"I am not asking anymore. I am telling."
Those are Lt. Dan Choi's words. He's trying to get President Obama's attention on the subject of Don't Ask Don't Tell and gays in the U.S. armed forces.
His words inspire me, for I have been asking and asking and asking for folks to embrace the idea of Audience Inclusion. But lately I have felt like telling people, not asking.
I've lately grown tired of asking, because lately I recalled the definition of insanity - to continue doing the same thing repeatedly and expect different results. How naive of me...
I realize of course that there is a balance to be struck here - a balanced way of shifting from asking to telling. And I also realize the risk I run.
A couple weeks ago I played at nursing home in Orange, Virginia, where I have been entertaining the residents monthly for about 8 months or so. We've run the gamut of inconsiderate staff behavior - from loud personal conversation to being displaced from the performance room so they could clean the floors. I've been very nice, and very patient. I even went for months without saying anything.
One day I spoke up about the incessant chatter and interruptions - the total disregard for the fact that a musical performance for the residents is taking place. I was promised that the staff had been reminded about courtesy.
Then came the "floor buffing incident" - the first one. Midway through a show staff members walk in and start moving the audience out of the room. Right in the middle of a song. They're chattering away, and then one of them noisily wheels in the floor machine. Someone announces that the show will now move into the hallway - THE HALLWAY!! They line the residents up there, where the closest is two feet away and the furthest about 45. Then they leave the doors open, turn on the machine, and increase the volume of their personal chatter so they can talk over the machine noise.
Perfect for an acoustic performance, eh?
Well, I brought it up with the lady I work with, and she brought it up with the nursing home representative, and again I was promised it would not happen EVER again. And it didn't. For a whole two or three months...
The other day they were lining them up in the hallway when I arrived. "Gotta do the floors" they smiled.
I smiled too, and said "Okay."
Again they left the doors open, negating any Opportunity for an enjoyable listening experience. After a few songs I asked the staff "monitor" could she please at least shut the doors.
"Can't do it. Fire code. We're expecting the Fire Marshal today." Great - we operate out of fear.
So I smiled, and again said "Okay."
Then another staff member came to apologize. "Wednesdays are really hard," she said. "So much to do," she said.
"What day is it not hard?" I asked.
"Wednesdays are really hard," she repeated.
"What days are not really hard?" I repeated.
"Wednesdays are really...", and I smiled, and lost it, with composure.
I lowered my voice, pasted a big smile on, and proceeded to tell her that my observation has been for the last fifteen years that staff members forget who pays their salary. I told her thatI found it interesting that Dolly Parton, Billy Joel and REM understand end encourage performances for seniors, but that local musicians, facility staff and administration, and local media do not.
I was being nice. I never swore. And I was being honest.
Within minutes the doors were shut. According to them in clear violation of fire code.
But the honesty, the speaking up on behalf of the residents, promptly earned me the label of "ugly". She went to the Activities Director and said I was "very ugly" to her.
So be it, I reckon. So much for asking.
To quote Lt. Choi again...
It's time to Tell.
It's time to Stand.
It's time to Fight.
It's time to March.
It's time to Love.
Thanks Lt. Choi. If you need some music for a rally, let me know...