Here is the video. The text follows.
If you had met me in my late thirties, you might have thought that I was respectable.
I was. I had a tenured position as a microbiologist at a respected university, I was publishing papers, had patent applications in the oven, I was up for promotion and I had started to make a name for myself in studying how bacteria stick to teeth and other surfaces.
But inside I was a train wreck. I was afraid of success. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of dying. But mostly I was afraid of being alive.
From a young age I had noticed that my heart frequently started palpitating, with syncopating rhythms deep in my chest. I was diagnosed as having some kind of heart condition and lived in mortal fear of dropping dead. But at the age of 39 my wife said “Why don’t you go to a real expert’, and I did.
He told me that although my electrocardiogram was wacky, I HAD BEEN MISDIAGNOSED and my heart was normal. I would live. And so far he’s been right! I had been ill twenty years with a disease that wasn’t there.
Later that year, however, I found that I did have a real chronic condition that requires coping on a day to day basis. I started coping.
The third thing that happened that year to change my life was getting a puppy. The kids named him Elvis Presley. I learned a lot from Elvis.
Our Elvis didn’t sing, but boy did he bark. He once jumped out of a window on the second floor to run off with his girlfriend for a few days. Real puppy love.
These three events taught me that I should get myself something.
And so I started barking.
The first thing I did was change my scientific direction. I was at the dental faculty, and had become interested in the science of bad breath.
The thing was, there was no science. I came home one day and told my wife ‘I have found my research mission, it’s stinky, but it’s a gold mine’.
And it was. I began smelling people, perhaps as many as 10,000, invented products, published scientific articles and books.
My colleagues made fun of me, behind my back and to my face. They called me ‘Mel the smell’. I was the butt of countless jokes. I laughed along with them, I barked and barked and followed my nose, if you will.
Rather than be one of hundreds of scientists pursuing the same problem, I became the world expert in a less studied area.
Actually, there are only two other experts and each claims to be the world’s expert.
Rather than be one of hundreds of scientists pursuing the same problem, I became the world expert in a less studied area. Actually, there are only two other experts and each claims to be the world’s expert.
My second barking career was writing children’s books.
I started in my twenties. But only in my forties did I start to publish my stories. In my stories, many illustrated by Rotem Omri, the heroes must deal with overcoming their challenges. For example, Kenya, the kangaroo who can’t hop.
And my favorite, Gloomeris, the laughing hyena, who doesn’t find anything in life to be worth laughing about. But even he gets his life together big time in the end. You know, I don’t have any dogs in my stories. But all my characters end up barking their guts out.
At the age of forty one I began to learn to play the saxophone and this really changed my life. I could have started decades earlier. In my twenties, my dear friend Gabi Ben Artzi wanted to play sax so we went down to the music store and bought a brand new tenor sax. Gabi was a busy guy, an air force pilot with oodles of hobbies but he found time to practice his horn and was beginning to get his sound. I never heard him play though. In May 1977 he was killed in a tragic training accident in the army. He was 21 years old. When he died his parents asked me to take up his sax but I could not.
Fifteen years later I was at a party, there was a sax there, I blew on it for the first time in my life, notes came out. And I was blown away. I phoned my friend the scientist musician Chris Mcculloch in Toronto. Chris am I too old to play the sax? I asked. “No one is ever too old to play the sax” he retorted and before you could say maple syrup he sent a vintage naked lady sax all the way to tel aviv. And I started to learn to play. Not now and then, not here and there, but every day, and with a vengeance. For hours on end. I hired teachers. I drove my family and neighbors crazy.
When you’re seven and learning to play violin and you’re screeching everyone tolerates your noise because you’re young and sweet. Or when you’re learning to play Feur Elise on piano, oh how cute!!! But when you’re 41? Forget it. But my family realized I was on a mission and were never critical. There were enough jazz police in my vicinity. But I resisted.
I then began singing too. How many of you sing in the shower but not in public? Thing is I sang as a child in the synagogue choir, had a lovely voice, but when my voice broke I lost confidence. One day someone told me that I would never be a good singer. And for twenty-five years I wasn’t. Because I didn’t sing at all. Now you can’t stop me .
One of my inspiring sax teachers took me to hear the Benny Tal band playing a local gig. “Benny started playing sax at 35, and look at him now”, he told me. “Five years from now you’ll be gigging with your own band.” I was incredulous, but sure enough five years later I stopped into a coffee house to buy my wife a sandwich while we were buying a new car. I said to the owner, “I have a jazz quartet and would love to play here”. He asked me whether I had an audience. I brought sixty of my students colleagues, and thus began my performing career.
I know, I’m no Stan Getz or Paul Desmond. But I have my musical voice. I’m me. Ten years ago we gigged at president Shimon Peres 80th birthday party. I hear he’s got Barbara Streisand this year, but no problem. I’ll wait another decade.
And in the meantime, I will keep doing my thing. Elvis Presley is gone, and now we have a new dog named Fudge who really does sing. But only when I’m playing the sax. It’s a real duet a conversation of sorts between two beings who communicate. Without being critical of one another. Without worrying what people will think or say.
So wouldn’t you agree with me that if dogs can sing the very least we can do is bark? And the sad truth, that it took me forty years to learn, is that whether or not you stand up and be heard, take your turn at bat with two out and the bases or loaded, whether your bark or not, at the end we’re all going to croak.
So, in the meantime, what do you say we bark?
So on those happy notes, and in order to kickstart your own barking career, wherever that might take you, let’s begin with a simple exercise that’ll help us all get out of our comfort zones. Flap your ears. Wag your tail. And just