Less Virtual, More Real

IMG_3270Because of the current pandemic, nothing about my work is the way it was six weeks ago. Six weeks ago I went to an actual school, with kids in my actual classroom. We not only listened to music and watched videos about music – we created music. We played ukuleles, guitars, keyboards, and percussion instruments. My classroom turned into a disaster every day, because it was used to its fullest. Then I’d clean it every afternoon, and start the next day with a clean room, only to create a new musical disaster at the end of the next day. That’s how real education is.

Now I’m home most of the time, and class has become virtual. I’ve always hated that word; I don’t know what the dictionary says about it but to me, it means, “not quite the actual thing, but kind of.” A certain amount of virtual is fine, but I have a limit. I can only go so far, only so many Zoom meetings, only so many Skype and FaceTime get-togethers, only so many livestream church services, before something starts dying inside.

I don’t know what your tolerance level is for virtual, but I’ve been close to my limit for a few weeks now. I know – it’s the best we can do at the moment. I’m thankful to work at a school that thrives on creativity, and a leadership team who supports us like crazy. There have been some good Zoom moments, not the least of which was a half hour spent playing ukulele with sixth graders a few days ago. But it wasn’t exactly real. It was a virtual ukulele group.

I couldn’t walk over and sit by the guy who was having a hard time forming the chords and help him. I couldn’t enjoy the sound of all of them talking and laughing and playing ukuleles at once; I had to mute them so there wouldn’t be too much ambient noise. The thing is, life is supposed to have ambient noise. That’s part of what makes it real. I’ve made my share of jokes the past few weeks about wishing I had a “mute” button in my real classroom, but the truth is I just want a classroom full of kids making noise and having a good time. To be honest, if I could I’d change the sign above my door from “Music Room” to “Make Noise and Have a Good Time Room.”

Anyway, this afternoon I hit my virtual wall, literally. I was desperate to do something that didn’t involve little boxes on my screen with people’s photos, all muted. I needed to stop being virtual for a while and be real. So I went to my garage, where there’s a 100-plus year old piano that I’m in the process of restoring. There’s nothing like 105-year-old dirt on your hands to push away all the virtual nonsense and bring you back to reality.

That’s the inside of the piano, in the photo at the top. Those are my fingers holding the tweezers, installing new bridle tapes into the piano. The old ones are so old, many of them literally (not virtually) disintegrated when I removed them.  It’s a pretty small thing to fix, but the piano will feel and play much better with the bridle tapes replaced.

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This pandemic is wearing us out – not just because of the actual sickness itself, but because of what we’re all giving up. Virtual stuff will never be a replacement for real stuff. I hope you’re finding ways to hold onto real things – the feel of a real basketball in your hands, or the sight and smell of a real book (Kindle is fine but it’s not the same), or the piercing sound of a real dog barking at the neighbors even though you just told him to stop. Or the sound of your daughter laughing and making fun of you, or the feel of a real ukulele in your hands, or the smell of a real chicken that’s been cooking for hours.

Virtual stuff will never be a replacement for real stuff. Make sure you’re turning off some of the virtual (except of course, to read this), and spending time with things that are real and lasting.

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