I’ve lost much sleep lately. I’m a band leader now. How do I define that? With Doc retired, I yearn to keep the legacy he created 35 years ago, the Imperial Palms Orchestra, alive. So I learn his songs, the conducting, some patter, and the rest, along with my usual material I perform as part of a band I have devoted myself to for 27 years.
It will take time, I tell myself. I just need to polish things a bit, work harder. But I am alone in this thinking, for all trusted opinions are in agreement with something I simply refused to see. I need to stop working so hard to change myself for the band, I am told. I am told the band must change for me.
I don’t understand. I refuse to see it. I tell myself I am too strange, and autistic and different. I must create a new mask, something delightfully charming and acceptable. I must, I feel, create a new carefully crafted persona, adapt, in order to make this work. My talent and focus, hard work, and a well-chosen mask, will make this work. No one is agreeing with me. Not because they don’t think I can do it. They think I simply don’t need to. And none of them are autistic. I decide they just don’t understand.
It’s a lovely late summer evening. I’m taking a break from preparing for another show. I am roasting coffee in my old iron skillet, just as I have for years. I roast all our coffee this way. I roast darn good coffee.
As usual, I heat the skillet. When it’s just right, I pour the green coffee beans into the pan, without measuring, or even thinking much about it. As usual, the beans pop and crack, expand, and smoke. Once cool, I place them in the old coffee canister. Somehow, they are always the perfect amount for the canister. Like, REALLY perfect. This, I know, is one of those weird funny tricks I can do that I don’t know why.
Doc sees the beans, now in the canister. He laughs softly. It’s a little fun trick he can count on. I sigh. “Why can’t my autistic tricks be something more useful?”
Doc becomes serious. “I want you to look hard at those beans in that canister. Did you measure them?” He knows well I did not.
“Do you think most people could do that, all the time, for years, and the beans always fill the container like that?” I agree most would need to measure the beans.
“That’s what you do on stage. It’s unique and hard to explain. It works. It makes people feel happy and loved and like everything is okay. But you are trying so hard to adapt to the band, become some crafted idea of a bandleader, it’s like you are trying to measure the beans. You don’t need to. No one wants you to, and you’ll probably make a mess if you tried. What you do with the beans, what you do on stage, are very strange things. It’s hard to find. Most people can’t do those strange things. We want your strange things. Stop hiding.”
And that was my lesson today.