Warning: This poem contains some sensitive subjects. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes emotional angst, reference to past debates over city planning, an extremely hidebound academic advisor, intense academic stress, bureaucratic bullshit, and other challenges. However, it ends with plans for positive changes to Kyle's major, so the overall effect is upbeat. Readers with past or present academic conflicts may find this poem unsettling. This is the middle of three poems about Kyle, so skipping it would leave a gap. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"They Really Almost Got Me"
After lunch with Kyle at Cup of Comfort,
Ansel led the way back toward where
he had parked. As they approached
the patrol car, though, Kyle began
slowing down noticeably.
"You are dragging your feet all of
a sudden," Ansel said. "What's wrong?"
"I don't want anyone to see," Kyle said.
"It's not exactly a secret that I'm having
problems, and you're, well ... having a cop
walk me into the office won't look good."
"I could change out of my uniform, but that
has drawbacks," Ansel said. "I'd have to get
special permission, and we'd lose the advantage
of its visual impact on the college staff. I find
that people mind better when I'm in uniform."
They also kept their hands to themselves more,
and Ansel did not relish the idea of walking
through a campus full of hormonal students
while dressed only in plainclothes and pink hair.
"We need all the clout we can get," Kyle said.
"I just ... people will talk, and I'm already frazzled."
"Why don't we come in the back way?"
Ansel suggested. "Ivory Avenue lets out
right into the administrative area."
"Oh right," Kyle said. "That's a good idea.
I forgot about it; I don't usually go that way.
How did you even know about it?"
"I went to Bouchet myself," Ansel said.
"As a party monitor, I was very popular with
the teachers and the rest of the staff, but
other students could get prickly about it.
I learned that sometimes it was just
easier to sneak in the back way."
They drove along the peaceful stretch
of Ivory Avenue, which had tall trees and
rowhouses lining one side but saplings
and large houses lining the other.
"I always wondered why this street
was so lopsided," Kyle said as he
watched the scenery out the window.
"About ten years ago we had a bad drought,
and a fire swept through this part of town,"
Ansel said. "The fire department stopped it
right here, but all the rowhouses and most
of the old trees on one side were destroyed."
"Why didn't they just rebuild it?" Kyle said.
Ansel chuckled. "That was the original proposal,"
he said. "But almost nobody wanted to move back,
because it would mean waiting as much as two years
to finish the construction. They all wanted to move
into the new townhouses in Cambridge Commons,
which at that time were almost complete."
"Yeah, I wouldn't want to wait that long
either," Kyle agreed. "But why make
all these enormous houses?"
"That came up in the town meeting,"
Ansel said. "The administrators and
professors didn't have anywhere close
to work that they wanted to live."
"How did they work it out?" Kyle said.
"A developer suggested meeting their needs,
and it won the vote by a landslide," Ansel said.
"That includes clusters of smaller houses and
apartments at one end, which fills in the size
and budget range of housing. They also added
a small park with an amphitheater to support
the academic culture of the neighborhood."
"That's a really clever plan," Kyle said. "I would
never have thought of all that stuff myself."
"You would if you were the one who
couldn't find the right place to live,"
Ansel said. "It just depends on what
you need and what you see -- like how
you see the gap between concert and
busking performances that your college
isn't handling effectively for you."
"I wish that my problems were as
easy to fix as this," Kyle said.
"It wasn't easy," Ansel said. "Deciding
how to rebuild this neighborhood took
a lot of late nights in town meetings,
then a couple years to construct all of
the new buildings and the park. But it
was worth the hard work, and fixing
your college problems will be too."
"I hope so," Kyle said, looking out
the window. "Nice amphitheater, but
I doubt I'd do any better there than
on the regular stage at college."
Ansel glanced at Espalier Park
with its public performance space.
"I don't know," he said thoughtfully.
"I've attended a few events here, and
one of those was a folk singer who
wandered through the audience
during most of her show."
Kyle twisted to look over
his shoulder at the park behind
them. "That might actually work."
Soon Ansel pulled into the parking lot
that nestled inside the little cluster of
administrative buildings, then put up
the Official Business placard on
his windshield. Nobody would
ticket a patrol car, usually,
but he liked to make sure.
"Lead the way," Ansel invited
with a wave of his hand as he
climbed out of the car.
Kyle stretched his long legs, heading to
the building that held some of the offices
for the music department, hallways dotted
with posters on students helping each other.
Once again, it was the slowing
of pace that alerted Ansel to
the office as they approached.
"This one," Kyle said glumly
as he opened the door.
Ansel slipped ahead of him and spoke
to the chunky middle-aged woman
who sat beside the cluttered desk.
"I'm officer Nicholson and I'm here
to discuss Mr. McCartney's major."
"What -- why would you -- you're
not with the college!" she sputtered.
Ansel glanced at the study tips poster
and the name sign on her desk. "No, I'm
with the city, Mrs. Penningroth," he said.
"Recently I've become concerned about
Mr. McCartney's college career."
He turned to Kyle. "May I have
permission to review your records?"
he asked. He believed Kyle's account --
had been watching this disaster unfold in
slow motion for months -- but he also
believed in checking the facts.
"Yeah, sure," Kyle said.
"I'll need that in writing,"
Mrs. Penningroth insisted.
She fussed with a stylus and
a tablet computer, then
waved both at him.
Kyle rolled his eyes, but he still
accepted them, signing with a flourish
and clicking the stylus briskly against
the screen at the end before returning it.
Mrs. Penningroth saved the form
and brought up the file, then
passed the tablet to Ansel.
The data showed a clear pattern
of decline from Kyle's high school
classes and entrance exams to college,
and Ansel knew it was not because
the young man partied too hard
or failed to do his homework.
Kyle was also doing fine in
Music Theory 141, English 123,
and Historical Inquiry: Slavery. It was
in Solo Guitar and Ensemble Guitar
where the trouble appeared.
Predictably enough, Glee Club was
annotated with enthusiastic praise
from the supervising faculty.
"The problem seems to lie
in the classes which require
stage performances," Ansel said.
"Since Mr. McCartney is studying
to play in informal venues, all
we need to change is --"
That sparked a long lecture
from the academic advisor about
school policy and a bitter spiel
from Kyle about its inadequacy.
"I told you people that what I
wanted to study was different from
your regular music major and you said
I had to take this one anyhow and now
it's not working and you don't care!"
Kyle wailed, throwing up his hands.
"This is exactly why I'm here,"
Ansel said. "The current plan is
not working, Mr. McCartney's distress
is high enough to disrupt the community,
and this needs to be fixed immediately."
"You have no authority over
what happens in this institution,"
Mrs. Penningroth said. "Student affairs
are quite frankly none of your business!"
"That's true as long as it stays inside
the campus. When private matters spill into
public space, they cease to be private," Ansel said.
"Your clumsy handling of this perfectly fixable situation
has made it my business, because it has turned
Kyle's problem into everyone's problem."
"You can leave now," she said frostily,
"or I will call campus security
and have you removed."
"You could do that," Ansel said, crossing
his arms. "Then I would have to mention it
in my report and ask my chief to come here
with his authority. I don't think he would
enjoy that. You certainly wouldn't."
"I would," Kyle muttered.
"If that doesn't work, then I'll try
the town meeting," Ansel went on.
"I will not ignore this, because where
there is one problem, there are usually more."
They did not need a whole string
of distraught college students
breaking down in public.
That sent Mrs. Penningroth
into another fuss, and Kyle into
increasingly shrill protests.
Ansel put a hand on Kyle's back
for support and comfort.
"Goodness gracious, what is
going on in here?" said a new voice.
Ansel turned to see that the door
had drifted open and now framed
an older black man with his long hair
in many fine braids and a graying beard.
His suit was a few shades lighter than
charcoal, in some utterly fascinating hue
that held hints of purple and peach.
"Professor Fitzgerald, help," Kyle begged,
clearly desperate for another secret ally.
"I told you she was crazy strict, and now
she won't even listen to a police officer!"
The man raised one dark, nappy eyebrow.
"Is that so?" he said. "Tell me more."
Mrs. Penningroth and Kyle
both talked at the same time,
their words tumbling over each other
like two rivers in flood season.
Instead of stopping either,
Professor Fitzgerald simply
nodded along, as if listening
to both reports at once.
"Officer ... Nicholson?"
the professor said, reading
Ansel's nametag. "I'd like to hear
your observations as well."
"Mr. McCartney is a competent busker,
and already well known around town,"
said Ansel. "He has paid tuition but
is not receiving appropriate education.
His increasing stress about school is
starting to worry other people. Today
we got a call from a shopkeeper about
that. I'd prefer to avoid a repetition."
"Agreed," Professor Fitzgerald said.
"Do you have any idea how we got here?"
"I believe the problem is the college
requiring Mr. McCartney to do things
irrelevant to his intended profession,"
Ansel said. "The whole issue seems
eminently fixable to me; just modify plans
to accommodate his educational needs."
Professor Fitzgerald nodded. "We have
a customized major program," he said.
"I tried that," Kyle repeated. "Nobody would
let me submit one because I wanted to study
music and they already had a generic major for
that subject, so I got stuck with that. It doesn't fit
and now I'm flunking and I fucking told you so."
"Language," the professor murmured
at the same time Ansel cleared his throat
and said, "Let's try to keep this civil."
"Let me take a look at your records,"
Professor Fitzgerald said to Kyle, and
held out his hand for the tablet. After
browsing the file, he nodded. "I agree,
we need to adjust your program. We do
encourage students to use the standards
because we know those work, but when it
doesn't play out, we can make changes."
"Oh, thank god," Kyle said.
"As head of the music department,
I can help with this," the professor said.
"What changes do you need? What classes
do you want to add or drop from the program?"
"I need a new academic advisor," Kyle said.
"I don't actually need to drop any classes,
just change the testing from formal stage to
informal settings like when I'm busking."
"If I may make a suggestion," Ansel said.
"Just book him for the kind of events he'll
be doing. We both noted Espalier Park
as a venue, and I've seen musicians
wander through an audience there."
"That's a promising option; I'll need
to speak with the teachers of Solo and
Ensemble Guitar," said Professor Fitzgerald.
"Is anything missing that we need to add?"
Kyle nodded. "I want at least one class in
small business management, preferably two
or three. A band, orchestra, school teachers --
they have staff. Buskers do our own books,"
he said. "Then some stuff on psychology or
sociology, to understand audience interaction."
"Those are astute additions," said the professor.
"I propose including either Commercial Music
or Survey of Music Business, or both,
depending on your interest level."
"I've had more time to think about my major
and what I really need, now that I've seen
what classes are here," Kyle said. "Yeah, I'm
interested in the business side since I'd like
to release albums eventually. Buskers can
earn more if we have music for sale."
"I recommend a class on Citizen Law or
Advanced Civics," said Ansel. "That would
help you understand the community context
so that you could move around safely without
causing conflicts or clogging traffic. Some towns
have busking guidelines or laws -- I bet that you
could get a good paper or two out of those."
"Okay, yeah, that would help," said Kyle.
"It'd be nice to get classes on busking itself, but,"
He shrugged. "They don't offer any of those.
I'll have to learn most of that on my own."
"What about outside tutoring?" Ansel asked.
"I needed that when I went here, because
the college didn't offer police prep and I
wanted the general studies background.
So I built a custom major and it was great.
I picked a mentor from the police department
to help, and he really worked my butt off."
"You can take up to six credits from
an outside tutor approved by the college,
in this case me since I'm your department head,"
said Professor Fitzgerald. "We do that regularly
for students who play instruments for which
we do not have a teacher in our faculty."
They'd have to, Ansel realized, because
so many of the African instruments were
uncommon in America but popular with
black musicians. They could include
the most popular ones like marimba,
but they couldn't cover everything.
"What about Doobie?" Ansel said.
"He's a good teacher, and a great busker."
"He plays electric," Kyle said, frowning.
"It's still guitar," Ansel said. "I believe
that Doobie knows acoustic too, he just
prefers the sound of electric and it's
easier to amplify outdoors."
"That could work, then," said Kyle.
"I'll ask him about it, but I don't know
whether the college is open to that,
because he's kind of ... eclectic."
"Don't worry about it," the professor said.
"Mr. O'Donohue is already listed with us
as an instructor in vocal performance
of several Celtic languages."
"Those would be fun to learn,"
Kyle said wistfully. "I'm taking
French but I stink at it."
"Well, learning a language for
performance purposes will fulfill
the foreign language requirement
for music majors," said the professor.
"Try switching to Gaelic or Cornish,
and see if you like it better than French."
"That's fantastic, thanks," said Kyle.
"All right, we have a good start here,"
said Professor Fitzgerald. "Write up
your proposal for a custom major using
these ideas and bring it to me. Check with
Mr. O'Donohue about busking lessons. I'll
talk to your teachers about alternative tests.
You may need to retake a lot of the ones
that you failed earlier, though."
"I'll do it," Kyle said eagerly.
I want to learn this stuff, I really do,
it's just the setup was all wrong for
me before and needs to change."
"That's a good start," Ansel agreed.
"Kyle and I have another errand to run,
so we'll get out of your way now."
Mrs. Penningroth gave them all
a very hairy eyeball, but
they ignored her.
When Ansel and Kyle got
back to the patrol car, Kyle
suddenly wrapped his arms
around Ansel in a tight hug.
"What's this all about?" Ansel said.
"Thank you," Kyle said. "I think
that you just saved my life, and
you definitely saved my career.
They really almost got me."
Ansel hugged him back and
said, "Then I'm very glad
that I got to you first."
* * *
Beulah Penningroth -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and straight brown hair to her shoulders. She is married with a older son, middle daughter, and younger son. Beulah works as an academic advisor at Bouchet College in Bluehill. She excels at keeping excitable young people on track, but is not good at accounting for different needs. She lives on the rowhouse side of Ivory Avenue, nicknamed Secretary's Row.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Computer Use, Good (+2) Methodical, Good (+2) School Spirit
Poor (-2) Hidebound
Harmen Fitzgerald -- He has toffee skin, brown eyes. He wears his long dark hair in many fine braids; his beard is going gray. He teaches music theory, composition, and conducting at Bouchet College in Bluehill. He has an excellent relationship with students and colleagues, but his family resents him for his higher education. Harmen lives on the estate side of Ivory Avenue, nicknamed Professor's Row.
Qualities: Master (+6) Head of Music Department, Master (+6) Musical Intelligence, Expert (+4) Adaptable, Expert (+4) Energetic, Good (+2) Big Boisterous Family, Good (+2) Friendly, Good (+2) Ivory Coast Cooking, Good (+2) Relaxation Techniques
Poor (-2) Family Thinks He's Uppity
He can stunt off Musical Intelligence to Hear Everything at Expert (+4) level, even when two or more people are talking over each other.
Doobie O'Donohue -- He has ruddy skin and blue eyes. He wears his dark auburn hair in dreadlocks to his shoulders, with a beard. He is blind, but that doesn't interfere with his life very much. He gets carsick easily, which is probably because he can't use vision to orient himself within the motion. Doobie only speaks English, French, and Irish Gaelic fluently -- but he can also sing in Cornish, Esperanto, German, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh. As a busker, he sings and plays an electric guitar. Doobie does not have a permanent residence, but rather relies on his extended family in Bluehill and nearby towns. He stays with one relative for a few weeks and then moves on to the next, an arrangement that everyone enjoys. They kind of view him as a family good-luck charm to be shared around -- so much that holiday stays are chosen by lottery.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Busker, Expert (+4) Exuberance, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Languages
Poor (-2) Motion Sickness
* * *
"[In school] I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me."
-- Steve Jobs
"Policing with Velvet Gloves" begins with the premise that police should protect citizens, not kill them, and includes police and mental health workers collaborating. Some departments have drafted new policies for interacting with citizens in distress. For the most part, though, local-America has such patchy quality that many people no longer feel safe calling police to solve problems, due to many publicized cases of police making problems worse instead of better. Terramagne-America has much better training, procedures, and resources; thus they get better results, as seen here.
Rowhouses make a nice step between apartments and individual houses. This is the Secretary's Row side of Ivory Avenue, a popular place for lower-level staff from Bouchet College. Subdivisions with large houses and yards attract higher-level college staff. This is the Professor's Row side of Ivory Avenue. Put them together and you get the kind of mixed-income neighborhood that's popular in T-America, serving a fairly wide range of income levels with different types of housing and thus benefitting everyone. People often move in to the lower end and then move up to better accommodations as their income improves and other properties become available. Here are some tips for successful mixed-income neighborhoods.
This is Espalier Park on Ivory Avenue in Bluehill. It has is a true communal garden, not broken up into allotments. Anyone in the neighborhood can come work in it. Volunteers can take home a certain amount of produce -- especially the most abundant stuff -- while a majority of the flowers, fruit, vegetables, and herbs go toward neighborhood events like when they have a concert at the amphitheater. Park equipment offers activity centers for all different ages.
Bouchet College has a cluster of administrative buildings which keep a majority of the organizational activity conveniently located together. Some of the parking area is reserved for staff, some for students or parents, but almost all of it requires either a lot-specific sticker or a general pass for campus parking.
College students often feel overwhelmed. There are tips on how to help a friend, such as this poster hanging in the hallway. Here's another on study tips from the academic advisor's office.
Surviving college typically requires negotiating with people in power, and there are many reasons for student failure. In L-America, the results are often poor; T-America offers more resources for improvement. I couldn't find many references to handling these challenges, but there are a few. Here are some thoughts on academic advisors and negotiating dysfunctional advisor-advisee relationships. In theory, it's possible to convince a professor to change your grade; some of the tips for negotiating that may apply to other cases as well.
Here's a look at one L-American college's programs: general requirements, music major and its classes, and music minor classes. Music programs are infamous for screwing students, and some colleges have a very low completion rate as a result. Now compare T-American music programs. For a Bachelor of Music in Performance, figure ~40 credits of required music classes, 30-35 of applied coursework, ~50 of core curriculum for general studies, and 15-20 of free electives. Typical range for graduation is 45-50 of program core courses, 50-55 of general education, 20-30 of electives with 125 total needed. A minor typically covers 20-25 credits. T-American colleges are not allowed to cheat students of credits for time-intensive music classes, much less require classes that earn zero credits. Most music programs are open to all instruments instead of requiring everyone to learn keyboard. T-America also offers music education to admirers as well as performers, although it's more often a minor than a major; rather than requiring that everyone who studies music be a musician. It's more flexible than L-American options, but still far from perfect. General education accounts for T-America's practice of letting students drop their worst subjects as they advance through school, focusing on things they do well. Instead, each college usually presents a core curriculum based on its own culture; Bouchet College began as a black college so its core retains an African-American flavor.
Kyle's Schedule (14-16 credits, mostly 1-hour classes)
MWF English 123 (3 credits)
MWF Historical Inquiry: Slavery (3 credits)
MWF Solo Guitar (2 credits, 45-minute classes)
T-TH Music Theory 141 (3 credits, 90-minute classes)
T-TH Ensemble Guitar (2 credits)
(flex) Glee Club (1-3 credits)
Glee Club is a catchall for performing arts, which has youth and adult versions. At Bouchet College, it meets every evening for several hours. Members are expected to attend at least one session a week but may choose which slot based on other obligations. Performances are held each weekend and alongside many school activities such as sporting events. Members are expected to attend at least one main and one side performance per month. More attendance generally results in better grades, and earns more credits on a sliding scale, but pretty much everyone who meets the basic requirement will pass. Kyle is attending almost everything because this is what best matches his learning and performance style. The Glee Club staff, used to accommodating all manner of talent, have deployed him as everything from a wandering guitarist to a campfire leader. While his other teachers are wishing Kyle was more like their regular students, Glee Club staff are wishing they had 5 more Kyles. Many T-American towns and organizations have a Glee Club for social performances.
Solo Guitar is popular in many types of folk music, among other genres. Watch a solo guitar video. Kyle is not this good yet, but give him a few years and he will be. Learn how to play solo guitar.
Guitar also appears in many musical ensembles in various combinations. Enjoy some videos of ensemble guitar in a large group, small group, and mixed trio. Music students often get together and jam like that trio. Learn how to play ensemble guitar.
Inquiry classes gather together students who want to learn about a common topic through their own pursuits and then share the results. The teacher helps students find a suitable path of exploration and resources to complete it. Class sessions may include a lecture or other presentation about the topic, but much of the time involves students discussing their projects together or asking the teacher for advice. The small-group format distinguishes this from independent study. In T-America, inquiry classes form one of the main components in a college's distinctive culture. Bouchet offers many classes that focus on African-American experiences. In this case, learning about slavery in the past can help illuminate slavery today -- and human trafficking is a big problem in Terramagne. It's a subtle but astute choice: buskers are eyes on the street, in a prime position to notice trafficking victims or people at risk of trafficking.
Anger is a natural and necessary emotion which indicates that something is wrong and motivates us to fix it. It's useful when controlled, and troublesome when out of control. Breathing exercises can help in managing anger productively.
When does a private problem become a public problem? Different people have different answers. One defines a private problem as something affecting only one person, while a public problem might be the same thing affecting many. Another considers the impact on other people. A third is when someone is getting hurt. T-America is keenly aware of the hazards caused by eroding privacy, so they tend to respect it -- up until a private problem spills into public space. Sociological imagination is the ability to understand how your problems relate to larger issues, and how other people's problems can trouble you. This is the countervailing force to somebody else's problem. T-America's greater investment in civics encourages this wider awareness, which means that more people notice problems in the social sphere and act to solve them instead of remaining focused on themselves.
Students in school may be vulnerable to educational, intellectual, and/or institutional abuses. Young people have a right to learn what they need in order to support themselves as adults, and schools have an obligation to provide this service in a safe and effective way. When the education is ineffective and/or destructive, that's abuse.
Fault tolerance is a system's ability to absorb damage without ceasing to function. Increasing it requires building in methods for prevention of problems, redundancy of crucial functions, and flexibility to work around minor glitches. A college can function if some students have trouble, but not if many do; one student can compensate for some problems, but not a deluge of many and not a single problem that blocks progress entirely. Solving problems entails root cause analysis, which means working through the layers of a problem from the symptoms to the source. The root cause here is simply that Kyle wants professional-level training in an area that the college refused to admit was not covered by its standard program, and he favors busking precisely because his strengths don't suit the formal venues which the major teaches. Similarly preventing problems involves layers of chances to stop them from happening or from getting worse. The more critical systems need more layers of defense. T-America excels at this, and you can really see the layers in this poem: an individualized major would've prevented the problem ever happening, the advisor or other staff could've fixed this as soon as Kyle reported having serious problems, and it would never have come to public view. But when Kyle started falling apart, people in the community refused to ignore it any longer and insisted on more concerted repairs. It helps to have an awareness of scope from individual to societal. This is where Ansel's observation comes in, because he knows that one person's problem tends to impact others and that if one student is visibly struggling then others are probably drowning without a fuss. Finally, good solutions can solve multiple problems. Helping Kyle not only fixes his emotional and educational suffering, it salvages him as a functional citizen and stops the problem from alarming other people. This also calls attention to the fact that the college dropped one student on his head, which alerts people to watch out for other students in trouble.
Liverpool has basically written the perfect community guide to busking. Cheers to all the folks who evidently stood in front of the clue machine for weeks shoving coins into it. This is pretty typical of T-American municipalities which are big and busy enough to need parameters for busking.
African instruments are very diverse. Marimba is one of the more popular ones.
Saving a life can be as simple as listening, caring, or kindness. A few words or a thoughtful gesture can make a crushing burden seem surmountable. So much of the literature about suicide, depression, and other issues focuses on forcing people to stick around because you want them to, rather than on making sure their life is actually livable; and some of the proposed solutions just make matters worse in ways that cut people off from potential help. But listening to people and being polite to them don't cost money or trample anyone's boundaries. Most of the time, you won't even know when you've saved a life, but it's still saved. Heroism isn't about getting attention for good deeds; it's about making the world a better place. Here are more ways of saving lives, including emotional ones.