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Giving Piggyback Rides During the Pandemic

2020 May 3
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by Mike Vial

Staying home during the pandemic is a political response–a larger, yet less demonstrative response than a few hundred at a rally at the Capitol. I paraphrase Nicole Henner to remind us that collectively, we are the actual power of action.

I drove through downtown Ann Arbor last night and listened to music. Everyone I saw was demonstrating social distancing measures, excluding four, teenage skateboarders in Kerrytown (who probably hangout every day, so let’s just call them a family).

Many people were wearing masks. People were giving each other space as they walked their dogs. There were no large Saturday parties that I witnessed.

In the news, we will hear of people ignoring social distancing, but we don’t see the majority who are. For example, yes, Belle Isle may be packed today; however, my local park included people letting each other pass, runners choosing different forks in the road, mask wearing walkers. My entire neighborhood is practicing social distancing.

Don’t let a photo of 0.005%-0.01 of your city’s population raise your anxiety. May we focus on our sphere of control. My family is only 0.003% of Ann Arbor…but they are 100% of my heart today.

I’m thinking of you all on this Sunday. May you get a great piggy ride, like Alton did, on this big, beautiful Earth.


Creating Hope During a Socially Distant Birthday

2020 March 28
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by Mike Vial

Friends, today, my daughter is five. I will always remember this birthday in vivid color, equally as I remember her birth. I hope she can remember it as a time we came together.

The Covid-19 virus doesn’t care about color; it doesn’t care about borders; it doesn’t have a political agenda or state hot takes online; it doesn’t have a social media account or an affiliation to a political party; it doesn’t have feelings; it doesn’t need to be congratulated for doing a great job; it doesn’t take it personally that it is more disliked than [insert your politician of choice here].

It just replicates.

Only science, logic, humility, empathy, compassion and action will allow us to defeat it—a trinity of scientific ingenuity, faith or spirituality that humbles our ego, and a deep sense of fellowship will be our defenses. If any leader, big or small, isn’t demonstrating all of those qualities, they will fail. The virus will continue to spread, and that’s its only mission.

Leaders can and will make mistakes, but they must be maturely, unequivocally honest—with heart, logic, wit, and guile. The fingertips of rose will rise again tomorrow, for us to adjust course.

We are in this together on the ship of state: as a neighborhood, as a county, as a state/providence, as a country, as a continent, as a planet. (This is a practice test for more arduous challenges in 50-100 years, heaven forbid sooner.)

For those of us who are new to epidemiology, it’s time to trust the experts. We are not on the sideline, but essential participants and active listeners. We all have an oar in our hands as we row.

But if we didn’t know the difference between a linear scale graph and a logarithmic graph, we need to differ to the MacArthur Genius and the emergency room nurse. We must remain well read, but it’s better to go wash our hands rather than type an argument on FaceBook with an acquaintance we haven’t seen in years. Time may go by slowly now, but time is more valuable than money; use it wisely.

The virus, indeed, uses time wisely; it’s here, now, in all states. It’s probably in our town, even if it’s not tracked by testing yet.

Even if we aren’t working on the front lines of the war against the virus, we need to be persistent: understand social distancing, clean hands washing, healthy eating, exercising, family closeness, and mental health monitoring. We also need to redefine the role of government and push for economic help that is bottom up, not top down. We must recognize we are borrowing from our kids’ and grandkids’ economic futures, but we must, to maintain a future we and they recognize.

We need to beat this virus.

In the end, our feelings don’t matter to the virus; math matters to beat it. No one can predict the future exactly, but we can adjust actions as we successfully test more portions of the country, sick and healthy, and catch up on our medical resources.

The economy is in a coma. The country will never be the same after this. There is no analogy for this moment. To paraphrase Pulitzer Prize honored historian, David Blight, the closest historical moments we have are the Civil War and the 1930s. Reading history does not protect us from the future, but it prepares us in the present. Yet, the virus spreads at its quiet pace; we will find more hope in reading poetry than the news every hour…

Poetry may hyperbolize, but the virus doesn’t. The virus would have killed an American population the size of LA in a season without these extreme measures. That statistic would have destroyed the economy and overwhelmed our health care systems.

It still might, yet hopefully to a lesser degree. Watch out for underprivileged communities. They will be hurt the most, holistically; yet a marathon runner in perfect health will also be in the 1%, living in an ICU for weeks, hooked to a ventilator, while others needed that same spot. We Americans can have four or five examples of Italy by May. Rural communities may be miles away, but they are tight knit; their struggles follow after urban cities.

Be prepared to do social distancing for two or three months in cycles. We will get through this. We do it together, even if six feet apart.

The way to save our economy is to beat the virus.

The experts agree on that main idea, and they only offer differences of nuance with how to continue our journey together. Don’t confuse false choices and fantasies dressed with a veneer of pseudoscience. This is real.

We as Americans can blame ourselves for being sucker punched, later. Yes, later, we can fault political leadership of other countries’ handling of the virus in the winter before us, but all of us watched others suffering abroad and understood how viruses spread…We could have added and multiplied numbers in our head, counted using our fingers if we had to, to see the danger approaching. We as a country had time to prepare, but squandered it. Shall other communities who get the virus after us gain anything from blaming our shortcomings? It will be for later to determine blame and consequences, to even forgive. We must remember, a rhetoric of pointing blame won’t serve us to find answers and save lives. The virus doesn’t live in terms of right or wrong, or decipher the guilty from the innocent. It lives and dies in the present, like us.

Today, my daughter is five. I will remember her birthday in color. I want her to remember it as when her country finally came together.

May family and faith find you well.

With love,



An empty gig calendar for a full writing notebook

2020 March 1
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by Mike Vial
I’ve been playing at Blue Tractor’s mash bar once a month (or more!) for seven years. The time has come for me to take a break from the residency.
When Nat and I moved to Ann Arbor in 2013, mash was the first place that booked me. Over the years, I’ve kicked off tours playing at mash before hitting the road; I’ve hosted an open mic and met quite a few player; I’ve played the owner’s house party; I’ve met one Vulfpeck’s bandmates who randomly stopped in once during my gig; I’ve ran into former students who attend U of M; I paid off my entire grad loan by playing bar gigs; I’ve sang some of my best versions of cover songs, and occasionally, I’ve lost my voice by the end of a  boisterous night.
Last night’s gig was my 120 time strumming my beat up acoustics in the bourbon bar/brewery’s corner. It ended like any other gig: thanking patrons for tips, sipping an Irish Stout, and carrying gear back to my car.
It’s going to be weird to not have mash on the calendar for a while, but I need to make more time to write. My gig calendar is empty so I can write new material and book recording studio time. 

2020 is the year for me shift away from playing cover gigs. I’m nervous about this shift, since bar gigs have been consistent income; but my teaching stability allows me the financial freedom to focus on what truly moves my musical passions: songwriting and playing original shows.

Thanks to everyone who has come to one of my gigs at mash over these last seven years. I might be back in that corner again. For now, it’s time for me to write my fifth musical project and finish my first poetry book.


Auschwitz’s liberation, 75 years ago

2020 January 27
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by Mike Vial

NPR article: “75 years after Auschwitz’s liberation, survivors urge world to remember”: read here

* * *

My LA 9 students read this article, marking the anniversary: 75 years ago today, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz.

I asked my class why this 75th anniversary might mean more to them than the 100th anniversary, when they are my age.

Ben raised his hand: “In 25 years, all the survivors will have died. This anniversary, we as a generation can still speak to primary sources…”

Matt added, “It’s the three levels of history, Mr. Vial. This is the last chance for level one…”

My freshmen are finishing Wiesel’s memoir Night tonight. I read the memoir when I was their age. My DCHS copy, with a tattered cover, rests on my desk in my classroom. Urgently, I told my class that holding this book is a milestone in life, highlighting maturity and reflection. “We give it to you at this age, and we are saying you are old enough to carry this story in your hearts, and urge your hands to action in the future.”

I ponder, now, and consider this math–When I was born in (81), WWII’s end (45) was closer to me in time than my current age is from my birth…What is history?

Let’s pause and read these stories today, stories which might get lost in the blur of the news. The electric fence, the snow, the friendship of solidarity—they will be more memorable than the atrocious, immense numbers of genocide.

Let’s also pause and recognize concentration camps are happening on our Earth today; remembering is not enough.

Vocabulary/important words students selected from today’s reading: conviction, solidarity, accomplices, exempted, snow…


A Gig Hiatus

2020 January 26
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by Mike Vial

It’s times like these where I must publicly thank my wife for putting both kids to bed so I can play a gig! Thanks Fauser family for snapping a photo of me at mash. My next mash gigs are Feb 22 & 29. And then, I’m taking a break from gigging, between March-June, to work on songwriting.

This is my third year in a row teaching at a new school. Each year has presented new curriculums, new classes, new names of staff…My head is full, and I need to clear some space to write.

My writing routine has suffered over the years. I’ve given most of my free time to lesson planning, thinking of ways: to make The Crucible exciting to 15-year-olds; to make Greek mythology relevant to seniors; to make the difference of phrases vs. independent clauses apparent to freshmen; to persuade juniors to care about the SAT (and more importantly, teach them the art of rhetoric)…

When I’m doing my best teaching, I’m requiring my students to be creative. Those activities also activate my antenna for writing ideas, but the only way I’m going to explore these potential song ideas is if I decline gigs for a while. (I’m privileged that I can afford to do so.)

However, Mike Gentry and I are planning projects for late fall/early winter. In 2021, I want to collaborate with musicians I’ve been unable to see once I got back in the classroom, artists like Carrie McFerrinJosh RoseAcoustic AshCory GloverSpencer Michaud…a trip back to Ontario to work with Michael Chambers…This list goes on…I miss you, #giglife warriors.

Who knows, maybe I’ll get asked to create the soundtrack to Trolls 3 with Justin Timberlake.

OK, I have 14 essays about MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech to read before first hour tomorrow. See you soon!