Welcome to the Safari

Breath in, breath out. Black glove, grey door handle. Brown boots, white snow. Shuffle, not walk. Slosh, slosh, slosh, steps squish-squash; I’m Vanessa-style skating through mud and snow.

Breath in, breath out. Black glove, black door handle. Snow-covered boots, water-covered entry. Children, not adults. Little people 90% winter clothing and 10% body weight; I’m Stephen Sondheim’s giant.

Breath in, breath out. Black glove, black door handle. Wet boots meet thin, blue carpeted office. Smile, Hello, introductions—


A stampede of water buffalo or a showing of Lion King in the next door classroom?

A herd of Disney snow boots fastened with velcro and winter hats with animal ears, poofy gloves double the size of the hands inside them, snotty noses and endless chatter, arrives.

Shazam! The school office has magically shrunk to the size of a closet.

“She threw snow at me!”

“I have to go to the bathroom!”

“The bus broke down, the bus broke down, the bus broke down, the bus broke down, the bus…”

My, conversation this morning is buzzing. 

I glue myself to the wall, back straight, limbs tucked in, narrowly avoiding a Mufasa-like ending. Chaos, will subside, I tell myself. Stand, wait. Breathe. Chaos, will subside. Stand, wait…

But it didn’t.

And it wouldn’t.

This was—oh no, not Day 1—but the day before Day 1—and here it was, the tempo of the week for the new music teacher. Ready?

Fast, fast and faster.

Get ready, get set, go! Go, go, go…

go to Goshen.

This is why I am teaching part-time elementary school music from now through May in Goshen, Indiana:

90% luck/timing/mysterious life force and 10% skill.

I was a block from my Chicago studio, walking home after what had been an hour of rejuvenating ujjayi breath and a savasana that had put me to sleep (oops), when my sister, Alicia, called.

“I turned down a long-term sub. el. ed. music position,” she said, using the hip teacher shortened lingo, “because I accepted a position in my content area at the high school.”

“But,” she continued, “I told the school with the el. ed. music temp. opening all about you. And they really want you to apply.”

“Oh,” I said. “You did?” Wow. “Huh. Well. It’s pretty unlikely I could make that work…it’d be a mess to figure out…”

I’m not certified, I rambled. I want to stay in one place for 12 months. I’d need to find a subletter. I’d need to move all my crap. I sorta had a life in Chicago. I would get in your way if I came back. Blah blah, blah blah.

“I really think you’d be good at this,” she pressed.

I hung up and I cried. Yep, I did this weird little sniffly cry on the corner of Wolcott and Wilson because somehow I knew that all my plans had changed again, even though I was far from making up my mind on whether or not I would pursue the job.

But I did. And so it began:

Interviews, plural. (Those education people can really drill a person!)

Looking for a subletter who wanted to move in the middle of a Chicago winter. (Were my Craiglist Posts desperate-sounding? Yep. Did I care? Nope.)

Leaving home, finding a new home.

Quitting some jobs, renegotiating others.

Moving plans for what must certainly be the best day of the year to move (January 2! Try it!).

Tough conversations with dear friends who were not only used to regularly seeing me, but regularly seeing me after only a 5-minute walk.

And my timeline?

Today. Answers needed, now, please. ASAP. Hurry, hurry!

So this is how it all happened:


Job, offered.

(How can I prove I can lead music without an instrument? Alrighty, staff, let’s sing together right now! One-two-three!)

(I didn’t do that, but it crossed my mind.)

Chicago theatre endeavors? They’ll continue.

(Long weekends in the city, here I come.)

A miracle subletter who signed e-mails to me, “XOXO SUBLETTER SOULMATES”.

A balmy January 2nd (certainly the warmest day 2015 has given us so far).

A best friend also moving to Goshen.

…to live with in an awesome apartment…thanks to her Goshen-based BF…who is also myotherbestfriend…who has mad apartment searching skills…whose mom is an el. ed. music teacher…who has decided to mentor me step-by-step through teaching…

And ridiculously supportive friends.

What I know about teaching elementary music:

If you are a certified music teacher, less than you.

But I do know a bit about dealing with people, including small people. I have directed children in music before. I’ve also hung out with children from time to time, managed children, prevented children from injury, entertained children, and occasionally even been a child.

I do care about Arts education, a lot. And while it has been and continues to be a  ‘super goal’ to teach at the college level, hey, teaching in the Arts is teaching in the Arts and I feel there are few things more important for me to do in my life.

So if I get a chance to do it, I’m going to.

Oh yeah, and I’ve done music here and there, ya know. But, anyway.

Breath in,

Breath out. Pale fingers, silver laptop, black keys. Brown boots, wood floor. Process, then write. Write, then process. Tip tip, tap, tip tip tip tap, this is Vanessa-style music making.

I took acting coaching this fall in the city. I picked monologues that ended with the best-of-the-best adorable sentences like, “I’m not going to do that.” and “He will love me!” and “Yes, that is what I feel, dammit!”

My coach told me, “the end of monologues shouldn’t have a cute little button ending. Make us want more. Leave us hanging. Go against that impulse of yours to wrap things up.”

So today I’m just breath in, breath out.

Just process, then just write.

Tip tip, tap, tip tip tap, music making on electronic paper…as I get ready to make music with hundreds of kiddos next week.

Bring it on, stampede of Disney snow boots. I’ve always loved the Lion King, anyway.

3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Safari

  1. OH my GOSH, Vanessa!! This is so incredibly exciting– I marvel at how miraculous your life really is (at least it appears that way to the rest of us souls, wandering around, searching for purpose!). With this surprising and fortuitous change of plans, I know you will do great things and make great strides. I can’t wait to see you on one of those upcoming long weekends in the city 🙂

    1. You are oh-so-sweet, Kayla! YES. We will have to plan a get together over one of my weekends in town…if you have time, amidst all your endeavors! I hope you’ve been staying well & warm.

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