music

5 Years Later: In Shadow’s Shadow; 9/11, Neil Gaiman, and me.

Five years ago, I wrote this piece about 9/11 and how it affected me. I think this year it is once again fitting to post as this year saw the release of Starz’s adaptation of Gaiman’s classic.

So without further ado, I give you my blog IN SHADOW’S SHADOW; 9/11, NEIL GAIMAN AND ME.

After the re-posting of this blog, I’ll embed a special video that fits the piece.


In the days before September 11, 2001 my family had much to celebrate. The adoption of my sister was finalized, we attended a wedding of a cousin in Colorado, and got to spend lots of time with family. During that trip I made it a point to make sure we stopped at a bookstore. I have always been kind of a book nut, so no one was surprised on that Sunday afternoon, September 9, when I walked out with two brand new books, an anniversary copy of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and a newer book that I had recently read a review of called American Gods. I was familiar with the author, Neil Gaiman, but not versed in his writings. This was to be my initial exposure.

On Monday, the 10th, I read Goldman’s book and fell in love with Buttercup and Wesley all over again. The Princess Bride is an American classic that never fails to spark my imagination. I probably watched the movie that evening, although I can’t remember for sure, but that is usually par for the course for me, read a book and if it’s available watch the movie. I know I did some prep work for auditions at Colby Community College the next day. They were doing the play Heaven Can Wait. If you don’t know that story, it’s about a boxer who dies before his time and is sent back into the body of a dying millionaire. He finds love and his world is changed.

I woke up Tuesday morning, September 11, and didn’t turn on the television. I’m a TV junkie, so this was a little weird for me. I didn’t turn on the radio, I didn’t have the internet in my little studio apartment, so there was no doing that. What I did do was pick up American Gods and begin to read.

American Gods is a “desert island” book for me. It’s a book I find challenging and inspiring and a true classic. It tells the story of a man, Shadow, who is released from prison a week early due to his wife’s untimely death. On his trip home, he finds himself being pursued and followed by a strange, older fella named Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With really nothing left to live for, Shadow goes along for the ride. Along the way, while his zombie wife follows him and warns him, he discovers that the world he knew, isn’t what it seems.

American Gods is about the death of one world pushing against the on coming push of a new world. it’s about gods, myth, and magic. It’s about technology and its hold over us today. It’s about change. It’s about being lost in a world that is changing itself around us, reshaping itself, molding itself into something new and scary.

I read this book, all day, never once did my TV click on or did I tune in the radio. This would be betraying Shadow, and Mr. Wednesday, and Mr. Nancy, and Mr. Gaiman. I set, in a complete media blackout, while the world around me changed in a moment.

I went to auditions that night, which had been cancelled, and that’s when I found out, at 7pm CST, I found out what had happened. I, like everyone else, was in shock. Everything made sense now. The leaked words through thin plaster walls, dividing me from my neighbors, that “it looked like something out of Independence Day.” The lack of cars on the streets, the lack of activity anywhere. The fact that the radio station I worked for at that time, was airing the Presidents speech, when they hardly ever did things like that.

I felt like Shadow, lost in the shadows, not knowing what was going on. Lost, confused, shocked. I could take you to one of my “thinking spots” I went to that night. The place my friends Shane, Lacy, and Becca found me at. I can take you to the parking lot where the news was first delivered to me. I could show you the apartment we all went to and watched CNN, and Fox News, and Headline News, and CNBC and every other channel that was airing news. I could take you to the small Baptist church I went to and prayed. And even though I’m not a Baptist, it seemed like the thing to do.

I remember pouring over my Bible, looking for answers that didn’t come easily. Of drawing conclusions that probably weren’t there. The world around me had changed and I was fighting that change. I wanted to stay locked in a small bubble, in Shadow’s shadow, where maybe things weren’t safe but I couldn’t get hurt. Where I was forced to think, but not put thoughts into action.

Good literature forces us to think and to act. A life changing moment causes us to act and to think. For me those two worlds collided as a tower fell in New York City.

How has the world changed in 11 years? We’re a much more global society then we were then. As high speed and wireless internet has been developed along with cheaper, faster, more mobile computers and smartphones, more people are “online”. Information is passed along, thanks to social media sites, as they happen. In 2001, there was no global Facebook or Twitter. There were no smart phones and instant Instagram uploads. No YouTube. No Netflix. That’s life on a global, technological scale. What has happened to YOU personally in the last 11 years?

At the time, Shane, Lacy, and Becca were my best friends. My only friends. The 4 of us were almost inseparable. We went to church together, we went out to eat together, we were always at one another’s houses. We were hungry for a fresh spiritual awakening. And in the years that followed, we did grew up. They all three are married now, to wonderful, godly people. Becca has two beautiful daughters. Lacy quit her long time job and moved to a small town when she got married. Shane just bought a house. I floated from job to job working in various media jobs (radio and newspaper) and hospitality fields (hotel and restaurant). Last year, I lost my job and decided to go back to college. I rediscovered my love of acting and theater. I’ve been privileged to travel over the world. I’ve made new friends and reacquainted myself with some old ones. I’ve had a play published. I’m trying to make this writing/acting thing work for me while I juggle a job and schooling.

In many ways I’m in a similar place to where I was 11 years ago. Then I had just moved back to my home town and made some new friends and sparked an old friendship. Today I’m in a different town with probably as many friends, some new and some old. I didn’t act in Heaven Can Wait in the fall of 2001, I dropped out for personal reasons. I really wanted to do the fall musical here,  Curtains, but I didn’t get cast. That’s life though. In 2001 I was a scared 24 year old kid. Scared, not that terrorists had attacked us, but scared of change and what the meant. Now I’m a 35 year old man, and while I’m still scared of change, and I think we all are, I no longer fight change, I embrace it. And that, I think, would make Shadow proud.


Thanks for taking the time to read that. I know it’s different then what I normally and nominally blog about. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to reblog it.

Now, I’d like to present to you my short monologue, WARNING SHOTS, as performed by Jocelyn Goodwin.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

2/28/14, 1pm UPDATE: In the past 50+ hours of my original blog post post going live, it has exploded like wildfire. This is my fault. I have encouraged people to share this blog on social media across Facebook, Twitter, etc. I originally thought I would get at best a 100 or so views. I wasn’t expecting the fast approaching 20,000 hits it has received so far. As the page view count grew so did my passion for this area and my desire to see it grow more.

As it has grown, I have received messages from all over the US expressing support and solidarity. I have also been told stories that break my heart about schools like this. These stories, coming out of Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, and others, continue to show that this is a subject which has touched off a lot of people. I have seen, in the very comments here, posts that I would consider bullying in nature, from fellow students and from parents. For that reason, I’m LOCKING THE COMMENTS SECTION DOWN and removing the sharing options. I’m sorry I have to be doing this, but I feel that it is for the students safety.

I have heard from fellow members of the senior class who played in the band that disagree with my statements and the facts as they were presented to me. I have invited them to share their thoughts.

I am also changing many aspects of this article, I’m removing the name of the town and the names of the students, from both the article and the comments section. I have also removed the original picture. This is for the students own safety and for their future.

I am also removing ALL contact links to the school in question.

I never imagined that this story would take off as it has, I never imagined it would become the juggernaut that it has become.

Thank you all for standing up for these two students. I am proud of what I wrote, I am proud of them. They are my heroes for taking an unpopular stand that they felt was right. #WeAreSeniorsToo

-Everett Robert
Emergency Room Productions
Feb. 28, 2014
1pm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

So, if you haven’t heard, I wrote a blog a couple of days ago that has been getting a lot of attention. How much attention? Well, over 17,000 views since it went live early Wednesday morning. At the bottom of all my blogs there is a little “Share This” bar, the Facebook “Like” button has been hit 3.7K times. I’ve received comments, tweets, Facebook messages from across the state and the nation. I’ve heard stories that have made me cry because of how schools (schools across the nation!) have treated their children who choose to focus on their music, their art, their writing, their academics, their whatever instead of sports. How they’ve been ignored and mistreated. How funds they’ve raised have gone on to be used for the athletes, how teachers pay for things out of their own pockets and fight for their students. Stories about this being used to encourage other band students. Somehow #weareseniorstoo has started to bloom into something I never expected or anticipated.

In these messages, I’ve been asked “What can I do? What’s next?”

You maybe wondering that too, but didn’t know how to ask. Here’s my answer, short and sweet.

SUPPORT THE ARTS!

Don’t bully students that are involved in the arts, don’t pressure students into doing athletics if they don’t want to. Recognize student artists, student academics, student farmers, student volunteers. Don’t prioritize sports over everything else.

Sports is a fleeting moment in a person’s life, it lasts for a moment and then it’s gone. You may learn valuable lessons and hard lessons and that is good. But don’t prioritize it over everyone else and don’t romantize it. Support the arts. Go to concerts, plays, musicals, art shows, etc. If your school has a Twitter or Facebook page, encourage them to not just post the latest team scores but also the honor roll, when the FFA does well, the Scholars Bowl, the artists, etc.

#WeAreSeniorsToo

As always, you can Tweet @ me, you can Facebook me, or join me on Tumblr.

#WeAreSeniorsToo: A Follow up of sorts

2/28/14, 1pm UPDATE: In the past 50+ hours of my original blog post post going live, it has exploded like wildfire. This is my fault. I have encouraged people to share this blog on social media across Facebook, Twitter, etc. I originally thought I would get at best a 100 or so views. I wasn’t expecting the fast approaching 20,000 hits it has received so far. As the page view count grew so did my passion for this area and my desire to see it grow more.

As it has grown, I have received messages from all over the US expressing support and solidarity. I have also been told stories that break my heart about schools like this. These stories, coming out of Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, and others, continue to show that this is a subject which has touched off a lot of people. I have seen, in the very comments here, posts that I would consider bullying in nature, from fellow students and from parents. For that reason, I’m LOCKING THE COMMENTS SECTION DOWN and removing the sharing options. I’m sorry I have to be doing this, but I feel that it is for the students safety.

I have heard from fellow members of the senior class who played in the band that disagree with my statements and the facts as they were presented to me. I have invited them to share their thoughts.

I am also changing many aspects of this article, I’m removing the name of the town and the names of the students, from both the article and the comments section. I have also removed the original picture. This is for the students own safety and for their future.

I am also removing ALL contact links to the school in question.

I never imagined that this story would take off as it has, I never imagined it would become the juggernaut that it has become.

Thank you all for standing up for these two students. I am proud of what I wrote, I am proud of them. They are my heroes for taking an unpopular stand that they felt was right. #WeAreSeniorsToo

-Everett Robert
Emergency Room Productions
Feb. 28, 2014
1pm
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

As I am writing this, my last blog entry, We’re Seniors Too, has been viewed over 12,000 times. This was certainly not something I anticipated when I sat down to write it. My posts are usually seen in the 20-30 view range. I thought maybe I’d crack into the hundreds. But not this. I didn’t expect my comments to be filled up like they have been, I didn’t anticipate the thousands of shares of it on Facebook and Twitter. I didn’t expect this:

or this:

Lee Weber is the head football coach in Council Grove, KS (239 miles east of Hill City).  And I didn’t expect a retweet from Dr Chris Jocum of the University of Nebraska at Kearney (127 miles west of Hill City). But I got one:

I didn’t anticipate people from Colby, Dighton, Smith Center, Garden City, Hays, Phillipsburg, and other nearby towns to join in the discussion and stand up alongside these students. I didn’t expect it to be shared from people on the East Coast and people from the West Coast. I didn’t expect people in Texas and Michigan to share it. I didn’t expect page views from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Brazil and yet, they clicked and read. I shared my blog on a couple of writer’s groups on Facebook that I’m a part of. Locally, nationally, and internationally recognized writers from a variety of areas (playwrights, novelists, etc) “liked” the post, supporting student artists.

I don’t share this to “toot my own horn”, but rather to illustrate that this is obviously a touchy subject with a lot of passionate feelings on both sides.  I didn’t expect or anticipate this outpouring of support or vitriol. I wrote my original piece to shine a spotlight on two students who I felt were getting the short end of the stick. I wrote it in a moment of heat and passion, but that isn’t to say I regret what I wrote, because I don’t. I said it then, I’ll say it now, Smalltown High School SHOULD have recognized its senior pep band members properly alongside its basketball players, basketball managers, wrestling managers, and cheerleaders.

I didn’t write the piece to disrespect Smalltown High or to “whine” about these students’ treatment and they didn’t make their sign to whine about being left out, despite what some may say. This isn’t a “boo hoo me” situation as one commenter suggested. I wrote it because I felt that respect needs to be given to all students regardless of what their activity is.

In the past day, I’ve heard several stories about students, past and present who haven’t been recognized. I’ve heard about the Smalltown High Senior girl who has sung the national anthem at several home games and yet wasn’t recognized for her musical contributions on Senior Night. I’ve heard from former students of Smalltown High about how they never got recognized for their hard work in band and in the arts. I’ve heard from former students from other towns about how they didn’t get acknowledged either but how that has changed in their towns (some of them just a short distance away from Smalltown.)

I didn’t write We’re Seniors Too to shame any student athlete, they work hard and deserve their recognition, but as I mentioned in the original article and in my comments, the pep band works hard at creating an atmosphere of excitement. As one former Smalltown High alumni told me in person, “What kind of game do you have without the band there?”

In theater, we have what’s called a “curtain call”. If you’ve ever been to a live show or seen a movie or TV show that features a theater performance of some kind, you know what a curtain call is. It’s the bow the actors take at the end of the show. I used the curtain call as an analogy in one of my comments and I’ll share it here as well.

Imagine you are directing a production of say, Macbeth, and you need several young men to be soldiers in the final act. They would be in one scene and have no lines. Extras, if you will. You recruit players from your school’s sports team, football or basketball or whatever, to play these soldiers and they gladly volunteer their nights to come and march and grunt across the stage. They do sit around backstage and wait for their cue, then they march and go back backstage until the curtain call. They do this for the final rehearsals and for the performances. Would you recognize them at the end of the show? I would venture that most if not all schools would. They would have them do the curtain call, invite them to the cast party, maybe even give them flowers, their names would be included in the program. As well they should be!

Why shouldn’t our student artists, who work tirelessly on new song selections throughout the year for pep band in addition to the concert and contest pieces, who volunteer their nights month after month, be afforded the same opportunities?

As usual, weigh in on Twitter or on Facebook using the hashtag #WeAreSeniorsToo.

Contact me, I’m on Twitter @eerobert or on Facebook @ Emergency Room Productions. If you’re on Tumblr, I’m there as well.

Share this on and more importantly continue to share the original article on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you, on behalf of myself and these students, for your support.

We’re Seniors Too

2/28/14, 1pm UPDATE: In the past 50+ hours of this blog post going live, it has exploded like wildfire. This is my fault. I have encouraged people to share this blog on social media across Facebook, Twitter, etc. I originally thought I would get at best a 100 or so views. I wasn’t expecting the fast approaching 20,000 hits it has received so far. As the page view count grew so did my passion for this area and my desire to see it grow more.

As it has grown, I have received messages from all over the US expressing support and solidarity. I have also been told stories that break my heart about schools like this. These stories, coming out of Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, and others, continue to show that this is a subject which has touched off a lot of people. I have seen, in the very comments here, posts that I would consider bullying in nature, from fellow students and from parents. For that reason, I’m LOCKING THE COMMENTS SECTION DOWN and removing the sharing options. I’m sorry I have to be doing this, but I feel that it is for the students safety.

I have heard from fellow members of the senior class who played in the band that disagree with my statements and the facts as they were presented to me. I have invited them to share their thoughts.

I am also changing many aspects of this article, I’m removing the name of the town and the names of the students, from both the article and the comments section. I have also removed the original picture. This is for the students own safety and for their future.

I am also removing ALL contact links to the school in question.

I never imagined that this story would take off as it has, I never imagined it would become the juggernaut that it has become.

Thank you all for standing up for these two students. I am proud of what I wrote, I am proud of them. They are my heroes for taking an unpopular stand that they felt was right. #WeAreSeniorsToo

-Everett Robert
Emergency Room Productions
Feb. 28, 2014
1pm

Edited Post in

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2…

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I want to take you to Smalltown, KS located on the wild plains of western Kansas. The population is less than 1,500 people. It may be hard to believe that towns this size exist, but I assure you, they do.

I know about this town because my first two plays were performed there. In fact, I completed the script to that show less than a block away from the high school. I’ve eaten lunch there, performed there, lived there for three months. It’s a town I dearly love, but at the moment, I’m saddened by.

In a town that small, I’m sure you can imagine how small the school is. According to http://www.high-schools.com, total enrollment at Smalltown High is 166. Of those 166 students, 36 are seniors. Tonight, Feb 25, 2014, was their last home basketball game of the season.

In many schools across the state and the nation, the last home game is often recognized as “Senior Night.” I’ve seen it at high school football games, basketball games, etc. It’s a chance for the coaches, faculty, parents and fans to cheer and recognize the hard-working athletes, cheerleaders, sports managers in their last home game. There are two young people I know who are Smalltown High School seniors. But they are not part of “the team”, they are members of the band. And tonight, at their last home game as pep band members they did not get recognized alongside their classmates.

And here’s the kicker, they were promised they would be recognized and then that offer was rescinded. They were told they COULD be recognized at their spring concert. Which, according to one of the students, has “minimum to no attendance” and which she has “never seen” happen. So what did these brave students do? They stood up and made themselves recognized.

Let me put this out here right now, I have no problems with sports. I think sports have their place in high schools as much as music, theater, and the arts. As I’m typing this, I’m wearing a tee-shirt recognizing a Big 12 collegiate team, a hoodie from an area high school, and a Major League baseball cap. I got to sporting events. I even played sports for a little while in middle school and in high school.

But what I do have a problem with is athletes getting greater recognition then others. Whether they be players, managers or cheerleaders, they are NOT more important than their classmates who work just as hard, put in as many hours, with none of the glory and recognition. I fear and feel that this brings forth a culture of entitlement that carries on into later adulthood.

Do you want to know what this band and their members have done for Smalltown High School? From One of the band members,

 We have played pep band since sixth grade, long before the seniors who were recognized tonight played on that court, before the cheerleaders wore those uniforms, before the managers worked with the coaches. I have never ridden on a class float during the homecoming parade, because I have always marched. I have played in half times at college football games. I have taken music to contests and played in honor bands. I have played with Dallas Brass. I’ve played jazz band on top of a mountain in Aspen at a ski resort.

These band members were ambassadors for their school, but more than that, they were torchbearers and played as important a role in athletics as the athletes on the field or the court. In Biblical times, musicians often preceded the armies into battle and in beginning in the 16th century in Europe, armies would often have a drum and fife player who would play uplifting music to encourage the troops, as well as be used to convey orders. What is the purpose of a high school pep band but to uplift and encourage the crowd of spectators and the athletes. They work in conjunction with cheerleaders often times.

I’m writing about this, not because these students are friends of mine (although they are-they were part of my original show in Smalltown), not because I’m disappointed in a school or a town (although I am), but because this is symptomatic of our culture. We like to separate the “jocks” from the “geeks”. We like to pigeonhole and ghettoize groups of people. We place a disproportionate amount of praise on our student athletes while marginalizing and ignoring our student artists. I graduated high school almost 20 years ago, from a much larger high school, and felt the same thing. Student artists get the shaft while student athletes get the praise. I had hoped that our society had progressed beyond that.

I’ve blogged about this before, but it bears repeating; arts in education is vital to making our country better. Studies have “found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.” (PBS, 2013). And according to Fran Smith in a 2009 article on Edutopia, the website of The George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), “Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.”

Smith goes on to cite a 2005 Rand Corporation study which states, “can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing,” meaning, basically, the arts can make a person’s life BETTER because they [the arts] are sweetening that person’s life, causing them to create closer social connections and bonds.

Music education can help with verbal skills, increase IQ, develop Spatial-Temporal skills. The brain works harder, causing increased test scores. Theater education can help with social anxiety and confidence, art education helps with motor skills and decision-making. The studies are out there for those who want to look.

Art Education plays a vital role and instead of ignoring those students, instead of promising something and then revoking it, the Smalltown School District (and by default ALL schools) should be CELEBRATING our student artists.

I can’t do much, but I can applaud these Senior students and I can write about this.

If you wish to join the discussion use the hashtag it #Weareseniorstoo so I can track it.

If you know of other stories like this, contact me via Twitter or my Facebook page and I’ll continue to bring this life. It’s time we took a cue from these Smalltown students and take a stand.