The Beating of My Own Drums Returns

My little corner of the world

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.

I Am The Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog

What? I don't look like a killer rabbit to you?
What? I don’t look like a killer rabbit to you?

Tonight I am celebrating because today I did something way out of my comfort zone. And I survived!

A few weeks ago, the boys’ school hired a company to make a promotional video that would be used on its website. The company planned to interview teachers, administrators, and students. They also wanted to interview some parents. Anyone who knows me knows that I cannot stand to be on video. I hate it. Emphasis on the word hate. Did I mention hate? It makes me so uncomfortable I want to puke. I loathe video chat. I wholeheartedly believe Facetime was invented solely as a torture device. If someone brings a video camera within 20 feet of me, I disappear faster than a case of cheap beer in a college freshman dorm room. I would honestly rather have a full on Brazilian bikini wax by an aesthetician student than appear in front of a camera. When I first saw the email asking for parent volunteers, I immediately resigned it to the Trash folder. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at the school, I reasoned. There’s no need for you to jump in on this one. I was not going to do this. No way. No how.

But as the week wore on, that email vexed me because I knew I was exactly the kind of person that should be talking about that school. With not one but two sons with learning disabilities there, with our six years’ worth of struggles as we tried to discern how best to help our boys, with the exponential growth we’ve witnessed in them over the past eight months, I was a poster-child parent for this project. I was being a coward and I knew, that like Emmett in The Lego Movie, the self-doubt that plagued me was keeping me from reaching my true potential. I opened the Trash folder, found the email, and responded that I would be happy to help with it. I clicked send knowing that I was doing the right thing. The minute I heard the whoosh sound, I felt the bile rising.

I put the whole thing out of my mind because I figured there was no point stressing about it for weeks. Deep down I knew it would all be fine and that I was doing my usually brilliant job of making mountains out of mole hills. Over the weekend, with the video date rapidly approaching, I made a conscious decision not to think about it. I would not pick out an outfit or practice speeches. I was going into this with the most laissez-faire attitude I could muster. I’ve been working on this skill lately…trying not to borrow trouble. It would all be fine, even if my hair wasn’t perfectly coiffed and I stumbled over some words.

Today was video day, and I went in more or less off the cuff. I had an inkling of things the interviewer might ask. I prepared myself for those questions. I was feeling fairly confident…right up to the point when I walked into the room with the big video camera, boom mike, and lighting set up, and saw a single wooden stool in front of it all. I did my best to give useful answers, but found it challenging to be articulate while I was simultaneously reminding myself not to slouch, touch my hair, or look anywhere but at the interviewer. I’m not sure how long I was on that stool, but it felt like forever. As the minutes wore on, I felt my cheeks turning pinker and rounding the corner to full-tilt-embarrassed red. Finally I gave an answer that seemed to satisfy everyone, and my time in hell was over.

As I was walking to my car afterward, I found myself somewhere between needing a drink to relax and needing a drink to celebrate. I’d done it. And, despite the fact that I was now rethinking every single comment I’d made (on camera about my children in front of school staff, nonetheless), I was proud of myself. I had gone out of my comfort zone and faced a dirty, rotten fear. On the drive home from school, I quizzed the boys about their fifteen minutes of fame and then I talked about mine. I told them how good it felt to do something I really didn’t want to do but knew I should. They asked me if I was glad I did it. At the next stoplight I grabbed the Bunny Buddhism book (I carry it everywhere these days) and shared this:

Bunniness is not learned in safety. One must seek unfamiliar ground and hop without fear.

Like the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, I go forward prepared to leap upon any challenge that darkens my path. There are no fluffy bunnies here. Bring it!

 

 

 

 

Do You Have The Chops?

That's me...jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really more of a warrior partial jog)
That’s me…jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really less of a dash and more of a warrior partial jog)

“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This morning I found myself reflecting on my post from last night and considering how difficult it is for me to say no. I am getting better at it bit by bit, but it still troubles me that my inability to say no is such an obstacle to maintaining my sanity. Sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice my mental well-being and my free time because the immediate path of least resistance requires me to accept something I didn’t go looking for and don’t really want to do. And I will say yes against my better judgment merely to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Sad but true.

What’s more striking (and sad), however, is how rare it is for me to say yes to a true opportunity that I should embrace when it presents itself. There’s always an excuse as to why I shouldn’t take a risk or put myself out there. And, oddly, it’s easier for me to say yes to something I wholly do not want to do than it is for me to say yes to something that could truly benefit me and that I honestly desire.

With these thoughts in my head I was scrolling through the updates on my Facebook news feed today when I came across this video. Apparently Billy Joel was conducting a Q & A session at Vanderbilt University where he was set to play a concert. Students were taking turns in an auditorium posing questions to the Grammy-Award winning songwriter and performer. When one gentleman found it to be his turn at the microphone, instead of asking a typical question, this young man started with a statement. He told Joel that New York State of Mind was a favorite of his. Then he did something truly bold. With a trembling, tentative voice, he asked Joel if he might accompany him for a performance of that tune. The crowd in the auditorium gasped, presumably jointly thinking “What a presumptuous little creep.” But what happened next was pure magic. Joel agreed. The young man walked on stage, exchanged a few words with Joel at the piano, and began to play a well-practiced introduction to the song while Joel sized up the kid’s talent. Joel then stepped up to the microphone and sang the entire song. Afterwards he applauded the young musician, exchanged a few more words with him, and told the audience to remember the name Michael Pollock. He then paid him what I think is the ultimate compliment. The guy’s got chops.

After I watched the video, I found myself questioning whether I would have the nerve to ask for what I wanted in that same situation. I’m sure there were plenty of other students in that crowd that wanted the same thing Michael did but didn’t have the cajones to ask. Whether because of fear, some notion of the rules of etiquette, nerves, or a myriad of other reasons, they wouldn’t take the risk. Sadly, I’m positive I would not have either.

We often hear the tired cliches: Nothing ventured, nothing gained and You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We know these statements are true, yet how often do we let our fear rule our actions? There was always the chance that Mr. Joel would have politely and respectfully told Michael he was not interested. But there was also always a chance that he would consent. Michael chose to focus on that potential positive outcome, and he bravely asked the question. It paid off. And now for the rest of his life Michael will remember that he once played accompaniment for Billy Joel to his favorite tune because he was ballsy enough to ask. What a memory he created for his life’s storybook.

Some people are born with chops. It comes naturally to them to ask for what they want and to say no when the feel like it. The rest of us need to earn our chops. We’ve got to work at it. We’ve got to conquer our nerves and our fears about conventionally accepted behaviors and we’ve got to be willing to go beyond them. It’s not easy. But with time and repeated success it does become easier. With that in mind, I have a new goal for myself. I’m going to start working towards my chops. I don’t want to spend my life wondering what if or realizing I let pivotal moments slip by because I was afraid. I may not have been born with balls, but I’m going to acquire some before my time here is through.

Clearer Than A Crystal Ball

Yep. My son is a slacker.
My dyslexic son, the slacker.

My son has dyslexia. I blog about it quite often because I’m still struggling to understand it. If I ever get through the 400 page book I started reading about it, I might know more. But, for now, I’m picking up bits and pieces and starting to get a glimpse into what this revelation means for Luke. There are moments in your life when you’re struggling and something (call it fate, God, the Universe, whatever) gives you a pearl of insight that helps you see things more clearly. I had that experience today.

I was rifling through the papers in Luke’s take-home folder from school when I ran across a reading comprehension page he had done in class. He scored 2 out of 5 on it. This is not surprising given his reading issues and the fact that he’s only been in dyslexia tutoring for about six weeks now. He’s not there yet, so a 2 out of 5 isn’t a problem. He’s working on it. What bothered me about the paper was that in the top, right-hand corner his teacher had penned this comment: “Please read carefully!” When I read that, my brow furrowed. Really, lady? What part of dyslexia don’t you understand? Isn’t telling a dyslexic kid to read carefully a little like telling a blind person to watch where he’s going? It’s not as if Luke doesn’t want to read well. He can’t. It’s his fondest wish to be exactly like his classmates. He doesn’t want to be different. He doesn’t want to read slowly. He doesn’t want to ask for special accommodations or additional help, but he needs to. Chastising my kid for something he can’t help seems a bit unfair. Weeks ago I had a thirty minute conversation with his teacher so she could understand his struggles. Clearly, the information I presented to her didn’t sink in.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that this is what Luke will struggle with for the rest of his life. There is a significant portion of the population that doubts the very existence of dyslexia. These people think that the person with reading difficulty simply needs to work harder. The fact is that Luke doesn’t need to work harder to learn to read. He needs to work differently. That is what the dyslexia tutor is doing with Luke. She is teaching him to read a different way. I’ve already seen a difference. For the first time ever, he’s starting to be able to name rhyming pairs. This is progress. With tutoring like this, the kind that focuses on teaching to the way a right-brained person learns, he will read eventually. He will never be as fast or successful at it as a person without dyslexia, but he will read. And, he will spend his entire life trying to convince people that he really does need the extra assistance he requires. At least through college he will have to undergo hours and hours of testing every two years to guarantee his access to accommodations to help him keep up with his fellow classmates. Dyslexia never goes away, but you’d be hard pressed to convince most people (and most schools, apparently) that this is the case.

Luke’s best shot at success will come from his ability to self-advocate, to understand his issues and to be able to fight for and earn the necessary accommodations to ensure he gets onto a level playing field with his classmates. He’s going to have to be able to look a teacher who tells him to read more carefully in the eye and tell her that he’s reading as carefully as he can because he is dyslexic, and if she would like him to read more carefully he’s going to require extra time. Luckily for him, Luke has loads of self-confidence and charm. He has never been afraid to ask for what he wants or to negotiate to get his way. Those skills will serve him well in the future. As for me, I’m still working on my bravery and my advocacy skills. I’m going to start by reminding his teacher that he’s doing the best he can on his reading and he’ll probably go a lot further if she curbs the presumptive admonitions on his reading papers and sticks to positive reinforcement instead.