s present abilities. After all, working hard has to lead to mastery and we have a right to be comfortable and validate all of the hard work. We also have the right to relax, take a break, make more money, feel grounded, and then milk our present mastery (in education it’s called ‘ceiling level’) for as long as possible. We are entitled to reasonable things when we know that we’ve worked hard and to the best of our abilities. So, why rock the boat and tip the boat over?
My wife was blessed with 5 job offers approximately 5 months ago. She decided that it was in the stars and had to accept the best of the 5 offers. Ultimately, this meant leaving New Jersey and moving to either Washington D.C. or Maryland. This is not a decision to be taken lightly because it would mean selling our house in the worst housing market in history (dispute that all you want, but I stand behind that strong opinion), and starting over for both of us. This is hardcore reality!
It was an easy decision for my wife, but I didn’t want to break out of my comfort zone for a myriad of reasons…Musically speaking, working with Jeff and Pete in Antagonist slash Premonition is an incredibly rewarding musical experience. Recording the 3-song demo for Scottish Windows was very rewarding. As far as my teaching career in Hunts Point is concerned, it’s always going to be filled with incredible memories. Working on the Lower East Side was rewarding, but I found a true sense of comfort in Hunts Point—that might sound twisted, but it’s really not! I worked with very supportive people, an awesome team teacher, and the world’s greatest Principal, Dr. Hughes (his band Johnny Seven is on Facebook and itunes). My commute was always 30 minutes, had a free parking space, and the best 7th Grade Class. Please bear in mind that teaching 7th Grade English to a diverse population in the Bronx is NOT EASY. Most people would cringe if they new the intricate details of running a 7th Grade inner city class… However, I was blessed with a class based upon mutual respect and impressive results. In fact, my class scored the highest in both English and Math for the entire school. That is a first in my career. Another first is that one of my students won second place in an Essay Contest, and cashed in on his brand new 32GB ipod Touch. Yet despite the physical and emotional challenges for 180 instructional days, it truly was a great year. And now, I had to make a choice to stay there or support my wife’s promising new direction. In fact, my Principal announced that at our last official staff meeting: Does Evan choose the beautiful and awesome Hunts Point Middle School? Or, does he choose his wife? Ba da bing! If reality hasn’t slapped you upside the head at this point, I’m not sure what to tell you… Then, most of the staff wished me well and Dr. Hughes presented me with an Elvis Alarm Clock and a hug. Emotional is an understatement. I had to resign from a tenured NYC teaching position and spend the most humid summer packing up my house to make the move to Maryland. One of the hardest parts was going to work, trying to remain in the present, do the best job possible, stick it out with my awesome class (mentioned earlier), and keep my mouth shut about Maryland. It was incredibly difficult. On top of that, students asked me if I was returning for 2010-2011. I told them that there was a chance that I might be moving for personal reasons, but it had absolutely NOTHING to do with them. I think they understood… Lying to them would not be an option. Similarly, if I told them I was not coming back, it would have caused major bedlam on an emotional level. When you spend 10 months with inner city children, the worst punishment is telling them that you won’t be returning to school. Think of any consequence that would be accorded to a child when they misbehave. That is pale in comparison to abandonment. Having said that, I kept my mouth shut for as long as I could, but I’m disclosing the information right now: I moved to Maryland to “start over.”
In fact, I no longer live in a 3-bedroom house with 4 floors; I live in a 1-bedroom apartment. The house was more than just a tangible piece of property. Rather, it symbolized my musical mastery, the improvement in my cooking skills, my growth as an educator, the ability to fix many broken things, the most intense emotional roller coaster, my wife and cats, a location close to friends (especially my neighbors, Wayne and Pati) and family, and several other things (for lack of a better term). As I packed up items for several weeks by myself, I did not have a great, relaxing summer. Instead, I felt imprisoned and constantly reminded that I had to end the NY/NJ chapter of my life and…wait for it… start over. I’ve painted a painful picture and it was. I’m still recovering…
However, starting over might not necessarily be a bad thing. I can keep the mastery that I currently have and keep building upon it. This move will force me to find creative ways to keep in touch with people—something that I value tremendously. It’s going to be possible to reconnect with friends that I haven’t seen in (AHEM) years. I’ll have to email, phone, get on Facebook, write letters, etc. Then, I have an opportunity to meet an incredibly diverse group of children and begin another chapter of teaching. I really miss my NY students and always will. I cannot say enough about the few close friends that I am lucky to have. I did my best to make time and see them despite the immediate urgency to finish packing and tying up loose ends. I might be in another state, but I’m always accessible via email: email@example.com
That holds true for my family as well. I wanted to clarify because people need to know that I will eventually write back or meet up with them at some time in the future. I am about 4 hours from NY via car, bus, or Amtrack; an hour by plane and even less time by jet. In contrast, living in Seattle was a 6-hour plane ride and that should put things into perspective…
If you read this entire post, THANK YOU! Someday, your mastery and comfort will be challenged; you might even have to make a drastic move as I did. Then, you’ll understand the emotional roller coaster that has been accorded to me. You will need the support of your friends and family to get you through it. It’s not a cakewalk, but having support from any positive person really alleviates some of the hardship to make it possible to move on. “It’s just like starting over…”