The Beat of my Own Drum (A spoken word poem.)
Today I was inspired….I heard an interview with an author I greatly admire,
And when she was asked why she was drawn to the unusual, to the paranormal…
She explained with honesty and simplicity,
That vampires, ghosts, and werewolves were nothing more than a metaphor for those of us who walk on the sidelines. Those of us who feel like we are on the outside of society looking in.
And I had an epiphany for my entire creative existence. My whole life I have felt like I was on the outside. Different.
That everyone else was walking in a straight line, a set path, while I veered and swayed to the left of it and danced my way through life fighting past the looks of concern, scorn, or sheer misunderstanding.
Always searching for those rare moments when I felt the warmth and acceptance from a select few who understood my dance.
I recall being but a young child and proudly getting up in front of the class bursting with anticipation and determination.
Excited about learning, and burning inside to share my reports to my peers, who were waiting patiently with their tiny hands folded upon their wooden desks in neat little rows.
It was the 1950’s and a time of great speculation and fascination with outer space. An exciting decade in which to live. But an equally cruel and unforgiving era as well.
I tried my best to follow all assignment rules, but could not stop there. I always had more to contribute, or so I thought…. Too much energy to contain, so much desire with every task.
I had a need to share my child-like visions in drawings and drama and proceeded to show my artful masterpiece as I stood before the class with great trepidation.
But to my dismay, my schoolmates’ eyes were focused on my teacher’s scrunched up angry red face and not on the drawing I held with pride. Miss Rich stood stern and tall and pointed to the corner of the room with condemnation, rather than the adulation, which I had craved and thought was well deserved.
My fearless leader saw none of the creative imagination in my renderings I had added to my report. She had no understanding of my youthful enthusiasm. Instead, she proceeded to punish me for veering off the path of rules.
I was sent into the corner of shame. (Or that is what she thought.)
But little did she know, that the punishment corner had become my own special place of retreat. I had come to know it well to work off my outbursts of enthusiasm and innovative ideas that she never approved of…
And as I stared at the cracks in the wall that I had begun to embrace, I saw people, places, and wondrous things, which swirled and danced in my head.
I wrote stories and poems in that corner instead of atoning for the sin of thinking out of the box.
It was the 1950’s after all, and no one was supposed to veer off the learning path to the left. And yet I did.
In art class, my elephant was purple not gray, and I was yelled at and punished for not following the rules! And still I refused to change my picture because I wanted my elephant to be purple! (Just like the stuffed animal my father brought home to me and who sat on my bed at night to comfort me when my dreams took me to scary places.)
I twitched and turned and could not sit still which annoyed just about every teacher I came to know.
All because I heard the beautiful beat of a drummer in my head… pounding out a rhythm that made me want to jump and dance as it beat louder and louder… reverberating up into my brain with words and images that had to be written down or drawn.
It didn’t matter if no one else could hear the beat of my music. Because I could hear it.
Yes, Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and ME! We all heard the music. We all were on the outside looking in…. We wanted to jump and dance and whirl around to the beat.
So sometimes, even when I was supposed to stay seated, when the music was especially loud and wonderful, I HAD no choice, but to get up and dance.
Even when I wasn’t supposed to. Because you see, it was a happy, bright place filled with fantasy just on the outside of the line where I stood.
If only other people would join me there. Then maybe their distain would disappear if they would just take one step on my side of the straight and narrow line….
Maybe then they would see that the world was much more colorful over here. The music was louder and all the instruments played non stop ALL the time.
Sometimes out of tune, but that never mattered.
And so the Instruments continued to play in my head. They blared on; drums, violins, harps, trumpets…. each one entertaining me with a symphony of notes, sometimes in words, often in colors, and it was always beautiful!!!!!!
And then one day, a very kind English teacher applauded after I shared a poem that I had written, and he pulled me aside after class.
He took me by surprised when he stated. “You’re special you know. You don’t belong in this class. You need to be with the advanced students. Why on earth has no one addressed this before?”
I sheepishly told him I thought it was because I talked too much, and got too excited about learning. That teachers always said I was too much trouble! I explained that I usually wrote my poems while I was in the corner and nobody ever heard them but me.
He smiled and let me know that he would fix things. He told me from now on I would feel at home in school and that it would be okay, because there were others who would now appreciate my writing.
And so that very day in 7th grade, when Mr. Wilson, a frail thin man with a smile as warm as freshly baked cookies, heard the rhythm of my music, it was then I began to realize that sometimes others could feel what I felt, see what I saw…
But, in reality, it didn’t happen very often.
I thought that as I started to grow up things would change and the sound of my music would disappear…
But no, I still heard the beat.
And when I transitioned further on in middle and high school, where the world was a very confusing place….
I watched as our beloved President Kennedy died and Martin Luther was dreaming his precious dream and trying to enlighten the world.
And I wrote it all down in words and turned them into songs and tears.
As the music continued to beat louder in my head, my very close friends and I wrote what was in our hearts, and formed a band to tell the world how things should be if only people would listen.
My classmates thought we were crazy because girls weren’t supposed to perform like boys. Girls didn’t play guitars. It just wasn’t done. Not in 1966… But we did it anyway…
As the beat blared thunderously in our heads, it was now vampires, ghosts, werewolves and rocker chicks…. who wanted the world to change and let equality reign in our songs.
And then in college as I sat with a sea of people tightly blending together and holding hands… a rainbow of colors heard my song.
I understood then that there were other vampires, ghosts, and werewolves out there trying to change the world too. Apparently more then I had ever imagined.
And I felt empowered and basked in the strength of numbers convinced that we could indeed change the universe together as long as everyone heard the beat.
A special literature professor named Mrs. Keenan took me under her wing and approached me with tears in her eyes one afternoon at the end of class. She confided that she looked forward to reading my essays and that whatever I wrote, always spoke to her heart. It made her want to sing and dance, and feel young again. She begged me to never stop writing. She told me that when she was submersed in my words, she felt like she was Juliet, Elizabeth Bennett, Rosaline all rolled into one.
This dynamic, beautiful lady played a monumental role in why I became a teacher. Her supreme joy in teaching affected every pore of my being and I lived and breathed literature when in her class. Her love of the written word glowed from her very spirit and washed over her students like a spring rain…. and inspiration thrived in one tiny room on campus, and danced in my head when she defined the works of Tolstoy, and Chekov. Life was divine and everyone felt like an insider within the confines of her classroom.
But, life is filled with twists and turns and as I grew older and settled down, I strained harder to hear the music. There was marriage, motherhood, work, divorce and putting food upon the table.
At the end of the day, my weary senses were somewhat dulled and the music quieted down. I had to rely on the sparkle in my son’s eyes for the songs to find me again.
They were always there you see…just hiding in the darkness when life’s pain and struggles overshadowed the joy. But right behind the laughter of a child the melody continuously plays…
The hardest times were during my early teaching years when I was told to stop being so creative and to follow and just conform to the rules. To only use text books and throw away my innovative thoughts and ideas. To tear down my 3- D bulletin boards because it made the other teachers look too ordinary….And I didn’t understand…
Nor could I stop.
Because with each child’s face the music became louder and louder again. A symphony sprang up from every student …
And when I gazed upon their smiles, my own beat emerged louder than ever before.
And so when I closed those doors behind me and faced the wave of children crammed into their tiny desks, I understood.
I finally knew why I had been given the gift of being able to hear the music.
Of being able to dance to my own beat. It was to let the children before me hear the music too and to give them the opportunity to create their own dance, their own rhythm.
I knew that no other child should have to be stashed away in a corner to hide their creativity or pretend not to see the whirling cracks in the wall. And that my purpose was to inspire my students and let them create all the purple elephants they wanted.
I had to let freedom and creative thinking inside the walls of my classroom.
And so I did… And 36 years later when my superiors asked me how I was so successful, why my students in particular always did so well….I smiled.
I told them it was because I allowed children to think for themselves! To write down their ideas and hear the thoughts that were inside their heads and to trust themselves.
To understand that their own personal voice was always something they needed to listen to. And most of all, that in my room…they would always be safe and could dance to whatever beat they heard.
Yes, they could hear their music, or dance their dance when they walked through my door. They could write and say all the things they weren’t supposed to do traditionally.
Because inspiration creates knowledge, and perfection happens when students are inspired. How ironic that at the end of my long career, I finally received recognition for being unique.
Suddenly, I was considered a wonderful educator. And yet, my methods had not changed, just the data that recorded the scores.
It wasn’t until technology put a number on smiles and happiness and equated them with percentiles, did administrators take notice of my gifts. Ironic, because had they listened, they could have heard the music the moment they opened the door to my room.
And still…. deep inside I felt that I was among the vampires, ghosts, and werewolves not being understood.
Oh, the children understood, let me be clear…children always understand. Just like vampires, ghosts, and werewolves, who ALWAYS dance to the beat of their own drummer… Living on the outskirts of society.
I realized today as I write this poem, that those who are the visionaries, the innovative souls who may look a bit different, sound slightly off kilter, laugh at things others might not hear or see, Listen to music that is not apparent to everyone’s ears…
Those are the souls who can change the world for the better. Those are the individuals who see what others avoid.
So, bless the vampires, ghosts, and werewolves and the teachers, for they are my inspiration.
They keep me hearing my own music and the pounding beat of my own drum.
And for as long as I hear my own beat, I will keep on dancing…