The Sky is Falling. (what I learned from the worst teacher I've ever had)

Once upon a time I took a single semester of broadcast journalism at the Lethbridge College. I reluctantly enrolled in the program after spending a year abroad, and simply hoped for the best.

Upon graduating high school, I went to Australia for nearly a year and completed an agriculture exchange program. I was only 17 years old when I left and it was one of the hardest and most adventurous times of my entire life. 

The property I stayed on was 45 minutes from the nearest town; we had no TV or Internet for the first six months. It was pretty much like living in a John Wayne movie. It was a 28,000-acre cattle and sheep station and there was myself and two other people who lived and worked on the property. It was lonely and beautiful. 

When I got home I was mildly unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to tell stories and be involved with arts and culture. Coming from a small town and an agriculture background, I didn’t know exactly how this was supposed to happen.

My only real connection to the arts was through a handful of DIY punk rock bands, who came through my community when I was in high school and through the couple radio stations I had access to most of my life. 

You couldn’t go to school for punk rock, so I decided to try broadcast journalism. I barely knew what this was at the time.

One of my first classes was with an overweight, white, male instructor, with lots of opinions. He had a last name for a first name and a first name for a last name. He had a lifetime of experience in radio.

He told us that we were all doomed. Satellite radio was on the forefront, and he told us that all the jobs in radio would soon be done. We were fucked. 

I found this strange. Strange that a man would sit in front of a new class of young students and promise them nothing but failure. So one day I asked him about this. I asked him why he would agree to take a job teaching a course that he was sure was doomed. Why would he support this?

He shrugged and told me that it was a good instructing job. 

He truly believed this was a doomed field but yet he was perfectly fine taking all these young students money and accepting the position.

This was a pivotal moment in my life. This was when I discovered exactly what I didn’t want to be in my life.

I didn’t want to be a fear-monger, or a “no-man”. I didn’t want to scare people and tell them what they couldn’t do. I didn’t want to take a job where you had the possibility to influence people, and then abuse that position of power. That’s when I knew what I didn’t want to do. And that was just as important as learning what exactly I wanted to do with my life.

Fast forward a couple of years

I’m in Nashville, Tennessee for the second or third time. I’m slugging it out and trying my hand as a full-time musician. I’m a singer/songwriter. I tell stories.

As a full-time musician you do a lot of driving. You drive all the time. Through this process I really began to love podcasts. They are radio stories in a new package. It’s an old medium, repurposed. 

One of my favorite podcasts at the time was “This American Life”. The host of that podcast was speaking at the Ryman Auditorium. I decided to go. It was a Friday night. It was called An Evening With Ira Glass.

It was one of the most inspiring nights of my life. Ira talked about working in a creative field, the art of storytelling and the revival of radio. He talked about how when he said he was going to start an old-time radio show people told him he was crazy. Everyone told him that radio was dead. He knew there was a way and he talked about believing in his idea. He talked about not letting people tell you what you can’t do with your life.

He said that there is no better time to be in a creative field than right now. He said that you would know exactly where you stand. If people like it and need what you are doing, then they will support you. 

Ira spoke of the transformative phase of creative work. That few years when you have to really slug it out and develop your idea and your product. He played examples of radio pieces he had done early on and how bad those pieces were. He explained that this was a necessary metamorphosis that most people needed to go through in a creative field. The art of finding yourself.

Now the idea of telling stories through radio doesn’t sound so crazy. “This American Life” is a very, very popular show. We’ve all witnessed the growth and boom of the podcast industry.

Telling stories is what makes us human. It’s how we transfer and pass on culture and history. We’ve done it many different ways, but we will always do it. We will never stop telling stories. It’s at the core of our being. 

Fast forward a couple more years

It’s a few days before Christmas. I’m visiting my parents down on the farm in Southern Alberta. I’m helping my dad with a few chores and we are driving somewhere to drop something off. We are listening to the radio.

I hear a very old, opinionated man start to talk about politics. He has a lot of ideas; he is trying to predict the future. He sounds like quack, a fear monger and a naysayer.

“Who is this idiot?,” I say to my father.

“He must like the sound of his own voice,” said my dad. “I bet he’s been doing this for a long, long time.”

Then I realized who it was. It was my old instructor from that time I did a single semester of broadcast journalism at Lethbridge College.

He had told us that radio was doomed, but guess what he was doing? He was talking on the radio.

I’ve had many great instructors, professors and mentors in my life. They’ve all taught me a great deal. I’ve had one bad instructor. He taught me some really important things in a different way; so in a round-about way maybe he wasn’t such a bad instructor. 

I realized that everyone will encounter people like my bad instructor. These people happen. It’s how you respond to these people that matters. It’s what you do with this and how you react to these situations that matter. It can be fodder, it can give you someone to prove something to.

I hope you don’t let an opinionated, overweight, white man tell you what you can’t do with your life. I hope you prove them all wrong and go out and create something beautiful.

Shine on you crazy diamonds.

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