Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Ambitious, Yet Vague

Special education classrooms (shown here at th...

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My mother bought my sister and I memory books that corresponded with each year of school. We diligently filled them out each fall with the start of the new school year. One of the questions was “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Each year it changed. When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a ballerina. It didn’t seem to matter that I had never taken a dancing lesson in my life and had no idea what that really entailed. In second grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I think that ended when the Challenger blew up later that school year.

In third grade, I got really ambitious. I wanted to be a millionaire. I have no idea how I was going to make this million dollars, but that didn’t seem to matter. In fourth grade I upped the ante and wanted to be a billionaire. In fifth grade, yes, a trillionaire.

For the next few years, I don’t remember having any specific employment goal. I did well in my classes, but there wasn’t anything in particular that I was drawn to. I enjoyed band the most, but never seriously considered that as a profession. I was good, but not that good.

When I was 15, things changed. I was in marching band with a rather intimidating band director. It wasn’t that he was mean, he just had high expectations and didn’t have patience for those who didn’t live up to their potential. As a sophomore new to the band, I was nervous around him. However, I found the courage to ask if I could move from the 10th grade band to the Junior/Senior band because there were too many saxophones in the lower group. At first he said no, but a few days later, he told me to talk to my guidance counselor to see if I could change my schedule. He gave me the boost of confidence that I needed and the idea of being a music educator was planted.

I actually applied to Penn State School of Music with the idea that I would become an instrumental music teacher. A number of things over the fall of my senior year forced me to pull my application and reapply to the Division of Undergraduate Studies, aka, The I-Have-No-Idea-What-I-Want-To-Major-In Major. I ended up a theatre major, but I by the time I had done academic theatre for four years, I had no desire to do it as a career.

The turning point was really when I opted to serve two years in AmeriCorps. I was assigned to a position at my old high school, working with students with moderate to severe disabilities, training them to work in the student store to set them up for future employment.  I wasn’t there for more than two weeks before I realized that I wanted to be in the classroom. I really could help young people by being a teacher.

I found a grad school that combined my theatre major and English minor into a dual certification program. I taught Special Education English for two years (New York City was so desperate for teachers that you didn’t have to be endorsed in Special Education to teach a specific content), general education English for two years in a different state, and then opted to go back to school to get my Special Education certification. This is my second year teaching full Special Education in a middle school and I love it.

Looking back, I shouldn’t be surprised that I ended up where I did – there were definitely signs along the way that should have made my trajectory obvious. I had volunteered multiple times with students with special needs, from the time I was 10 through college. Nothing I have done is as satisfying, and I am glad I ended up where I did.


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My Musical Inspiration

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I’ve been fortunate to have a number of amazing people around me all of my life. I can pinpoint certain teachers who guided me down a path that I may not have found otherwise. I have an amazing family and many incredible friends who have influenced me in a myriad of ways. However, there is one person, with his quiet and gentle guidance, that inspired me more than any other and ultimately, his inspiration led me to where I am today. that man was my maternal grandfather, who I affectionately called Poppy.

While I now teach special education, this was not the path I originally set out on.  Prior to teaching students with special needs, I wanted to be an English and Drama teacher.  I was exposed to drama first through my experiences in music.  Poppy unintentionally inspired my early music education and even my choice of instrument at the age of 10.

My sister and I would regularly spend the night at our grandparents house. It was a fun night away from home, and while at the time I thought it was just a great way for us to spend time with Gramma and Poppy, I realize now it was also a welcome break for our parents.  Anyway, Poppy would often retire to his TV room after dinner and listen to music. This is where I was first exposed to Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and other Big Band greats.  My six-year old self would wander into his room, crawl up into his lap, and listen to the Big Bands emanating from the speakers.  I knew, at an early age, that I wanted to play that type of music.  This meant that I had to play the saxophone.

My mother tried to convince me to play something else, something like the clarinet. Nothing against the clarinet, but I knew that there wasn’t much of a chance to do jazz on a clarinet (Benny Goodman was a notable exception).  Mom had nothing against the saxophone, she just didn’t want he very small daughter to be hauling it back and forth to school everyday.  However, I was not to be dissuaded, and my parents rented a saxophone for me that fall.  I loved it. Of course, a simple version of Ode to Joy and the Batman theme (seriously? Four notes!) was all the further I got that year, but it laid the foundation for some real success later on and eventually joining the jazz band in high school. At the end of my high school career, I was lucky enough to travel with our high school band to Europe, my first time abroad.

Poppy passed away in 1992 when I was not yet 14.  He never got to see how far I got with music and how that later morphed into theatre and education. I’d like to think that he’s watched what I’ve done over the years. I just hope he knows how much he unintentionally inspired me at such a young age.

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A Musical Journey

Music has always been a big part of my life. At one point, I seriously considered being a music major with the idea of teaching instrumental music in a secondary school. A number of things happened that caused me to consider another path, but it’s easy to see the mark music has made on my life. If it hadn’t been for music, I wouldn’t have gone into theatre and been so successful, especially when it came to musicals.

However, music also defines different periods in my life.  Certain artists or songs bring me back to particular moments in time. So come with me on my musical journey…

John Denver's Greatest Hits

First stop, at some point before 5 years old:

My mom gave me a little old yellow-green record player and a collection of 45s that I would play non-stop. I could often be found in front of my mirrored closet doors, hairbrush in hand, singing my heart out to Credence Clearwater Revival, Willie Nelson, and my personal favorite, John Denver

Around 5 years old:

My first memory of anything related to pop culture was a big one – Michale Jackson‘s Thriller album was released the year I started Kindergarten. I didn’t really understand what the big deal was, and the dancing zombies both fascinated me a freaked me out…

Around 10:

Fast forward a few years – I don’t seem to have any memory of anything music related until I was in 5th grade. My best friend Jill and I would spend hours listening to the Bangles Everything album, even using it to practice our square dancing to (we were going to camp that spring)…

Junior High:

I was fortunate to grow up in the Pacific Northwest during an incredible time for music. The birth of grunge led to everyone having their own garage band. I had more flannels than I care to admit, and I was truly a grunge chick.  While I was really more of a Pearl Jam girl than Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit was the original anthem for this whole genre:

High School:

From grunge to angry chick rock, Alanis Morrisette hit big my senior year. I missed her concert, but I remember buying the album and listening to it over and over…


Besides the fight song and alma mater that I still know almost all of the words to, college was defined by music.  I’ll spare you the Musical Theatre, but one of the artists that unfortunately defined my early college experience was none other than the British Pop Import Spice Girls. I blame my first roommate for this one (yes you, Mike!)

Okay, college gets two videos.  Late college was more defined by modern rock. I especially remember a particular 4th of July, walking home from the fireworks in the pouring rain, drenched to the bone, singing this one with my friends. I have no idea why…

Grad School/Early Professional:

I moved to NYC for grad school, and while there is a plethora of New York songs, that’s not what I think of when I think of my time there. During this time, my friends and I gathered annually to catch up. This song featured prominently in at least one of those reunions…

Thus ends our musical journey through my life.  Now I’m back in the PNW and I don’t know what song I could use to define the last couple years. I think I need some distance to figure that out. Also, this list skips some major players – notably Barenaked Ladies and Pearl Jam – but I think it gives a good overall view of my musical evolution.

The week of April 25, Our View From Here will be holding its first virtual book club!  We will all be reading, and commenting on, the book Water for Elephantsby Sara Gruen.  Read along with us!
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Music Lessons

I do not collect music.  I do not cultivate an active interest in particular bands, albums or songs.  I do like music.  I like to learn about new bands and genres, but I don’t go out of my way to feed that interest.  So, I’ve been feeling at something of a loss about what to write here.  So, instead of writing about my own history with music, I thought I’d introduce you to a few of the musicians and music aficionados I’ve met in my life and talk about what they’ve taught me. 

1. Music in High School
I’m pretty sure that in high school everyone knew someone who was in a band.  Or was starting a band.  Or wanted to start a band to support the unique sound they had developed by teaching themselves to play the tambourine or the garden hose or some other nonsense.  There were several “bands” in my high school.  It became a very big part of one’s social identity to support one band over the other, especially since they would hold an annual battle of the bands and sides were expected to have been picked ahead of time.  Of course, the ability of any one of these bands to induce ear-bleeding was matched only by the sheer number of inane lyrics they could produce.  Angsty teens are the absolute best at making melodrama both loud and insufferable. 

Lesson: You can either like what you like, and suffer the consequences, or you can like what others like and feel weird about yourself.  It’s completely up to you.  *hint* As a teenager, you’ll feel weird either way, so you might just be better off liking what you like.

2. My Roommate in College
My roommate in college, who for anonymity purposes we’ll call Gertrude, was a pop culture omnivore.  If it was popular, girl consumed it (everything from MTV to WWE).  To wit, her two favorite bands were Korn and N’Sync (not sure about the (in)correct spelling/punctuation of that name, but I’m sure you all know who I’m talking about).  A mutual friend of ours compared this to “worshipping God and the Devil at the same time.”  (He did not say which band was being compared to the Devil in this analogy–but I think he may have meant N’Sync) It was 1998, and both of these bands were at what I imagine was the height of their popularity.  Gertrude (and a few other people who lived in our building) would go to the LA airport and stalk either of these groups if they knew they were arriving that day.  They’d follow them around the airport (which is huge, so they must have somehow found out which airline they were on) and take pictures.  They were total stalkers.  In a harmless and amusing way. 

Lesson: I think what these girls taught me, and what I still think is absolutely true, is that you really, honestly don’t need to determine the one thing that you like and never experiment with anything beyond that.  Music is music, and you hear in some of it things that you like, that make you think, that make you dance, that make you sing, and in some of it, what you hear only makes you want to turn it off.  But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  You don’t have to identify with any particular genre of music, because that’s boring.  (Evidenced by Gertrude’s deep and abiding hatred of another boy band of the time, the Backstreet Boys)  Also, don’t apologize for what you like, and don’t feel like you have to justify your stalkery behavior.  As long as you don’t hurt anybody, it’s probably ok.

3. Musicians in College
Ok, here in print, in a fairly anonymous forum, I’m finally ready to publicly announce that I had a crush on a musician in college. This crush was probably painfully obvious to all of my friends at the time, and if they read this I’ll thank them to continue to do me the courtesy of pretending that I’m much more subtle than I am.  This person is on his way to becoming very successful now, and he’s incredibly talented, but in college I was a blindly adoring fangirl (I totally put lesson 2 into action, in that I may have been somewhat stalkery).  I went to his shows, I bought his albums and I did whatever I could to worm my way into his circle.  I didn’t really care all that much about his music (which, again, for the record was quite good, it just didn’t matter to me that much), I just wanted his attention. 

Lesson: I did have a lot of fun and meet a lot of cool people in this pursuit, but it wasn’t really me.  The role of groupie wasn’t one that fit, but I did it to get attention, and it didn’t even really work that well.  So, I guess the lesson is to do what comes naturally and let the attention of others come to you, rather than putting yourself into a box that can’t contain you and raising people’s expectations needlessly.

4. Musicians after college
The people I know now that are musicians are working exceptionally hard.  Most of them have day jobs and then write and produce music in their spare time.  I don’t think that everyone’s goal is to “hit it big” but I do think they would all like to support themselves, however modestly, by writing and/or playing music.  It’s an intense life, and it seems to be a rewarding one.

Lesson: Do what you love, even if you’re not being paid for it. There are other kinds of rewards for doing what you want to do, and if you’re lucky, you’ll reap those.

5. Music Collectors
I have a friend who has an unparalleled cd collection (well, it’s probably only paralleled by her mp3 collection, which I’m pretty sure comprises over 2 YEARS worth of music).  She has floor-to-ceiling cd shelves along an entire wall of her apartment. Not a little wall, either.  A big fucking wall.  She’s incredibly organized and all of her cds are in alphabetical order by artist (we worked at a bookstore together and she really liked shelving).  In all the time I’ve known her, I’ve never ever mentioned an artist she didn’t either know well, or (usually) own their entire collection.  I’m lucky in that she has taken it upon herself to help me broaden my musical sensibilities.  She has bought me cds that she thought I’d like (she was right) and made mixes for me to listen to in the car that are totally awesome and fun.  She has a critical ear, and she likes a lot of different things.  It blows my mind that she has enough room in her brain to hold information about all the albums and records she has (if I think about it though, I probably have similar amounts of space in my brain that hold information about yarn and fiber). 

Lesson: Find at least one friend who collects music and likes to share.  You’ll get a lot of good music out of it.

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Bluegrass and Bluebloods

Today, I’m not feeling particularly witty, or even very smart.  So, I apologize in advance if that’s why you’re reading.  I think it has something to do with the weather, which is drizzly and has been for the past two days, and something to do with getting over a cold, and something to do with the time of year, and something else to do with a general ennui. 

But I did go to an amazing concert last week.  The headliner was Mumford and Sons, an incredible band that I was introduced to when my sister and her roommate took me to their show in Boston in May.  That show was good, but not great.  I came away from it really liking Mumford, but disappointed by the rest of the experience.  The show was at the famous (for reasons unknown) Middle East club, and it started late, there were like two hours between the opening act and Mumford.  And the opening band was a huge disappointment.  Their lyrics were muffled because the lead singer was swallowing the microphone and the volume was turned up way too high. 

This week, it was an entirely different experience.  The headliners were amazing, as expected, but what I hadn’t expected was that the two opening acts, King Charles and Cadillac Sky, would be equally good.  All in all it was three and half hours of great music, played by bands who obviously enjoyed playing together, and with the other bands on the tour. 

For the encore, all three came out and played together.  Here’s a video of the show they all did in Atlanta a few weeks ago.  This is the song they played as an encore in Boston as well.  Enjoy!

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Amanda’s mass transit rules

Good morning, passengers, and thank you for riding ________ (enter the name of your public transportation company here). To make everyone’s trip as pleasant and comfortable as possible we ask that you kindly abide by the following rules:

  1. When using your portable music playing device, please not only use headphones, but lower the volume so the person next to you, or across the aisle, or several rows away cannot hear your music. We understand that you think you have the best taste in music, but actually, you probably listen to crappy music. No one else wants to hear your hip-hop/rap/80’s Power Ballard/Broadway showtune/ethnic/country twang remix. We might make an exception if you wanted to blast out classical music, because that would be kind of funny.
  2. If you haven’t taken a shower within the last 24-36 hours, please turn around and exit this mass transport vehicle immediately. Do not think that pouring cologne/perfume/hairspray all over yourself takes away your stench – it just adds a new one.
  3. In certain instances, we may try to pack you in here like sardines. If that’s the case, please take your backpacks and shoulder bags off and either hold them in your hands or put them on the floor by your feet. Remember, when you wear bags on your back or shoulders, they become a part of you. If you move left, they move left with you. If you move right, they move right with you….whacking all of your neighbors over in the process.
  4. If you use a cell phone during our ride, kindly talk softly. No one else really cares about your order for Chinese food, what your BFF did last night when she got soooooo wasted, or what stupid gift your mother-in-law gave you for your birthday. Moreover, we really don’t want to hear about your kinky bedroom antics so please have those conversations in the privacy of your own home.
  5. Unless you pay for two seats (and we both know you didn’t), don’t spread your stuff all over the seat next to you. If you do, and someone asks you to move your things so they can sit, don’t act all affronted. Just move your things so someone else can sit and remember that the world does not revolve around you.
  6. On wet, drippy days, do not put your umbrella on the seat next to you or on overhead racks where it will drip all over the seats. Put it on the floor or in a bag.
  7. Don’t eat smelly food.
  8. Please refrain from giving yourself a manicure on the train. Many people do not like the smell of nail polish and really don’t want to smell it first thing in the morning.
  9. If the doors are closing and you’re almost there, do not throw yourself in between them or hold them open. It’s not everyone else’s fault you’re running late. Besides, once you do it, everyone behind you is going to do it too and often, the doors will break, causing an even longer delay. Then, everyone on this vehicle will hate you and wish foul things upon you.

Passengers, as you can see, we don’t ask for much – we just have a few, common sense rules that will make the trip more pleasant for everyone. We understand that it can be difficult to think about others beside yourself and realize that your actions can inconvenience everyone around you, but we’re confident if you just think about this a teeny tiny little bit, it just might start making sense to you. In the interim, we will not-so-patiently wait for a day where we can all enjoy a more comfortable and pleasant commute. Thanks again for riding…I guess.

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