(Continued from Part One).
So how did my upbringing produce a public school biology teacher who plays heavy metal guitar to raise money for the next generation of students?
As a college town, Lawrence has a culture of intellectualism. Growing up here, I was privileged to have a world-renowned natural history museum within walking distance of home. Also walking distance from home were expanses of undeveloped woodland, streams, and a sizable pond. Day after day, summer after summer, I prowled my favorite haunts; carrying home my latest catch of frogs, turtles, and snakes. But my biological interests pre-date those times.
In a family of music educators, I didn’t grow up wealthy. But we were well-off enough to have a yard. Some of my earliest memories are of turning over rocks in the garden; endlessly fascinated by the creatures living beneath.
My folks weren’t exactly thrilled with the steady supply of spiders and spittle-bugs streaming into the house. But they understood that my interests were worth cultivating; regardless of their own personal preferences. Thus, for the greater good of my intellectual development, they tolerated a growing zoological menagerie that out-lasted my childhood and persists to this day in my biology classroom.
I learned from repeated trial-and-error what sorts of containers snakes can and cannot escape from. I learned that a tarantula can, in fact, climb vertical smooth glass and therefore requires a closed-lid terrarium. I learned that hatchling black widow spiders – hundreds of them – can walk right through a fine-mesh screen which safely contained their voluptuous mother.
None of this was easy for my parents; but interests are interests, and interests must grow. My parents encouraged and guided every interest my brother and I had; from dirt bikes to fireworks to firearms. While other parents would repress or forbid, mine never did. In their eyes, any interest was an opportunity for their progeny to learn and grow.
My parents, both classical musicians, tried to foster musical interests in me; but to no avail. My exposure being limited to the classical piano and opera of my parents’ liking; I was convinced music was boring. Turns out, these genres just hadn’t hit the right chord.
In the late 1970’s some new kids moved in down the street. Through these new friends I made a life-changing musical discovery: “KISS”. Fire-breathing, blood-spurting, loud electric guitars…, the unabashed male-ness was everything a pubescent boy could want. Kiss certainly gave my parents a greater appreciation for snakes and spiders gone AWOL.
But interests are interests, and interests must grow. Our folks bought us our own record player (in hindsight, probably more for them than for us). Within a year we owned every Kiss album and were expanding our collection from Alice Cooper to Led Zeppelin.
My parents saw an opening, finally, to get me to learn an instrument. I took guitar lessons on my mother’s classical guitar; and grew quickly past folk into Baroque. While I enjoyed playing, those styles (not to mention the guitar itself) just didn’t have the kick-in-the-ribs sound I really wanted.
My folks bought me a budget electric guitar, a small solid-state amplifier, and a new style of lessons. My repertoire now spans from Bach to Black Sabbath; and with my own classical guitar among countless electrics and amps – sometimes I still go for Baroque.
And that’s how it came to be that the same guy who teaches about the cochlea with nerd-worthy enthusiasm will also throttle 2,000 of those curly organs with a merciless heavy metal assault. For charity. And then write about it.
Oddly enough, it was heavy-metal lyrics that sparked my interest in literature and, ultimately, writing. There is no limit to where new experiences will lead – if one is fortunate enough to have new experiences.
But what if I hadn’t grown up where I did; or if I hadn’t been raised by well-educated, tolerant, and encouraging parents? What about the countless kids across the country who aren’t so fortunate?
To find out, read on in Part Three.