drums

Sorry, B.B. — The Thrill Is Not Gone Yet

JusDrums

Trying to overcome negativity while wearing a shirt that says NOPE.  Me in a nutshell.

This weekend I am doing something I have never done before. I am going to be the drummer for a band — live and on stage. When my drum instructor mentioned back in July that he was going to set up a performance for some of his students, my first reaction was to laugh, all the while thinking Oh hells no! When he asked me what I thought of the idea of performing, to my surprise, while my head was in a there’s-no-way-nuh-uh-you-can’t-make-me space, my mouth opened and spoke what I knew in my heart.

“It would probably be good for me.”

We chose a song for me to perform at the exhibition. And we were off.

Jeff showed me a preferred beat for B.B. King’s The Thrill Is Gone, a slightly stepped up version of a beat I know already. But the minuscule sixteenth beat that the “fancy” (as he called it) version added turned out to be Herculean in scope for my brain. I have only one other drum beat in my repertoire that includes a sixteenth beat hidden among the eighths. That beat took me four months to get under command. I’m still not proud of my fluidity on that one, but at least when Jeff tells me to play go-go beat I no longer stare at him blankly. Progress.

Learning drums is a formidable task. You are training four limbs to do four different things, all while operating from the same one brain. No brain wants to operate four limbs independently. Humans don’t work that way. To drum, you have to retrain your mind to get your body to do what it has no natural inclination to do. Learning to drum requires infinite patience with oneself. I am infinitely short on patience for all things, most especially myself.

I spent the last two months whittling away at the mental impediments to procure the fancy drum beat for this song, all the while continuing to learn the other elements so I would be ready in time. I was fully committed to performing that fancy beat. And I spent an hour to two a day for fourteen days after the boys started school again working on it with my new bass drum pedal so I could go into my lesson last Friday and show Jeff I had met my goal. And I really thought I had gotten there, or at least within striking distance of there.

I hadn’t. When I got to my lesson, I could not do the beat. My brain and my right foot, in complete defiance of every bit of progress I had made, flat out refused to pop in that extra note. Each time I missed it, I grew more anxious and more despondent. I had spent triple the amount of time I usually ferret away for drum practice to nail that beat, and in the clutch moment it had vanished. Sensing my frustration and with a week left before the scheduled performance, Jeff told me to scrap it. He told me to focus on the groove and let that beat go for now. I agreed that was the best decision, and we continued the lesson without it.

The moment I got to my car, though, I lost it. The tears gently fell and my head ran a steady stream of self-flagellation until I reached my son at school and pulled myself together. Perhaps drumming wasn’t for me? Maybe it was time to burn the sticks and drop the kit into the dumpster? Maybe this dog was too old for new tricks? A year into drumming, and I still sucked at it. I felt lower and more exposed than a naked mole rat. I was an imposter and soon an entire audience would know it. Fantastic.

I have spent the last week doing some additional brain retraining. I haven’t been focusing on that bass drum part. I have been getting my ego in check and my attitude on straight. Turns out this has been nearly as difficult as acquiring the fancy drum beat, but I am finally there. Drumming is supposed to be fun. It was always supposed to be fun. I knew it would be difficult and, to be honest, that is why it appealed to me. Drumming is about the sense of accomplishment when something clicks and becomes automatic and I am able to advance to the next goal. The trick lies in not focusing on what is left to learn and instead noticing how far I have come from the point a year ago when Jeff handed me a pair of his drumsticks and I sat behind a kit for the first time ever.

I am performing on Saturday for better or worse. I’ve decided to be excited about it. I’ve decided to remember that the best things in my life have always come at the end of my comfort zone when I have taken on something that scared the bejeezus out of me and that I wasn’t sure I could handle. I’ve decided to play and be present and let go and not expect anything but a three-minute-long life lesson. It’s about the journey. I’ll get that fancy beat eventually. Until then, I need to refocus on the ride because B.B. was wrong. The thrill is not gone and, knowing my determination, it won’t be gone until I am.

Dream A Little Dream

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  ~George Eliot

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My new toys

When I started on this journey to improve my self-esteem, I knew three things would be crucial to my success. I needed to make time for the things that feed my soul. People who know they are worthy take care of themselves without reservation or guilt. They know that what matters to them matters. Period. So, writing was going to have to become a priority in my life again because writers write. I also needed to find space in my head for positive thoughts. I needed to find self-acceptance and self-appreciation. For me that meant a long overdue return to my yoga mat because yoga teaches balance, patience, and flexibility of both body and spirit. Most of all, yoga teaches you to let go of shit that doesn’t serve you, and I have a lot of shit to send packing. Finally, I needed to go out of my comfort zone to foster a new sense of self, one filled with possibility in place of fear. I needed to let go of who I thought I should be and embrace who I actually am. It was time to become Emmet in The Lego Movie and unlock my true potential.

In third grade, like many children in the US, I was forced to play the recorder. (To this day, if I hear a recorder playing “Hot Cross Buns,” I break out into cold sweats and struggle to keep from dry heaving.) I suffered through the experience knowing it was a stepping stone. In fourth grade when it came time to choose a real instrument, I went to my parents resolute. I told them I wanted to play the drums. The answer to that request (a common answer to that question for many parents, I imagine) was a giant, unequivocal HELLS NO. Drums are expensive. Drums are unwieldy. Drums take up real estate. And, of course, drums are loud. They asked me if I had interest in other instruments. I thought about it, suggested the French Horn with a question in my voice, and was told that might be a bit much for a starter instrument. I then weakly suggested maybe the oboe, as it was infinitely more interesting than the commonly chosen flute but still small and portable. My dad suggested I take up the clarinet. He played clarinet, and I could use his. After all, clarinets and oboes are both in the woodwinds family, right? At this point, being my independent-minded, nine-year-old self and being tired of being told what was appropriate, I told my parents I didn’t want to play anything anymore. And, in a move more self-defeating than rebellious, I gave up on music, unaware I was giving up a piece of myself in the process.

Although I never learned to play them, I never put the drums away either. I hear the drum beat in everything. I drum on the steering wheel with the radio rather than singing along. I marvel at the mastery of Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Dave Grohl. During concerts, I focus on the drummer and bang my hands on my hips rather than clapping with the other fans. I go into an altered mental state when I blast Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in my house, air drumming and tossing my hair around like Animal from The Muppets during the raucous chorus. I drive my sons crazy making them listen to drum solos in songs. It’s a little weird, honestly.

At the beginning of the school year, my youngest son signed up for Drumline as one of his electives. I began to live my drummer’s dream vicariously through him. Every day I would ask him about it. I bought him drumsticks for practicing. I asked him to show me what he was learning so I could copy it and learn along side him. When the teacher assigned him to the bass drum, I tried to imagine my little guy holding that big old thing and banging on it. It made me giddy. Not long after that, I was reading the self-help book about badassery when it occurred to me I could do something I hadn’t done before. I could dream a little dream for me. What if I decided not to live my drum fantasy through Luke? What if I decided to be my own drummer and live to my own damn beat?

So last week Thursday, I took my nervous energy and my inability to sit still to my first music lesson. I sat behind a drum kit for the first time ever and I took a risk on myself. I allowed myself to believe that I was worth the expense and effort to learn something that I felt drawn to, regardless of the inconvenience it might present to others. I decided I deserved to try on this dream and see how it felt. Every day since that first lesson, I have practiced stick control, timing, and sticking patterns. I now have a metronome app on my phone, my own drumsticks, and a practice pad. Jeff, my incredibly cool, Buddhist monk (no lie) music instructor assures me I am not hopeless and that with legitimate and regular practice I really can be the drummer I might have been. And, although I am not doing this for them, in the back of my mind I think of my sons and the example I am setting for them as I try something scary and new at the ripe old age of 48. I hope they learn that it’s worth it to stand up for yourself and it’s never too late to follow your dreams and see where they might lead you.