Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Student

I had no idea that Papi Conpelo was a film buff.
He lived in the desert. We often met over campfires.
He boiled coffee in a metal pot and drank it out of a metal cup.
He wore grimy jeans and a floppy hat, and repaired his own boots.
One April morning he asked me to go fishing on Gila River so we could talk.
Around noon a male quail bird, breast out and top notch high,
perched himself on a nearby saguaro cactus to call his covey
across a dirt road to safety.
Always an alert student and able to view the world around him as offering
 lessons of life, Papi shushed me. Then he leaned over and
whispered the strangest thing.
"Hey, remember those movies about Star Wars?"
"Yea," I whispered back, watching the quail dart across an open space.
"What killed Darth Vader?" he asked.
-from the Life and Times of Papi Conpelo

I walk into the Aqus Café not knowing exactly how to articulate and write what is churning and burning inside me. I glance left. There sits Peter Welker www.peterwelker.com. He was the subject of "Friends" published in my April 2007 newsletter - see http://www.alliedronin.blogspot.com/2007/04/friends.html

 Peter Welker, world-class musician. He and his trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn have graced albums and gigs with the likes of Huey Lewis, Carlos Santana, Natalie Cole, Al Jarreau, The Four Tops, Van Morrison, Boz Scaggs, The Temptations. And that hardly begins his list of colleagues.

Peter Welker, chess player - not world class, but certainly expert class - which means he's pretty damn good. We play each other periodically, and for over a decade he's been kicking my butt.

Peter Welker, fun guy and friend; sincere about his beliefs regarding life, family, relationship and politics. He's the only person who introduces me to his other friends as "a cool cat." We don't see eye-to-eye about some things, but so what? We appreciate each other's sincerity and company. Our discussions are dialogues. We talk about deep stuff so as to understand each other and the world going on around us. We don't insist on a change of viewpoint. Ours is a friendship, not a viewpoint-ship.

At chess, Peter is much better than I. Every game is a lesson. I'm getting better; finally making him sweat over the board. But as for keeping score after ten years, it's Lance 1 - Peter Welker everything else.

Peter is one of my teachers. He didn't ask for that job, and I didn't ask him if he wanted it. In fact, the decision wasn't his to agree to. I made it that way without his knowledge and without his permission. How come? Because he's always a student. I study the student that he is, as well as what he does to attain and expand his level of mastery.

Everybody has some level of mastery at something. What's yours? Who are you studying? Who's studying you? Who are you watching? Who's watching you? Do you know? Is it constructive? Are you certain?

Peter's competencies at chess reflect his mastery of the horn. Both sit on a foundation that, in addition to always being a student, includes the following:
(1)He encourages and helps others in their learning, and often just for the sake of their learning and development.
(2)He understands and accepts that the objective of his own learning and development often involves enriching the world more than enriching his own pocket book.
(3)He is always engaged in a practice.

Yesterday we played three games of chess at a local café. As we wrapped up our third game another fellow - a truly eccentric type who (no kidding) wears a plastic Viking helmet when playing chess - came walking in to watch and asked Peter if he could play him next. I sat and watched their games. When they finished, Peter lost all but one which ended in a draw.

Some time ago Peter contacted his chess cronies from around town for a get together at his home to play a few hours, and he invited me. "Why are you asking me?" I wondered aloud. "Heyman, you're good. You'll fit right in." I shook my head, because all the other invitees also hold "expert" level, all except for one who is a for-real chess master.   "OK," I laughed, "I'll come and be the day's cannon fodder." He grinned, "Trust me. You'll be OK."

So in preparation for the gathering I invited myself over to his house a few days early. This way we could play and talk without distractions, and work on my game. While we were at it he turned on his satellite radio to a jazz station for background music. In the midst of one game his eyes closed and he began mentally groovin' and physically movin' to the tunes. Then he got up, walked over to the speakers (I pondered the predicament he had me in), sat down to his piano (I didn't know he could play that too) to accompany the artists streaming in from outer space.

(I know the joke is cliché - and you know it's coming - but I have to repeat it. Guy on street in Manhattan hails cab driver to ask how to get to Carnegie Hall. The cabbie answers, "Practice." For some people the previous twenty words are a worn out joke. But to one of the top cornet players in the world, who is also a not-to-shabby chess player, the last word of those twenty words is a way of life - actually, it's THE way of life.")

Back to today. I walk into the Aqus Café and not knowing exactly how to articulate and write what is burning inside me, I glance to my left. There sits Peter Welker scribbling away. So I sit next to him. Now each of us is working on something we apparently need to express. But our methods and tools differ. I use a computer and type alphabet into strings of words on a plasma screen. He uses a pencil with an eraser and jots musical notes and symbols into strings of chords and shrills and tempos on paper score sheets strewn across a table. Hopefully we'll both communicate what we're studying. Hopefully we'll communicate something that matters. Hopefully someone will listen.

What are you studying?   What are you practicing?
Is it constructive?   Are you certain?

"Papi, what are you talking about?"
"What killed Darth Vader?"he repeated.
 "Papi, it wasn't what, it was who,"
 "Nope," he continued in a low voice.
" It's never the who that does the killing. It's the what.
And in Vader'scase, it was arrogance. He stopped being a student."
-from the Life and Times of Papi Conpelo

© Lance Giroux, May 2012

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