The Story of the Happy Rocks
I have been teaching music in public schools for a long time. Long enough that the new teachers were born after I started teaching. As a young teacher I tended to really internalize stress. I don’t think I would have kept at it so long and so happily if I had not learned some ways of dealing with the everyday stress of teaching. Did I say I teach at the middle school level? Some people will notice their stress level going up just communicating with a middle-school-aged student, much less a room full of them. This is about one of those ways of dealing with stress.
I am not a visual person, really, but somehow I got the idea, from a lot of different directions, that it wold be good to have something on my desk that was both a relaxing color and perhaps a point of focus when I was having a long day. Our school colors, black and gold, translate into a lot of black and yellow paint. These are stress colors in nature. One of my friends pointed out that this is why these colors are used for crime scene tape.
I can’t really pinpoint the source of this idea. It grew over time after talking to a number of people who are artists, both friends and relatives. I thought maybe some kind of inexpensive gem stone from a hobby store or a crystal (like they sell in the roadside stands on the way to Hot Springs, Arkansas) would be good. I rarely go to hobby stores and then not by myself. And I have never stopped at a roadside stand on the way to Hot Springs. So it didn’t seem likely that I would find anything that I could try out.
One day not so very long after I decided this might be something I perhaps might sort of like to try, I was shopping in one of those stores where everything is a dollar. There are a few things I buy there from time to time. And I was walking down the aisle and noticed that they had bags of various kinds of decorative stones for, of course, a dollar. I had a look. These were nothing fancy, obviously, but I did find a bag (almost a pound…) of little round and oval (or oblong) stones with rounded ends that were a blue or aqua color. So I spent a dollar for a bag and another dollar for a little parfait kind of glass to put them in. I put them in the back of my van and, true to my form, forgot about them for awhile.
But one day when I was unloading an instrument into my orchestra room at one of my schools I noticed the bag of glass gems and the parfait glass and I took them into my office. There were way more of the rocks (gem stones, glass thingies, whatever) than the parfait glass would hold and I it took less than half of them to fill the glass. I put the rest in a file drawer.
I have to say they did look nice and, true enough, it seemed to be a calming color as I had hoped. I don’t really have any decorations on my desk. The pictures of my family sit up on the computer monitor. So it was kind of obvious to anyone who came into my office that there was a parfait glass of aqua colored stones on my desk. They are out of place amidst the clutter and no mistake. I had not thought about how others would react to this, but, sure enough, one day a student asked me, “Mr. Reck, what are those?”
I really did not know what they were. Since I am a creative person and crazy enough to teach middle school, there is no way I was going to say that it was a parfait glass with colored stones I bought from the dollar store. Before I even had a chance to think about it, I said, “Those are my happy rocks.”
”Can I have one?” I hadn’t thought about that, either. Who would have thought that would happen, really? Certainly not me. I took awhile to answer to develop some sense of suspense, and finally said, “I suppose…” And I let the student pick out a rock. This happened more than once. More than twice. The first student brought in a friend to get a Happy Rock. Then both of them brought another friend. And then students I had never seen before found my office (it is really out of the way) and asked for a Happy Rock. So, of course, I had to up the ante and have some fun with it.
Eventually, it became sort of a ritual. If there were other students around who already had Happy Rocks they encouraged the student and we were all happy.
“Mr. Reck, can I have a happy rock?”
“Who told you about happy rocks?”
“Your orchestra student, _____.”
“Hmmmmm….. Well, you know, you don’t actually choose your happy rock, your happy rock chooses you!” (This also just happened one day.) The other students would murmur in agreement after we had been doing this for awhile. “Close your eyes and reach into the Happy Rocks. When you find the one that makes you laugh, that is your Happy Rock.”
“What if I don’t laugh?”
Someone would say, “Everyone laughs..” This has turned out to be true.
And the student would reach into the glass, giggle, and pull out a rock. Some students did not giggle. They laughed out out. Some of the students named them. Some students have told me that they took their happy rock to class when they had a hard test. Some use gender pronouns when they talk about their happy rock. Some of them take them places like all-district band or orchestra auditions. More students who had a Happy Rock bring other students in to get one. So this has moved way beyond the orchestra program.
Last summer(2010 as I write this) I taught a class called “Psychology of Performing Music” at the SWOSU (Southwestern Oklahoma State University) band camp. This class is for students who, like me, have had issues with performing in pressure situations. The last day of camp I dumped a bag of rocks purchased just for the occasion on the desk at the front of the room. This, by the way, had been a most excellent and awesome class in every respect. It was a joy to teach. Someone in the class finally asked, “What are those?” “Those are Happy Rocks. You can have one if you like.” Many of the students stopped by and picked one up on their way out. Since then many of them have gotten in touch to tell me that they took their happy rock to all-state and all-district auditions. This has also made me happy.
(Note: As time has progressed, we now tell the Happy Rock Story and and hand out the Happy Rocks as part of a class session. I sing the Happy Rock song while they pass a drawstring bag of Happy Rocks and pick theirs out.)
A few weeks ago my wife, a band director whose band room was down the hall in the same school, came into my office and saw the parfait glass on my desk. “What are those?” “Those are my happy rocks!” “Can I have one?” “Sure.” She keeps it on her dresser.
There are lots of ways you can use a stone as an object of focus or as something to hold in your hand and “worry”. Someone in the family gave me a worry stone when I was a child, as I recall. I talked about some of these ideas with my camp students when I was visiting with them individually. But for the most part it is just about having something to remind you to think happy thoughts.
That is the story so far. Maybe there will be more to say some day.
February 9, 2011
I would like to update this story: I told a teacher friend of mine that I had a happy rock for her if she wanted one. She was in the middle of one of those stressful times that happen to music teachers. We never see each other, but one day we ran into each other so I gave her her happy rock. She seemed more than glad to get it. And also one to a member of her family who was with her. (I happened to have some in my coat pocket because the bag broke…) I can’t remember who said what, but we agreed that it would be cool if I kept some happy rocks with me so that I could spread more joy. I don’t know why I didn’t just think of that.
I keep some in my van most all the time now and I have an old draw string bag with some in it as well. I gave one away to a friend at the National Memorial in OKC last week. It made her laugh. I laughed too.
I’m still working on the song…
It might seem trivial
But you could do worse
Than to spread some joy
With a rock and verse
Well what could it hurt
Who would it shock
To make someone smile with
A Happy Rock
And now, click the link to hear The Happy Rock Song