What Did He Say?

Fly ingina plan ecanbes cary.

Not hard to read, right?  Amazing what the human mind can make sense of without much trouble.  Sometimes something in plain English makes no sense whatsoever, or tells you it is telling you what it is telling you it is telling you.  For example, I had an interesting Music Theory professor in graduate school.  This was before I began construction of a filter between my brain and mouth, scheduled to be completed in 2054.

He stated, with all the seriousness that comes with having a PhD and decades of college teaching experience, “When you have two notes a half step apart, that creates an interval of a half step.”

My instinctive, instantaneous, insensitive yet accurate in the tradition of peanut galleries everywhere answer was “That’s brilliant!”

Now, it was not my intention to be rude, but when a tenured professor uses a meaningless tautology that reveals the wisdom of beginning band method books, something must be said.  Later in my degree program I had the same professor for Music Composition studies, essentially a semester of private lessons writing music rather than playing it.  Once again, he proved to be capable of saying the most astounding things.

I arrived at the empty classroom, sat down at the grand piano, and piddled around with some melodic ideas while waiting.  He comes in, only a few steps, looks back, then looks torward me and says “I’ll be right back, I gotta go drain the monster.”  I said the only possible thing one can say to that, “Okay.”  I worked on writing more music, and 60 minutes later he still hadn’t returned.  So, like any sensible person with a lot on my plate I considered the lesson over and went on my way.

Two days later I passed him in the hall, and he flagged me down with an irritated look on his face.  “Where did you go?” he demanded, “I came back and you had left.”

With infinite patience, I replied “well, I worked on the composition for an hour, and you hadn’t returned, so I went on with my day.”

“Oh.”  He paused for a pause between several other pauses that each paused separately.  It had just occurred to him for the first time that it was he who had missed the lesson, not I.  “See you next week then.”  And off he went.

The point to these stories?  The people in charge aren’t always right.  Sometimes the student must explain something to the teacher that the teacher should be well aware of but is somehow operating without that bit of knowledge for the time being.  Not every single bit of memory is available all at once.

So the next time you see someone speaking to hundreds of millions of people on TV, and the orator says something inaccurate, confusing, or just outright stupid, cut him or her some slack.  As Jerry Seinfeld put it, “More people are afraid of public speaking than they are of death.  This means that, when going to a funeral, they would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

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