Last week I sat in the dimly lit basement of an old building on University Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota and I fully realized for the first time just how lucky I am to be me.
As a truly creative spirit, I’ve always felt I had no choice but to march to the beat of my own drum. I don’t make the unique choices I do to get attention. The beat of my creative soul is simply so loud that it’s all I can hear; therefore, it’s all that I really want to follow. I consider myself a kind, thoughtful, friendly person, and I’m able to relate to many people concerning many different aspects of life. But if I participate in a situation long enough, my inability to completely fall into line and march along with others inevitably makes me stand out. I have no desire to stand out; I simply cannot assimilate in the way that other people can. I have tried. And tried, and tried, and tried. When I have come close to assimilating with a group, I’ve been very unhappy because I knew I was marching out of step with my inner beat. Despite my desire for harmony, the sound of my existence has seemed to be a phonograph needle scratching against the music of the status quo, because my beat seems to gravitate toward uphill personal battles.
Throughout my life I’ve been annoyed at my creative feet for taking the path less traveled when it seems most people around me take what appears to be a far less challenging way through life. I’ve been jealous of these people as I watch them do things like choose one career path and stay on it. They seem to get well compensated for the job they do – well enough to, at least, have a comfortable existence. They seem to be satisfied with the people that surround them. They seem to not notice the things that need improvement in this world. I have no idea what it’s like to be one of those people because I’m always in search of a better way, a better place, a better me.
I’ve been angry at American society for not supporting creative people better – psychologically and financially. Despite my country’s rabid consumption of designer clothes, unique architecture, stylish home décor, inspiring music, engaging novels, thrilling television shows and movies, I’ve received the message that creative vocations are insignificant when compared to other “necessary” professions found in the medical, legal, business, engineering, and scientific realm. In high school I was told that my work was too creative and lacked substance. My BA in art from a liberal arts college has been called useless by career placement experts. I’ve heard my creative writing pursuits called delusional by people who don’t share my vision. Despite my society’s daily dependence on creative people, the majority of us are relatively poorly compensated, and our value to society is often dismissed.
Although I know that there is relatively little external reward for my creative acts, I continue to gravitate toward them because that’s where my inner rhythm moves me. Sometimes the additional nudge from supportive family members that I’m so fortunate to have in my life gives me the extra momentum I need to accomplish my creative uphill treks. My husband bought me a drum for my birthday a year ago because he knew I always wanted to be a drummer. I pounded daily on the table tom he gave me and thoroughly enjoyed my new form of expression. Last Christmas, my daughter gave me a certificate for classes at the Women’s Drum Center on University Avenue in St. Paul and I redeemed my gift last week.
Before my class began, I sat in the basement location of the Drum Center feeling a little overwhelmed by the various foreign drums and percussion instruments on the shelves that surrounded me. But then, while sitting in a circle with the other students, I was asked to tip an African djembe drum toward me and embrace it with my legs for the first time. The instrument immediately became an extension of me. We were taught some bass and tonal beats. Then we were invited to improvise and contribute our own unique beat.
I shut my eyes and allowed my hands to dance on the skin of the drum. The other students and I created music when our unique beats came together. The music I was creating circulated from my soul, to my hands, to the drum, to my ears, to my soul, to my hands . . . and, for the first time, I became one with my own rhythm. As the room pulsed with a new song that I was contributing to, I realized in that moment that I found my true place in this world. It is right where it has always been – on that path dictated by my own unique beat.
There was no external compensation for my creative experience during my drum lesson. I was not given 2016’s Djembe Drummer of the Year award. I wasn’t offered a recording contract that would compensate me financially for my previously undiscovered drumming talent. But, the internal reward was immense: I connected with an instrument that allows me to express myself, and I realized how incredibly lucky I am to be the kind of creative person who finds herself in a dark basement on a weekday afternoon banging on an African drum. That far exceeds anything that society could ever give me.
I wish everyone could hear the beat of their own drum.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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