Travels With My Cello

  • What Would You Do With A Year Off?

    If things had gone the way they were supposed to, I would be writing now from Guangzhou, China.  I would be explaining how governments work (or fail to work) to a new group of students, hoping to inspire them to care about the world we live in.  I would be working with my best friends from Yemen, people whom I adore, and that I had laughed and taught with for two amazing years.   Best of all, I would be assembling a music group to play in the community, just as we had in Sana’a.  I figured in China, finding string players would be a piece of cake, and I could hide out behind some budding Chinese cellist wunderkind and learn all kinds of crazy new skills.  I was over the moon; I had been handed my dream job on a platter.   Then, as these things go, it all fell apart.

    In one fell swoop, we lost our wonderful new jobs, our housing, our health insurance, and the school for our kids.  We will probably never really know what happened, but someone on the Chinese end decided to hire a different director and canceled all of our contracts.  Worse still, we had already quit our jobs in Georgia and we had been replaced.  So, in short, we were screwed.

    I won’t even pretend I took this reversal of fortune well.  I had the kind of nutty you have when you are exactly 2 months short of homelessness.  It’s one thing to be unemployed as international school teachers in the Fall when jobs are plentiful, but unemployment in the Spring is a disaster.  Directors are done hiring.  They are shutting off the lights, nailing the doors closed and mentally packing to go home for the summer.  They certainly aren't hiring, unless they absolutely have to.  I spent much of April and part of May in a state of near panic.  Where would we go?  What would we do?   (And the universe whispered back, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn…”)

    In the midst of my preparation to throw myself off the roof, it occurred to me that really, at the end of the day, we didn't have to do anything.  I mean, we aren't exactly trust fund babies, but money wasn't  a problem.  If we didn't have to BE anywhere, we could GO anywhere.   We would need to turn up at a job fair sooner or later for the 2013-2014 school year, but in the meantime, the world was suddenly wide open. 

    My imagination took off.  My idea of traveling is a bag of junk and a passport.  What if we just bought tickets west, left from Los Angeles and just kept going until we got back to LA, a year later?  Or better still, what if we headed north till we had to go south, and crossed both poles?  Could we do that?  We could buy global health insurance, and teach our kids ourselves.  For heaven’s sake, we are both credentialed teachers- who needs a school when you have the entire world as your classroom?

    But then my plan of drifting around the world for a year hit a couple of snags.  First, I love my son to death, but he is not in any way, shape, or form, a traveler.  He is a creature of habit:  he likes his bed.  He likes his things organized in his slob-osis way next to his bed.  Basically, he only moves when prodded with a sharp stick.  My dreams of rootless wandering would be his idea of a living hell, and no amount of inducement, bribery or flat out threats could change that.   Second, what would I do with my cello?  Granted, cello playing is only my hobby, I have no delusions of grandeur, but after 4 years of slaving away at this instrument, the idea of putting it in storage for a year made me gag.  In reality, I have adopted a 3rd child and for the zillionth time, I realized that the cello is about the most impractical instrument imaginable for the life I lead.  So, the decision was made:  no wandering around the globe; we would need a proper home for a year.  Believe it or not, this part turned out to be the easiest:  I Googled “cheap places to live with good health care” and voila!  Chiang Mai, Thailand.

    But then I was confronted with a whole new set of questions.  What would we do in Thailand, exactly?  It was sort of amazing to me how when the moorings of your life are suddenly cut free, how adrift you feel for a while.  That line from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery” kept running through my head.  Clearly we were going to have to rethink a few things about our jobless new lives.

    Now that Christopher and I were totally free of a school and a curriculum, we thought a lot about teaching.  What do we really want our kids to know?  Of course Southeast Asia is culturally fascinating, so literally every day would be a social studies lesson.   But this generation of kids can find literally anything they might ever want to know online; however, like everything else, vast amounts of electronic information is a double-edged sword.  For good (and ill) everything they see online is framed by someone else’s agenda.  What I really want for them is to see the world for themselves:  to see it, smell it, taste it, breathe it, and decide for themselves what kind of place the world really is.  On Christmas Eve, we actually took our kids to church for the very first time.  It was a fairly conservative evangelical church, and as the service was ending, the minister intoned in rather foreboding way, “We live in a dark city (Bangkok) in dark, dark times.”  Now, we had spent the day wandering all over the city, eating street food, chasing monitor lizards in Lumpini Park, and enjoying precious time with friends we hadn't seen in years.  As we were leaving the church, my daughter turned to me and said “I don’t think this is a dark city at all.  I think it’s fun.”  It really just boils down to your perspective.  I felt like my job was done.

    Then, of course, I thought about what I wanted for me.  I have spent my entire life in school- the first 25 years as a student, collecting more degrees than a thermometer, and the last 15 as a teacher.  Now I was free of all of that.  My thoughts immediately drifted to my cello.  I could now spend all the time I wanted, just playing.  But what did I really want to be able to do?  To memorize the whole first Bach Cello Suite?  OK.  The one and only goal I wanted for myself for the year was to finally, finally be comfortable behind my instrument and play it with conviction.  I thought about dragging my cello out into the streets and playing around Chiang Mai so I could work on my nerves, but then I found out that you actually need a work permit to play an instrument in public, so nix on the street musician life. 

    And of course I could finally write (Q.E.D), something I had been meaning to do since we first moved to Jordan, but just couldn't seem to find the time.  Totally out of the blue, Todd French at Stringworks asked me if I wanted to blog for them and it all came together:  the inspiration to write down all of my crazy stories, and a place to put them.  Maybe the universe gives a damn after all.

    As I write this, we are packing our stuff and getting ready for the next chapter of our traveling circus. Our time off in Thailand is up, and we will be joining the staff at Karachi American School in Pakistan in August.  It will take a long time for us to really sift through this year and figure out what it all meant.  I don’t know yet what Pakistan will bring, other than a lot of new friends and power outages, but I am ready for the new adventure to begin.   










    Marianne Ide and her Artist Cello reside in Thailand until this Sunday only.  Stay tuned for further "Travels With My Cello," in Karachi, Pakistan!

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