I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.
I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.
I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.
Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)
We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.
As a child, I learned that I was something to be tolerated. This notion colored every relationship I had. If you think you are barely tolerable, inversely, you will tolerate a lot of abuse from others because you understand what a burden you are. I spent most of my life apologizing for being who I was rather than acknowledging what I had to offer. Over my years in therapy, this paradigm has shifted for me. I am able to see what my gifts and strengths are and to value them. Don’t get me wrong. I know I have faults and hang ups and annoying habits too. I simply no longer think they outweigh my positive qualities. What I taught my children about themselves now also applies to me: “You aren’t a bad person. You are a good person with bad moments.”
Part of the beauty of reaching midlife, if you’re lucky, is your priorities shift. You become less concerned with what anyone else thinks and more focused on what you need, want, and are willing to work for to make the rest of your life worthwhile. When I combine what I’ve learned about myself through therapy with what I’m learning about life by virtue of being of a certain age, it’s like having a FastPass at Disneyworld. I am ready to jump to the front of the queue. I’ve spent long enough working hard for others, bending myself into a pretzel to make sure I am bearable, while not asking often enough for what I needed for myself. I’ve come to the place where I acknowledge if I’m not worth the effort to someone, then I don’t need to stay with them. Tolerance works both ways. I am free to choose what I will put up with from others.
Lately I’ve been taking stock of the relationships in my life. I can put them into categories. There are the people who like me both for and in spite of who I am and the people who see my downsides more than my upsides. I suppose there are also some people who walk the line of liking me most of the time and yet expecting me to be something I am not the rest of the time, but I can deal with those more nebulous relationships later. My goal right now is to jettison the relationships that make me feel worse about myself, the ones where I do all the compromising and giving and they do all the “tolerating” and taking. Those relationships aren’t serving me. They never did. There is positivity in walking away from them if I can withstand the judgment and commentary from those I care about who will question my choice to do so. Can I be brave enough to stand confidently in my truth without reverting to old habits, wavering, and then capitulating in the face of dissenting opinions?
Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, but I am feeling a compelling pull to weed the garden of my relationships. I want a fresh start. The void left by the people I walk away from will be filled in time with new, life-affirming friends of my choosing. I need to trust the process, to know in my heart that eliminating those whose words and actions make me feel less will only bring me peace because, heaven knows, keeping them around has only mired me in self-doubt. I’m not something to be tolerated, and I don’t have to tolerate a life with those who think I am.
“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.” ~Roy T. Bennett
Yesterday I posted about a pair of Betsey Johnson, ruby red, rhinestone-bedazzled, four-inch heeled pumps. My son spotted them and pointed them out to me while we were in DSW looking for summer shoes for our upcoming cruise. I tried them on because I had to. I mean, is it even possible to walk past these stunners without at least being curious if they could change your life or transport you to Kansas if you click your heels three times? Oh…and did I mention they also come in silver (and green and blue too)? Fabulous.
As a rule, I do not blog about things like shoes because I am not exactly a fashionista. I fall solidly in the fashion category “trying not to dress like my grandma but definitely not wearing crop tops either.” So it’s surprising that I am writing about shoes two days in a row. But I got a lot of feedback from friends and fellow bloggers about these shoes today. All the comments said I should “buy the shoes.”
So, I think I will take some time to go back to DSW and try them out again. If I get them, they would be a splurge on something that will mostly live on a shelf in my closet. They won’t be alone, though. They will join these lovelies, both of which have been worn a couple times at most. I can’t bring myself to part with them because they make me happy and remind me that I am (or at least have been on occasion) a little more than a typical suburban housewife. Sometimes I am a little sassy.
Is it silly to spend money on something you will hardly use? If it is, I have a house full of silly things. I rarely use the Pottery Barn appetizer plates with 1960s cocktail recipes on them that we received as a gift from friends years ago, but I still like them and so they live in our cupboard. We have an Instapot that has only ever cooked eggs, maybe three times. We have a collection of 1980s-era beverage glasses from Burger King with Star Wars characters on them too, but I am not parting with those. If I got rid of everything in our home that is not used daily or even regularly, we could downsize to a 1000 square foot apartment with two-bedrooms (I need the extra closet for my awesome shoes). So, what would be the harm in buying a pair of ruby slippers that make me smile and feel a little feisty? Worst case scenario is that someday I pass them along in pristine condition to some other woman who would get to live out her Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz magic.
Sometimes I think too much. Sometimes it’s best to stop thinking and buy the damn shoes.
“I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” ~Walt Whitman
I’ve been implying here for years (literally years, there are archives of proof) that I am going to get my shit together. Yes, indeed, I’ve proclaimed. My poop is nearly in a group. Nearly. Like it’s so close I can almost gather it in with a poop scoop. I’ve said these things time and time again. Truth is, though, I really am there now. For real. All those years with the training wheels on, getting closer to the growth I was craving and then pulling back in fear before finding a nugget of courage to continue forward again, they’ve created a muscle memory of being brave, of putting myself out there, of pushing the boundaries of my history, and of finding my voice. All those things are far easier for me now than they were seven years ago when I started this journey. I know my worth. I know what I am and what I am not. I’m willing to walk away from people and situations that are toxic to a healthy mindset. I am done playing games. I’m finished living my life to make others comfortable. I’m choosing me now.
I found this shop on Etsy that creates these cute little rocks. You choose your word and a color from their selection and they make it for you. I originally just wanted a couple that read “TOWANDA!” from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, but then I decided this was an opportunity to set my intentions. Small tokens with actions words to remind me what I want to do, how I want to live intentionally, in whatever time I have left in this life. I didn’t choose love because that seemed too obvious. Instead, I chose words that asked me to go beyond my comfort zone. I chose words I’ve struggled to live in the first part of my life. I chose dare, believe, dream, relax, stretch, practice, create, and shine to be my words. These words represent growth. These are my new core values. This is the future I want and am prepared to enact. TOWANDA is my rallying cry, my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
When we learned that our sons’ small, specialized high school had a welding shop and a ceramics studio, we were excited. I had long wanted to learn how to weld. I figured that until I could get my hands on a MIG welder, maybe the boys could take classes and learn. And they did. They took welding in summer sessions and made some really awesome items that are now our treasures. One summer, Luke fabricated this cool, elephant table for our outdoor space.
When we went to our gala fundraiser at Denver Academy and they auctioned off a four-hour welding class with the school’s material arts teacher, we knew we would have to bid on and win that item some time in the six years we would be at the school. After several years of being severely outbid, in 2019 we finally did it. We won a lesson. Life got in the way, however, and our gift certificate (with a one year expiration) did not get used. Thanks, Covid-19. This year, out of curiosity, I messaged the teacher and inquired if he might still be willing to let us have our lesson. He enthusiastically replied that he would love to do it. We were thrilled. So, yesterday morning we had our class.
We arrived at 9 a.m. with a huge Americano for our teacher because an apple will only get you so far at that time on a Saturday morning. He geared us up with safety goggles, ear plugs, gloves, and welding jackets, and we started with the plasma cutter. Loved that. I’m not sure there is anything more satisfying than watching the sparks fly as you rip through metal like it’s butter. After we’d liberated some small shapes with the plasma cutter, he taught us about the MIG welder and we worked on our welding skills. It was difficult for me to get the right speed, but I did eventually figure it out. We practiced welding random, found-pieces of metal from his shop. Then we went on to learn how to use the angle grinder to polish our metal pieces. That was pretty damn satisfying. Not gonna lie.
After learning the tools, we had about two hours to figure out what we wanted to build to take home. We had to design it, cut the metal, weld it, polish it, and determine how to hang in our limited time frame. Kris, the teacher, had a metal frame in his shop that someone had already created. He told us we were welcome to use it if we wanted. We decided to design a mountain scene that we could put inside the open frame. We did some planning drawings and got right to work. Steve cut the pieces with the plasma cutter while I used the angle grinder to polish the pieces he cut. With his job finished, Steve started welding our mountains to the frame. About that time, our son, Luke, showed up and he helped me speed up the grinding process. I had a lot of pieces to work on.
In the end, Kris helped us put a couple rubber stops on the back of the frame so the art piece would not cause damage to any surface it is mounted on. I have to say the whole process was a blast. It’s important to keep trying new things, to keep creating and taking risks, and to keep reaching for things you think might be your thing. And it’s best to do these things with people you love and work well with, so you can end up with something like this:
Ever so grateful to Denver Academy and Kris Fritzsche for everything!
To get their needs met, most people require a little “me” time. This looks different for everyone. For some, it might include time with friends. For some, it might require solitude. Others might find their peace through travel. For me, it often requires a little of both of the last two items. I am midway through my Escape From Reality: The Me-Time Tour. I have taken this particular tour once before. I’m staying in Boulder, where I attended the University of Colorado approximately four hundred years ago. At the foot of the Flatirons lies Chautauqua, a park, auditorium, dining hall, and collection of quaint cottages where people are welcome to relax, experience culture and nature, and simply enjoy a quieter pace. How is it going, you ask? Writing time on the sofa with a cozy blanket is how it is going. In other words, I am relaxed for the first time in over a month.
The cottages at Chautauqua offer everything a writer needs…solitude, beautiful surroundings, quiet, comfort, and no television. There is WiFi because it is helpful, especially if you are a writer, but other than that the distractions are minimal unless you count the squirrels running across the roof. Time here allows me to unwind, silence the noise in my brain, and determine where I need to place more attention when I return home and what I need to jettison to usher in a calmer, steadier existence. The last time I visited here was September 2020 after full-time lockdown with my family had me frazzled.
I suppose I could get the same calming results if I stayed at a hotel, but this place holds special memories for me. I love hiking in the Flatirons. I love the park here. And, seriously, how cute are these little cottages? In a place like this, approximately 420 square feet, I am reminded of how little I need to be comfortable and relaxed. Our home is massive compared to this space, but I could totally live in one of these cottages and be content. Not sure where my husband would live. He might need to be in the cottage next door because I am well beyond the days of happily sharing a full-size bed with another human being.
I had three main objectives when I came here. First, I wanted to have enough time to write some extra blog posts. Writing every day can prove challenging. It isn’t that I can’t find something to say each day. Heaven knows there is enough insanity in my head to spill onto pages for days and days. It’s just that sometimes the days get away from me, and I don’t like having to resort to a photo-and-haiku post (although those can be fun too) because I have run out of time to function as a rational person. So having a few extra posts stashed for days when I simply cannot has become crucial. Second, I wanted to work on a vision board. I’ve been trying to figure out where other people’s wishes for my life end and where mine begin. To live intentionally in a direction that makes sense for me, that is my goal. I figured creating a visual reminder for myself, a map of sorts, might help keep me on my own best track. Finally, I wanted to do some journaling and planning. I wanted to check in with myself and determine what my priorities are right now. I know I need to set up some boundaries in my life so I can keep my tank from running on empty. I also need to diffuse some mental land mines others have left for me. But getting to the bottom of problems like these requires ample time without distractions, and I am not getting that right now at home.
I have been feeling for months as if I was coming to a tipping point, a point from which I would either springboard forward into a period of exponential personal growth or slump back into my lockdown hole of mindlessness and go back to full-time life on the Animal Crossing island. I want to go forward so badly, but first I need to dig deep and find the courage to do it. And that is what this weekend is about, self-reflection and goal setting. It is about making a plan for growth and pointing myself in the right direction. I’m thinking I need two weekends like this a year. Maybe three. Possibly four, but no more than five. I think. That’s reasonable, right?
I started reading (okay, fine, listening to) a new book today, now that I have finished The Gifts of Imperfection. This book is a novel by Matt Haig entitled The Midnight Library. My sister mentioned it in passing twice last week and seemed so taken by it I decided to go ahead and get on the bandwagon. I also jumped on the Wordle bandwagon yesterday, but that matters not at this point. In any case, I’m a few hours into this damn book, and my mind is in classic overthink mode. This means it is a meaty story.
The Midnight Library is about a woman named Nora Seed who, feeling lost and depressed about her life, decides she no longer wants to live. She takes some pills and washes them down with wine. She drifts off and ends up at a library. The librarian, a woman Nora knew from her childhood, shows her a book filled with Nora’s life regrets and tells her she can go to any of a million different iterations of places her life might have led had she made different choices. She simply needs to select a regret and she will be transported to that divergent life, already in progress. The books allow Nora to answer the age old question “what if.”
It has taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to land at a place where I no longer abuse myself over my “what if” regrets. I’ve discussed that here before. Your what ifs are impossible because in the past you made choices based on who you were at that time using information you had available to you at that time. Looking back now, with a different mind and different experiences, alters the light you shine on those past events, people, and opportunities you let slip away. It makes them either shinier and more attractive or duller and less attractive but, either way, your current consciousness transforms them into something they are not. All of this makes our regrets like our worries…thinking about them will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.
I am curious to see where Nora lands after exploring these alternate-ending lives. If she finds a better existence for herself or if she decides to go back to her old life or if she dies from her overdose as she had originally intended. But all this thinking about disparate endings to our one (as far as we know it) life has me stuck on one thought. We can’t go back and change our past, which has led us to our present. We are, for better or worse, here where we’ve arrived as the result of millions of small, insignificant choices and a few quite large ones. Our story, thus far, has already been written. It’s the future that has yet to be determined. In some cases, our what ifs might still be able to come to fruition if we take steps in that direction today. We just have to find the courage to believe we can change the outcome. If we couldn’t do it in our past, perhaps we can now.
And while I noodle on what I want my life outcome to appear, for as much control as I have over it, please don’t comment here about the book if you have finished it. I will likely finish it tomorrow, and we can talk about it then. I look forward to it.
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great. You have no power over me!” ~Jim Henson
As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. It was given to me by a thoughtful, supportive friend last month, and I’ve slowly been making my way through it. The beautiful thing about Brené Brown is that her struggles and her authenticity seep from the pages of her books, making her words both relatable and heartening. She touches on so many difficult and uplifting emotions in the book that reading it has been equal parts soul-crushing reality and soul-inflating inspiration. Read about shame, guilt, perfectionism, fear, blame, and addiction and recognize how much those habits and emotions define and control you. Then read about hope, joy, play, creativity, resilience, authenticity, and self-compassion and see where you might be able to grow in a more positive direction. More than once while reading I’ve exclaimed out loud to myself in response to what I have read. Holy crap. That is me. I operate that same way. I so relate. I need to work on that. That makes so much sense. I have some work to do. I am really good at that.
The part of the book that hit me the hardest was the portion about shame. I know Brené began her work as a shame researcher, delving into the components of shame and how humans deal with or deflect it and how we can grow out of and away from it in healthy ways. So I fully expected to read about shame in this book. What I didn’t expect was to discover that for the majority of my life shame was my constant companion and operations manager. Ouch.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by this discovery. I grew up commonly hearing, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and “You’re embarrassing yourself.” Most of my reactions to events in my life were approached from a shame vantage point. Boyfriend broke up with me? Of course he did. You were acting like a needy jerk. It’s a wonder he didn’t leave you sooner. New job too much for me? Of course it is. Who do you think you are? You have no life experience. You can’t be expected to manage other human beings. Can’t stick to a diet and lose that stress-eating weight? Of course you can’t. You suck at dedication. Struggling with parenting? Of course you are. Your mother always said you were too selfish to raise childrenand it turns out she is right. Brené’s definition of shame snapped me like a wet, locker room towel: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” It was through this lens that I grew up and approached my adult life. I was an imposter, one misstep away from everyone I knew discovering my deep secret. To deal with this, I became a perfectionist. (That is another blog post entirely.)
I was continually baffled that anyone would want to be my friend or date me. I couldn’t see what they saw. I only saw my unworthiness. Still, I must have been presenting something else to these people too. They didn’t seem to see what I was seeing. The incongruity was not lost on me, but it never once occurred to me that maybe what they were seeing was the true Justine and what I was seeing was a story I had been sold. It took decades for me to figure that out, and I’m still shredding the pages of that story and working on my rewrite.
Perhaps the most life-affirming part of this book for me has been the section on Cultivating a Resilient Spirit because this is where I shine. I grew up feeling unworthy, less than, and invisible, but I persevered and took risks. Somehow, despite all the negativity and fear, I knew deep in my core I was capable. In my late teens and early twenties, I arrived at a place where I almost was able to recognize the big lie I had been sold. I was brave enough to imagine for myself something bigger. I took steps in that direction. I stepped away from guilt and forced obligation and walked towards autonomy and growth. I stepped up. At age 22, I graduated from a four-year university, the first in our family to do so. By 23, I was starting graduate school. At 24, I voluntarily sought help and signed on with a debt relief organization to pay off tens of thousands of dollars I had accumulated in loans and credit card liability. I was adulting and taking ownership, being resilient, and moving forward.
Then I realized I’d run out of money for graduate school. Rather than rising up and trying to find a way through that financial quagmire, I took my mother’s advice and I quit because I couldn’t afford it. I fell right back into the pattern of being a fearful, self-pitying, self-loathing coward and I stayed there for another two decades, operating from the familiar mindset that told me I wasn’t worthy.
I’ve spent more of my life in that shame mindset than I have spent believing in myself. I let other people’s negativity inform my choices. I asked for advice from the wrong people. I spurned the pleas of the right people who tried to guide me towards my better angels. Now I’m grateful for the difficult day that opened my eyes and taught me who was not to be trusted with my dreams and hopes. I learned to lean towards the people who raise me up, and I walked away from those who make me feel less special, talented, helpful, kind, and important than I am. I ignore those who don’t get me or who think they know me but don’t. I face my shame, talk about it, and deconstruct it. And all of this has led me to a place where I am starting to understand who I am and to like myself.
Shame grows through secrecy, silence, and judgment. Understanding this gives me a pathway out of it. You deny it oxygen by addressing it, sharing your difficult stories with others, and walking away from those who would keep you grounded in it. I am happier more often now, able to be joyful and at peace. I make better choices and I forgive myself more easily when my choices aren’t the best. I appreciate others. I try to apologize when I screw up. I am still working on self-love and I am having a devil of a time beating the judgment out of myself and my life, but I am making progress. I’m embracing my humanity and feeling part of a bigger whole rather than feeling like a lonely pariah. I am proud of myself, dammit. It feels good.
Sharing my darkness and vulnerability is terrifying, but blogging about these shadow monsters here has changed my life. Shame has no power over me anymore because I have named it, gotten cozy with it, and discovered its weaknesses. It will never leave me because it is part of my story, but it buzzes quietly in the background now, just white noise that my brain blocks out.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you DO choose.” ~Michelle Rosenthall
Everything changes when you finally decide to divest yourself from a toxic relationship.
Some people judge you for your choice, especially if the relationship you leave behind is one involving a parent, spouse, or sibling. Those people tell you to reconsider because “life is short and you might be sorry when they are gone.” Those people used to get to me. They would reacquaint me with the gaslighting I have experienced my entire life. I would feel guilty and small and cruel for choosing myself. With time and practice, though, I’ve learned to listen to those voices less because those people don’t and can’t understand the emotional damage I have worked so hard to grieve, dismantle, reassess, and then release. They don’t know that every day is a battle to trust others, to feel safe in my skin and like myself, and to move forward carrying less baggage. They can’t understand how much it hurts a child to have a parent tell you multiple times, “You have a face only a mother could love,” only to realize she doesn’t love you or she would never say things like that. Birthdays, holidays, and family events are not joyful, but instead produce physical symptoms of anxiety. Walking away is not what you want. It’s not what you ever wanted, which is why it is so difficult. But, in the face of acknowledging there is not now nor will there ever be true acceptance and appreciation from the people who made you question everything about yourself, the best thing to do is move on and do better for yourself.
I still feel guilty sometimes about putting myself first, about choosing to skip out on that toxic person’s birthday party or holiday gathering. I never want to feel I am acting intentionally to hurt another because I was constantly told that I was selfish and thoughtless. Looking out for myself only proves that hypothesis. But what if I test that hypothesis against the reality of what happened rather than the illusion of what I was told happened? Then, magical things begin to occur. I have learned to have empathy for my abusers, to feel sorry they were incapable of doing better, to be grateful they taught me what not to do with my own children, to feel sad they will never know the truth about love, and at the same time to understand I do not owe them a relationship at the expense of my own mental and emotional well being.
For decades, my brain protected me by blocking awareness of the abuse. It had me believe that I was treated the same way everyone else was by their parents. It wasn’t until I started talking about my youth and seeing the shock and horror on other’s faces when I told them stories about my childhood that I understood what I knew as “normal” was actually neither normal nor healthy. It was a shocking revelation. My brain had for so long worked to legitimize the abuse to protect me that I was unable to comprehend that what I experienced was abuse. When I finally could not unsee the reality any longer, I began to grow. I have fought since then to tell my story more often, to give voice to what I was conditioned to believe was only my imagination, my “over-sensitive” nature.
“You own everything that ever happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” ~Anne Lamott
Six years ago, I composed a blog post around the above quote, asking other writers for permission to tell my stories even if doing so would potentially hurt someone else and cause rifts in long-standing relationships. Six years ago, I wasn’t yet brave enough to speak my truth. But, six years of weekly therapy and hard work have at last brought me to the place where I am able to choose myself and let others deal with their emotions about that their own way. I’ve learned that if telling my truth is problem for them, maybe they should address that in their own heart, that I don’t owe them protection when they didn’t protect me, that I don’t have to put them first when they didn’t put me first. It’s a powerful place to live when you finally decide that you are not responsible, despite what you have been told, for other people’s reactions to your choices. It’s not vindictive to tell your story. It’s life changing to give yourself permission to protect yourself from the people who have hurt you and to tell your stories because if they wanted to be remembered warmly, they should have behaved better.
I am not afraid of my past anymore. I’m not afraid of people being angry with me for telling my stories about it. I’m only afraid of living another day bound by tales about myself that were passed down to me by others that don’t define me and never did. Tell your stories, especially when they are controversial and difficult. Eventually, they will set you free.
“I had been deceived. The only thing that was ever wrong with me was my belief that there was something wrong with me.” ~Glennon Doyle
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.