After the meeting my son came into the bedroom and picked up the small electric guitar his grandparents had purchased for him. It had been over a year since he had tried to play it. I tuned it and showed him a few chords. He plays piano and has math chops, so the concepts came quickly—more so than the last time. I grabbed my acoustic and started playing. Most of the songs I know now are the ones I wrote in high school and college.
I grew up in the Seattle area, but when I was fourteen, I moved with my parents to the mid-west. All of our relatives lived in Utah, and I had integrated my Seattle upbringing into my identity in an attempt to assert a measure of superiority to myself over the difference. When I arrived in rural Missouri I was more than odd—socially incompetent, a Pacific Northwesterner, and Mormon. I eventually got over it and thought it unlikely that I would ever return to the Coast.
Several weeks ago I walked through the halls of the middle-school I attended. By a measure of providence or cosmic sardony my oldest son is in his first year at the school. For him, it is perfect. He has a set of skills that qualify him for the curriculum that is quite unrelated to the geographic compulsion of my attendance. As we walked, he was full of joy while I was full of dread. My failures as a human being, while not isolated to that time and space, are of a particular character there. And I would prefer not to remember.
I didn’t really think about what I played. My son keenly picked out that the chord structure of E minor worked over my riff. I started to sing the song I wrote when I was seventeen—three years after leaving the place that located so many of the regrets the meeting had conjured. It wasn’t really technical. I had written it to try my hand at the 3/4 jingo-folk style of John Denver:
Me and my boy went down to the riverside.
I told him, “Son, you better stay to the line.”
“Just look in my eyes, you will see why.”
“Please understand me, son. You were chosen to fly.”
Way down by the riverside,
The sun arises. The sun arises.