CMJ 103: Introductory Stylings
For our first speech in Fundamentals of Public Communication, we were asked to describe a Defining Moment in our lives, and to do it in not less than three nor more than four minutes.
I had to think about that for a while, because I’m not really a big believer in the concept of the Defining Moment, and most of the points in my life that (retrospectively) appear like they might’ve been same weren’t really the kind of thing I felt like sharing with a room full of strangers. Eventually, though, I hit on an anecdote from the Elder Days (the really Elder Days, as in high school) that I figured would satisfy the requirements and maybe inject a lighter note into what I suspected was likely to be largely a stream of pretty self-consciously serious musings from the others. Here, because I don’t possess a copy of the video record, is a transcript of my remarks… because it’s my blog and I can post what I want to.
Hi! My name’s Ben, and today I’d like to talk to you about the life-altering power… of drugs.
I know – not a point of view you hear often, particularly in a setting such as this; let me explain. I’m not talking about illegal drugs. I’m not even talking about legal drugs used in a manner inconsistent with their labeling. I’m talking about using duly prescribed pharmaceuticals as directed by a doctor, and how it can change your life. Or at least brighten your day.
So! High school! For me, a long time ago in a galaxy far – OK, in Millinocket, but, uh… who here was born after 1990? … Yeah, I was afraid of that. OK. That’s when this happened. It was my junior year in high school.
I played trombone in my high school jazz band. I was actually a euphonist, but they don’t have euphonia in jazz bands. I joined ’cause I thought it’d be a good way to meet girls. That didn’t work, by the way. I was second chair, so I was entitled to perform solos if I wanted – but I was never confident enough with the instrument to try it in a public setting. I was too nervous. I hate being bad at things where people can see me.
So my junior year, the day of the regional jazz fest – first step toward hopefully making it to the state jazz festival and competing for all the marbles; I’m in my – I was in class minding my own business, and suddenly I had an attack of lower back muscle spasms. I don’t know if this has happened to any of you, but they are incredibly painful. So painful that you can’t really breathe while they’re happening. Mine came all the way around to the front (which is quite a long way as you can see), and it was terrible. Bad enough that I was excused from class, went up to the emergency room, where they whacked me up on a muscle relaxant called Flexeril and codeine for the pain – and gave me more to take away with me, with strict instructions about how and when I was to take each one.
I could’ve been excused for going home at this point and having a little bit of a lie down, but the band was counting on me and anyway, by then I felt… pretty good. And it wasn’t like I would be driving; so I went back to school, got on the bus with my little bottles of pills and a note from the attending physician in my pocket…
I should point out at this point that codeine is a chemical cousin of both morphine and heroin, which are substances long associated with the golden age of jazz musicianship. As such, I suspect I was the only person in the building that night who was in touch with what I like to think of as the true spirit of jazz. I threw caution to the wind and asked if I could do a solo in my favorite song. Mr. Walker, the band teacher, was shocked, but agreed.
And I’ll tell you something: I was awesome. That day was awesome. I went from the worst pain of my life to one of the crowning moments of my short-lived career as a musician. And it never would’ve happened… without drugs! So take your medicine! Thank you.
It remains to be seen how well that little offering actually performed, class-material-wise, but it seemed to go over well with the audience. I got laughs at all the right spots and – most gratifyingly – the goggle-eyed "I can’t believe what I just heard" face from my instructor between the opening line and the disclaimer. Well, she did say we ought to open with an Attention-Getting Device, and I decided to interpret that as a metaphor rather than employing one of those pneumatic boat horns.