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March 5, 2003
Vol. III, No. 7

"Every Beaver Has His Day"
I know that I referred to a previous Rampage as the final installment of my recital saga however the saga wouldn't be complete without this epilogue. But first, a story.

In the fifth grade, I participated in a kind of science fair that required the participants to present an oral report from memory using self-created visual aids. Our topics had to relate to water and, being interested in wildlife, I chose "The Life of the Beaver."

I was still memorizing my speech in the car as my parents drove me to the school on the day of the event. My visual aid, a painted plaster of Paris and chicken wire layout of a beaver pond (minus actual water) was modest compared to the other exhibits such as the impressive Water Cycle and Water Treatment displays. To be fair, I was the only participant from my school, while most of my co-participants had teamed up with classmates from their home schools. Whereas I had worked alone, their collaborative efforts had enabled them to create more elaborate exhibits, with the added benefit that each of them had fewer lines to memorize.

It was a lot for a ten-year-old, speaking in front of a gymnasium full of adults, let alone from memory. As could be expected given my lack of thorough preparation, my speech was peppered with memory lapses. Patiently, our teacher-sponsor coaxed me over each awkward gap of silence. Hot under the collar and ears burning red, it was with great relief that I finally reached the end of my presentation.

My relief was short-lived. When I returned to my seat, I discovered that a group of the participants had been scoring each presenter by counting each of their memory lapses as a "strike," as in "Three strikes and you're out." With my eight "strikes," these self-appointed umpires informed me, I had "struck out" almost three times over and let down my team. I was too young at the time to realize that there was no team. These were just some smart aleck kids boosting their own egos at the expense of their peers. The damage done, however, I sat there in my chair feeling a mixture of embarrassment, shame, and anger at being betrayed by my "friends."

My hurt feelings were offset somewhat by the positive reinforcement I received at the reception from the parents who had attended the presentations. I still believe many of them were genuinely enthused about my presentation. The one comment I've always treasured most was "I never knew there was so much to know about beavers!" But the whole reason I'm dredging up this horrid childhood tale is that it came to me as I listened for the first time to a recording of my recent recital.

My spirits sank as I realized that, like the cruel kids in my story, someone, or rather, something had been out in the audience following every nuance of my performance and "keeping score." Every little blip in my playing leaped out of the speakers and made me cringe. Bit by bit, what little self-confidence I had held onto since the recital was shredded away. I immediately put the CD high up on a shelf.

Before listening to the recording, I had been feeling pretty good about my recital. Now I found myself in a nasty depression, a big hole where my recital had been. No focus and, worse yet, no desire to look for one. So much for being spared the "let-down" I traditionally experience following a recital. It was actually far worse than a "let-down." It was more like a "smack-down."

I realized now that, as a result of being drained physically and mentally from the recital, I had clung to the favorable comments of the well-wishers and the sense of accomplishment rather than embrace the realities of my performance. And by doing so, I had been in an artificially inflated state, vulnerable, like a balloon ready to burst but for a pin.

That first listen was a big pin. It revealed warts and all that hadn't registered in my mind because I'd been too busy playing. If I'd been sitting beside myself on the bench I would have noticed them. But I hadn't been so I didn't. I'd been blindsided by mistakes that I never even knew I'd made.

Weeks went by while I sorted through my jumbled thoughts and emotions. Fortunately, life had already begun the process of reclaiming me, the way nature imperceptibly reclaims an abandoned homestead. Eventually, I brought the recording back down off the shelf and braved a listen. To my relief, the mistakes no longer jumped out at me the way they had. It was a sign that life was returning to normal. Time had done its work.

If you're comfortable with mp3 files, you can hear my recital at this link:

If you'd be more comfortable with a CD, they are available at the link below for a nominal fee:

Click this link to read comments and offer your own:

Have a great week!

Dan Long

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