Manchester, NH—I’m back from New Orleans, returned from the city where every bite is decadent and delicious to a city that has many perfectly good restaurants. When I go back to Pittsburg, I’ll be back on my gulag menu, so I’ve continued gorging myself while down south. Also, I had joyful obligations while in Manchester, ranging from visiting the St. Gauden’s exhibit at the Currier Museum to a chorale in New London to horseback riding. (Don’t worry, I’m also spending time with the hoi polloi, a collection of lower companions who make up my true peer group.) Finally, I had an appointment.
Like many Americans (and most of my friends), I see a therapist. (Before the reader can make the jokes, allow me: “I read your stuff—demand your money back! Therapy’s not working” or “My God—this is what you’re like in therapy? What kind of lunatic were you before?” or “If you’re going monthly, increase it to weekly. If you see her weekly, amp it up to daily. If you’re already seeing her daily, look for an institution” or, simply, “That poor woman!”) Now that we’ve got the jokes out of the way, settle down, class. I’ve written about my therapist, Bette, before. She is an insightful and wise woman who has done me much good and appeared to understand me.
Until that appointment.
Bette didn’t break any rule of therapy or mock my nonsense (except in the most clinical and empowering way). Instead, at our last session, Bette had suggested that I come early today and take part in a “drum circle” facilitated by another vet. I had fears. I had anxiety. I had flashbacks to mangling a bass guitar in junior high school without a sense of rhythm or tune. Still, I trusted Bette. So I went.
A huge mistake.
The drum circle was a group of vets who gather weekly to get in touch with their inner rhythms, go into trancelike states and bang drums. The facilitator, whom I’ll call Joanna, was kind, welcoming me to the group. Joanna handed me a small, hourglass-shaped drum, and assured me no one would judge me. (Whenever people tell me I won’t be judged, I assume I’ve already been found guilty, but that may be one of the myriad of reasons I’m in therapy.) She said this wasn’t a test, and that no one failed at drumming.
Joanna explained the outside of the drum head makes the tone, and the inside the bass, and that drumming was a deep-seated and natural ability granted all humans. (As noted above, I understood her to mean: if you can’t drum, you’re not fully human.)
Joanna told the group to start off with a warm-up of ting-ting-ting-bong-ting-ting-bong-ting-bong. Neither tinging nor bonging, I sat with my hands above the drumhead, waiting for the spirit to overtake me, like a High-Church Episcopalian at a Pentecostal service. Nothing.
“Just do what you feel,” said Joanna.
I’m not sure how to “do” embarrassment, humiliation and regret, short of bursting into tears, throwing the drum to the floor and stomping out of the room. Instead, I tentatively tapped at a “bong,” like a sixth-grade girl disciplining a boy sitting next to her. I almost said, “Oh, you! Stop it!” but was afraid this might lead the drum to think I liked it.
“Just play the bass parts,” Joanna said, trying to help.
A brief aside regarding rhythm, sort of: I happen to be very good at taking standardized tests, which is no more or less significant than being a good whittler. Still, when I take any SAT/GRE/LSAT kind of multiple-choice instrument, I can, almost always, immediately discard three of the five choices, focusing on what kind of answer the kind of person who writes standardized-test questions would write. I can’t call this a gift, because post-formal education standardized testing hasn’t been a big part of my life. I’d rather know how to whittle. Still, I’ve tried to pass on this ability to read the minds of test writers by saying, “Discard the stupid answers, then read the mind of a bored high-school teacher being paid a buck a question!” This has not been helpful to anyone.
Sort of like:
“Just join in on the bass parts,” Joanna said after I’d sat, hands frozen above the drum, for 30 seconds.
I breathed high anxiety, waiting for the universe to give me a sense of rhythm while a group of veterans demonstrated the tempo train had already left my station. I gave another tentative tap at the drum.
“Like you mean it!” Jennifer said. “Show that drum who’s boss!”
Standardized tests are typically taken in pencil, so the nervous tester can change an answer. I’d be sorta/kinda comfortable taking them in pen, both because I don’t often go back over questions and to “show that test who’s boss.” I haven’t suggested this to any test takers, though.
As for the drum?
It is boss.