Musings on finding one’s purpose and a sojourn in the classroom

On my way to class prepandemic…perhaps a future student?

What have I been doing the last few months, aside from working with clients and doing music and running lines (and being a camp counselor) for this actor’s workshop down in Tuscany that my friend Katharina did annually before the pandemic and has begun again (finally!), and why have I been so distracted by it that I couldn’t blog regularly? Or do my normal social media things on LinkedIn? Pinterest?

I’ve been teaching.

My uncle David’s career was in the toilet before he died, and he decided to go teach, which was rather courageous of him considering what he’d done all those years promoting US cotton in far-flung corners of the world, wasn’t easy to sell as a teachable course or set of courses. His mother, my maternal grandmother, had studied sociology and even worked on her doctorate at a time when women didn’t necessarily do graduate work even in the social sciences. Both of his sisters, my aunt and my mother, took education seriously and both studied at graduate levels and even taught at all levels over their careers.

Teaching has been in my family, at least on my mother’s side for at least three generations, and despite the lousy pay, depending on where and what you teach I suppose, it’s one of the most honourable professions. However, because I grew up hearing my mom whinge about how poorly they’re paid, I sometimes unconsciously downplay its value and tell my wife I never want to teach again.

Then I’m offered another course, and if it’s one of many things I’m doing? I’m normally happy with it. Learned long ago that my career has been a series of starts and stops, and over time I’ve learned to accept that. Now? The classes have been taught, the exams proctored and the grades turned in.

Back to the real world, and time with young people just starting this journey? Invaluable.

Reminds me of what my dad said when I was in my early twenties and still figuring out my place in the world. He’d listen to whatever I was going through, and respond, ‘Ken, I’m glad I don’t ever have to be 22 again’.

It sounds sarcastic, but that wasn’t his point. He helped me see that my daily struggle was temporal. That we all go through rough times, and his example?

If you can take yourself a bit less seriously and smile while going through the shit? All the better.

Explaining baseball and trying to get across my love for the Cubs

Back in the groove

Nick and I making faces when he was in Munich the last few months

One of the reasons I recommend an editorial calendar to my clients is to avoid exactly what’s happened to me the last few months.

I’ve been snowed under with work and family responsibilities, as well as starting a Master’s programme in the UK, so there just hasn’t been time for blogging or my normal activities on LinkedIn and other platforms.

Not making excuses, it’s just sometimes life gets in the way of what was intended. There’s a quote attributed to John Lennon that I’m sure someone else had already said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

Oh well.

So, how would an editorial calendar solve this dilemma? It’s simple really, but all good ideas need better follow through, and I’ve resolved to practise what I preach, at least on this topic.

As I often recommend, let’s figure out how often you want to post, whether once or twice a week or even several times a month, decide what’s reasonable for you time-wise.

Here’s the part that sounds great in theory. Many don’t have the discipline to actually do it, though. Once it’s clear who you’re writing for (know your audience), map out the next three months of content and sit down and write all of it.

Normally not in one sitting, of course. But do it. I’ll be setting aside time daily, or several times a week, in the coming weeks to write down all the ideas I’ve been jotting down while I’ve been too busy to actually write.

My schedule opens up next week, and I’ve got about six weeks before we head back down to Italy for our annual time in the village where my wife lived when we met.

I don’t think I need that long to get this ship back in the water, but if it takes that long? So be it.

It’s a nice idea that I could keep writing while we’re down there, and I’ve got a book project my friend Nick and I are working on, so I’m sure I’ll be plenty busy with that and other things.

Yet they’re all analog and perfect for somebody like me who doesn’t necessarily have consistent Wi-Fi for those weeks.

If I’ve mapped out the next several months content, written pieces that are specifically for my clients or people with similar problems, considered other things that might help them or even the sorts of clients I might want in the future, and it’s all in the proverbial can…

Waiting for me to simply click ‘publish’.

Then I can get in the car with my family in six weeks or so, enjoy our time together, leave my devices in my bag or back at the place we’re renting, and have time to work on new things.

Sound too good to be true? Nice idea, but when would I find the time for such a thing?

Well, that’s what I could help you with if any of this sounds useful. As I often say, I could show you how to do it, or I can get to know you a bit and do it for you.

It’s one of my things and I love doing it.

Now back to my work and you’ll see me talking more about this here and on social media in the coming weeks. Reach out here in the comments, find Ken Macbeth Knowles on LinkedIn, or just find me on twitter.

Twitter’s still a thing? Apparently so.

I’m @lahikmajoe over there, if you’d like to connect and read my more banal and off topic thoughts.

Otherwise, keep reading. I’m here for you if there’s anything I can help you with.

Twitter? I hardly know *anyone* there

In Nice several years back for the coolest Sylvestre sunset eVAH!!!

This next week, I’m tweeting for a local account, which I did for a week nearly a decade back and it was HORRIBLE.

Learned sooooooooo much about biting off more than I could chew, by being unable to adequately manage the account, while my personal life was in complete free fall.

Next week, though?

Gonna rock it, yo!

George told me to shut up, and…for a change? I listened

Robert Godden and myself hamming it up in London a few years back

Above you’ll see me with one of my favourite people on the planet. Robert is nuts, but it’s a good nuts. George is almost as nuts as Robert and I are, but not quite. We’ve set a high bar, to be fair.

Who’s George, you ask?

Let me provide a bit of context I’ve got this friend George, who’s a gardener. He wasn’t always in such a position of autonomy and authority. He used to be a marketing specialist. Bilingual, even. Yet he was miserable and wanted to go outside and be with the birds. And think about worms.

Like a child, right? That’s one of the many things I like about George. He’s not playing by society’s rulebook. Were he to ask his family, a successful line of people if there ever was one, about his recent downshift from marketing to gardening, I doubt he’d get approving responses.

Damn them, is what I say.

But I’m a bit like the Hindu god Shiva…I like to tear things down before building them up again. Although, if I’m honest? I’m probably more like Ganesh than Shiva. I think I’m a badass, when really I’m a bit round in the middle and want to enjoy my comfort.

What might this have to do with my clients or how I get my message across? Simply put, I’m good at writing what I know. I’ve spent my career doing just that. My clients are typically quite German. Even the Italians and French people I deal with have been living here in this Teutonic reality long enough that they might as well be German.

My solutions might be okay, but my delivery is often so unorthodox that they need to try me out before they can see the method to my madness. Were I to be less chaotic, I’d lose less clients right off the bat. It’s anti-intuitive, but I’ve learned to stay the course and worry less about losing clients who don’t ‘get me’.

What’s my biggest, most successful, piece of advice? When it comes to clients? It’s so simple it almost hurts to write it:

Listen better. Ask good questions, but only after a lot of active listening. Making sure you truly understand what their whole deal is. Not what you assume their deal is. Let them tell you.

In future posts, I’ll talk more about this. Follow me for more tips on how to alienate clients. The ones who stick around might be worth the trouble. Or I might be.

I can never tell which one.

Who wants to ride another Ferris Wheel around and around and around? Wouldn’t you rather get off at some point?

So when’s he gonna stop already with #EllaandLouis?

Above is a photo of Ella *ahem* cleaning her brother…it was always so funny to tell Louis not to pee on his sister, because he so regularly did.

They were with me nearly fifteen years, and with my friend Larissa’s artwork of them, I still have a daily reminder of them on my wall in the new flat.

Of course, feckbook’s regular memories function allows me to share their old photos again and again. So much so that I sometimes worry it’s too much for people. When’s he gonna stop already with #EllaandLouis?

No matter how much good feedback I get for this blog or photos of those amazing dogs, I can still hear the criticism of a few misanthropes in my mind. I’m the worst critic, though. Which is what sometimes blocks me from getting my thoughts down on the page, or the screen which is more common in these digital times.

I’ve been thinking a lot about 2112, which if you didn’t grow up listening to prog rock in the 80s might not mean anything. I’ve never been much of a metal head, but I’m guilty, along with a lot of guys (and even some women) my age, of having loved the band Rush.

We even named a dog after the band at one point. Considering I’ve had a Lyle and of course Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mr. Armstrong, naming my/our dogs after a musician is about the highest personal honour I can bestow.

Their record was a dystopian fantasy in which music was outlawed. I see some parallels today and imagining a person trying to live off the grid and not under the constant watchful eye of Amazon, Google and especially the Book of Faces.

What would you be able to manage in your life today without this digital extravaganza that is the Internet? I’m doing nearly all of my teaching online these days, which is a godsend considering as many as six short months back my German clients saw working from home as a glorified sick day.

Home office or even working from home one day a week was considered such a luxury in this famously slow evolving culture. Not anymore. I’m on the edge of not taking any face to face work anymore, but then…

There’s music. You can certainly do music lessons virtually. I’ve had a few amazing lessons on Skype and even Messenger during the lockdown. I’ve continued to teach my music students virtually when a face-to-face lesson won’t do, but…

Today I met up with one of my old students. We had a ukulele/singing lesson. We laughed about old times before #Covid19, and then we made some sweet music together. It wasn’t anything like a zoom meeting.

Which is what takes me back to 2112. Outlaw face-to-face communication in the Time of Corona? No thank you.

Social distancing? Yes, please.

My friend Cay shared a post a few days ago, where they had a Brass Quintet rehearsal outside with many metres of distance between them. If I had to play in a brass ensemble, I’d want the others as far away from my poor brass playing as possible.

I can’t wait to get back to normal, but I think that normal is an illusion. We’ll see.

Upon returning home to Germany and two weeks later being released from home quarantine, I was told I’d get more used to being around other people again. I’m not so sure I want to.

We’ll see. Stranger things have happened.

Shut the hell up, for a change

Miriam won’t be seen in public with me these days & I don’t blame her

You’re sitting in your mom’s house, eating too much of her leftover food, playing with the progeny among her things, looking at photos you don’t remember ever having seen before, laughing and crying simultaneously at the proposterous nature of you and your family.

We’re all struggling in some way or other. If you deny that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Perhaps you like being alone.

Normally the thought of having zero contact with anyone would’ve sounded amazing. You’d have taken that deal in a heartbeat.

Now look at you. How’s that ‘i hate everyone’ stance looking now, you hypocritical fool?

Perhaps you’re rarely alone in your normal daily life with work obligations and family commitments.

And now?

How’re you distracting yourself now?

Perhaps you read articles about an uptick in domestic violence during times like these and think, ‘That could never happen to me. I certainly would never do that.’

Then your husband or partner smacks his lips while he’s eating, like he’s done since right after you both got married to be honest, and you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there more domestic violence?’

Your partner knows how to push your buttons like nearly no-one else.

My mother was a master button pusher of mine. She knew exactly where my buttons were.

Very few people have that knowledge that she possessed.

Where my most vulnerable spots are.

Brother Michael & me with the parental unit

At this point, it’s just my brother from the original four of us. He’s much more polite than I’ve ever managed to be, so it’s mostly me offending and then scraping and begging for forgiveness.

It’s a joy, I tell you. But I bring it on myself. If I knew how to act right most of the time, I wouldn’t struggle with people.

Right?

It just so happens that this #covid19 pandemic means for me that I have much more interaction these days with the people I least want to deal with.

Family.

They’re never easy cooped up in close quarters. What would we do these days without connection to the outside world?

To the people we normally tolerate ‘out there’?

Ask my brother Michael about Luling, Texas. We might still be traumatised by that story.

I know I am.

Stuck in a hotel room after we slid on black ice and totalled our van, we got to spend an inordinate amount of quality time together that week. It felt like a month in that godforsaken tiny hotel room.

I’ll never forget my dad accusing one of us of being passive aggressive and my response?

Dude, you’re like a year or two dry and clearly aa isn’t working for you, you old coot. Go back to your psycho babble meetings and learn about projection.

I was a joy, huh?

Want another dark family story?

Our trip driving my stuff home from Cincinnati, after finally finishing school.

Brother Michael and I were so loving toward one another that I almost walked away from the car and took a train.

Dramatic, much?

Ask my wife. I’m a pleasure to live with.

Now, aside from Miriam and our kid, all of you people are here inside my phone.

Both available and not available at the weirdest most inappropriate times.

If you want some advice you didn’t ask for, I’d say shut the hell up for a change.

I assure you I’m trying to practise what I preach.

With questionable results.

Thanks to this virus, we’re all forced to live closer to someone most of us have been running from for years if not decades.

Ourselves.

Brother Michael, Fafa, Nana & me

Taco Tuesdays and this ridiculous overblown virus nonsense

My dad Bill Auvenshine

Passed a texmex restaurant called Casa Olé on our way through Brenham, Texas the other day and it got me thinking. I told my wife the story, and she said, ‘You should write about that.’

Well, I always do what my wife tells me. Right, Miriam? Yeah, ok. That’s not entirely true. I try to at least consider what she says, before I do what I wanted to begin with. Back to the story, though.

Casa Olé was an institution when I was growing up — even went to one years later in Pasadena, Texas of all places with my then girlfriend & her family, I think.

It was the same bad texmex goodness as it’d always been. We ate a lot of that stuff, if I recall correctly.

We used to joke that dad could pay our lunch money with his beer bottle deposits from the Ragin Cagun we lived near in the Gulfton ghetto.

It was no joke.

The things that pass for frivolity when your mom’s then boyfriend, soon to be 3rd husband is drinking himself into a catatonic state on a nightly basis.

People love to talk about what a great man our dad was, and I hope I’m as revered and loved as he was at the end.

The jury’s still out, but I doubt I can make the impact on people’s lives that he did once he put the plug in the proverbial jug and gave up drinking for good.

But when we were little? Me, nine, and brother Michael, seven, hanging out in the Sunny’s parking lot while Bill, mom’s aforementioned dude, was inside playing pacman and swilling Lone Stars.

Where was mom? Teaching night school at UH Downtown, which was one of three gigs she had if you counted slinging Avon.

I still despise Avon. Even the look of one of their bags makes me cringe.

Why weren’t we at home eating chefboyardee Ravioli, which ol’ Bill had become expert at plopping out of a can into our gullets.

Our incessantly growing appetites as we transformed from children toward teenagerhood.

We were mere babes at this point. Nine and seven years old, hanging out at the local convenience store while a man we barely knew got wasted on cheap Texas beer and there we were.

In his charge.

He turned into a fine man, though. That’s all that matters, right? We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we were given.

I shared something I wrote here with a friend and he asked me very nonchalantly when I was going to be getting over my pity party?

Everyone had a rough childhood in one way or another.

Just get over it.

Really.

My wife insists I’m too negative here. She asks something like, ‘This is how you process your grief? Out in the open where everyone can see it?’

I guess so.

Maybe not.

Perhaps I should reconsider.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I write something truly raw, somebody thanks me and says my words somehow helped them.

I can’t ever predict how what I write is going to help somebody else. It’s a weird alchemy, if you ask me.

Read that New Yorker article about Prince and he hated that word alchemy. While I understood his point, I have no problem comparing writing to it.

You take something dirty and embarrassing. Something good people wouldn’t share openly. Or good isn’t the right word.

Thoughtful people wouldn’t do what I do here. It might be circumspect and ponderous. That’s what I’m going for, by the way.

Ponderous.

And weirdly, whether it’s clear or not, hopeful. I’m trying to work through this stuff from my childhood, because it makes me hopeful.

That my kid doesn’t have to deal with what I did. She can have a whole ‘nother bag of issues that I’ve hopefully not made worse.

Ponderous and hopeful.

What d’you think? Am I succeeding?

Leave your thoughts in the comments here.

Not on feckbook.

I hate that place.