I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster lately. I have worked so hard to determine my boundaries, to believe in my agency in my life, and to have faith that I can move beyond the things that have held me back. One day I am 100% confident I am on the right path. The next day I am terrified about my ability to do the most basic things to move myself forward. And on top of all this, my emotions are raw, and I can cry about anything at any moment. I’ve never been like this before. I used to feel in control of my path and my heart. These days, I am a bag of mixed nuts. I feel like a train wreck, but in the best way. I’m embracing the uncertainty of it all. I’m feeling every feeling. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m laughing. I’m crying. I hopped on this ride, and I’m here for it.
I took my first drum lesson five years ago on September 15, 2016. Playing drums was something I had wanted to do since I was a child, and at the ripe old age of 48 I finally decided to go for it. I found my instructor online (the introvert’s way), but I knew instinctively he was the right person for the job because he had previously been a practicing Buddhist monk. It was going to take Buddhist-monk-level patience and calm to deal with my level of anxiety about this big step. I had spent most of my life up to that point purposely avoiding situations that made me uncomfortable, such as learning new skills in areas where I had no knowledge base. Meeting a stranger at a music studio so he could help me learn to play drums ranked about a 10 out of 10 on my discomfort scale. Still, I somehow managed to show up to the lesson, anxious as hell and sober as a judge. I remember that first lesson as an out of body experience. When it was over, I walked back to my car berating myself for being such an uncoordinated, nervous, and uncool dork. These are not things you want a drummer to be.
I persisted with my lessons, though, because Jeff was beyond awesome to me and for me. Ashamed as I am to admit it, there were several lessons in the first year where I got overly emotional when I couldn’t get a beat or fill or technique and wound up teary eyed and too stressed to continue. Jeff, thankfully, did not freak out at this crying middle aged woman and channeled his Buddhist training to help me get to a better mindset. As time went on, I began to believe I could actually learn to play drums. I had no plans of joining a band or performing in front of others. I simply wanted to be able to get behind a drum set, put on some headphones, and play along to songs I enjoy with some level of competency.
In March of 2020, when everything in-person shut down, so did my drum lessons. Jeff set up a situation where we could do drum lessons virtually, but it was not my thing. So, I stopped taking lessons. I told myself I would play at home, but I didn’t. There were four of us full-time in our house then, and taking up space and banging on drums didn’t feel right. When we moved to our new home, my sweet spouse suggested we have a room finished in the basement for my drum set. It was finished in January of this year, complete with insulated walls to quiet my noise. But, I still didn’t play. This is all on me. No one in my family said I should stop bothering them. I just felt awkward about it. Taking up space in my own life is something I have struggled with for years.
Today, though, I decided it was time to do something for myself that benefits literally no one else. I went into that tiny room in the basement and set up my drums. I put a poster on the wall. I dusted off the kit. I found all my drum notation and skill books. I located my metronome and charged my wireless headphones. And then I played. It was rough, but drumming is a motor skill that uses muscle memory, kind of like skiing or riding a bike. It didn’t take long before I was remembering beats and somewhat successfully playing along to some songs I knew well once upon a time. I was still awkward, but it felt good, like coming home.
I have decided to keep going. It’s good for me to keep learning. Jeff taught me how to read drum notation, and I have a plethora of song books to teach me how to play along with the Foo Fighters, Green Day, and Nirvana. Now that I have a tattoo, it seems like continuing drumming is compulsory, right? I’ve got some work to do to turn my little drum studio into my own oasis, but I am finally ready to make it my own.
I may never be a great drummer, but working on the skill is enough for me. It will keep my brain flexible as I age. Maybe someday my grandkids (when I have grandkids) will think I am badass too. That would be kind of cool.
I might need another tattoo, though.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelou
This saying by Maya Angelou is what I have to remind myself every day. It’s not right to beat myself up over mistakes I made in my past because I was doing the best I could with the knowledge and self-awareness I had at that point. Current me wishes I had been capable of making better choices for myself back then because if I had grown more back then, I wouldn’t be working so hard now. I would have had a head start. But that is not how personal growth works. Personal growth begins with awareness. Sometimes we don’t recognize that we need help right away. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we’ve been abused or that we have any personal deficiency at all (I’m looking at you, narcissists).
The good news is that I know better now and I am doing better. Yes. I still overreact and get anxious. Yes. I constantly think I am I am screwing up and then mentally beat myself up over it. Yes. I am still often incapable of seeing what anyone would see in me and I have a difficult time trusting people. But there are things I now understand about my past that have helped me to do better in my present. I was able to break cycles from my childhood and do better for my sons. I have learned to be braver. I am working at standing up for myself, asking for what I want, and even (gasp) inconveniencing someone else if what I have asked for has not been delivered correctly. I’m getting better at catching myself before my fears and anxiety spiral out of control and lead me to dark places. It’s just not going as fast as I would like, but I understand now that this is a process. And that thought is also proof that I am doing better.
I remind myself daily that I might not be as far along as I would like, but awareness is a better place than many people get to. You can’t have personal growth without it, and I like to think that I am a growth proposition. Put your money on me, people. I can do this.
This week has been another lesson in the first Buddhist Noble Truth…life is suffering. Last Saturday we learned that we lost a friend unexpectedly and far too young. I was barely at acceptance of that heartbreaking reality check when the shooting at the STEM school happened, directly affecting several friends with children who attend that school. Of course, this came less than a month since the day that all Denver-area students were forced to stay home when a woman flew to Colorado and purchased a pump-action shotgun with the intention of carrying out a Columbine-style mass shooting as our community was preparing for the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, which also directly affected people I know. And then yesterday I spent part of my day at a memorial service and reception for a family member. The precariousness of life, and our need to live in the now (and hopefully zen) moment, pervaded my every thought this week.
This week also precipitated meaningful conversations between my husband and I. We’ve discussed additional life insurance, funeral plans, urns, wills, and making the most of our time on this rotating sphere. He and I are on the same page about most things in life, and this holds true with our thoughts about death. We don’t want to be buried or have our ashes stored in a box or decorative vase in someone’s home. We don’t want a traditional funeral.
Yesterday we were in the car on our way to the interment when we started discussing urns.
“I think I will get a crazy, fun urn for my ashes, like Carrie Fisher did.”
In case you weren’t aware, Carrie Fisher had her ashes placed in a large, Prozac-pill-shaped urn. Cheeky and appropriate for her, I admired her bold choice.
“Maybe I will make a box for my ashes? It will give me a reason to learn tongue-in-groove joints,” Steve mused.
“Yeah,” I said. “Like the guys at the woodworking awards on the Parks and Rec episode who were pictured in memoriam with the caskets they built for themselves.”
“Exaaaaactly,” Steve replied.
“I just don’t want you guys spending money on an urn I wouldn’t be caught dead in. I need to find something that suits me that you can carry me around in until you dump me wherever you decide to unload me. If you keep me around the house, I will come back and haunt you, I swear.”
Later, a friend told us he plans to be put in a Cafe du Monde chickory coffee can. Seems perfectly reasonable and cost effective to me.
This morning, morbid as it sounds, I did a search for funeral urns. Actually, the Google search entry was “crazy fun funeral urns,” and it turns out I wasn’t the first person to search those terms, which gives me hope that I am not the only weirdo out there.
One of the results from the search was for this biodegradable urn by Bios. This urn has a place to hold ashes and then a separate area with a tree seed and the medium to grow said seed. While not particularly crazy or fun, this urn does something more important than hold ashes. This urn gives back. It creates something from nothing, life from death. And it leaves no waste. That’s a win/win in my book. Reflecting on my personality, wishes, and thoughts about death and the circle of life, this might be the most suitable urn for me.
Oddly enough, this search for urns has brought me a measure of peace in an otherwise emotionally difficult week. I told Steve he is not to hold a funeral or memorial service for me, but if he and the boys would like to host a party in my honor that would be marvelous. Hopefully it would involve friends, family, flowers (no lilies, please), food (none of it gluten free), and include a toast to my memory carried out with a Polish vodka shot for all. Now that I’ve shared this here, you’re all honor bound to ensure he carries out my wishes.
Life is suffering. There is physical and emotional pain, aging, and death. Yes. This week has been rough, but that’s what life is, a struggle to grow and persevere despite the inevitable, to leave a mark no matter how ephemeral. I think I will buy one of these urns. There’s something about going to seed that germinates hope where sadness once took root. Maybe someday I’ll come back as a tree, reaching for the sun, stubbornly continuing my growth.