And The Beat Goes On…

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And The Beat Goes On…  (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 research with 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 presented.

I had a need to exhibit 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 report and drawings 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 assignment.  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….and NEEDED to whirl around to the beat. It forced us to move and feel…

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 created and he pulled me aside.  He took me by surprised when he stated. “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 was WAY 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 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 envisioning 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.

Why I was 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 her 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…

MARLA AND LOLLY 1966

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35 thoughts on “And The Beat Goes On…

  1. I love this, Lesley. All those years when so many of us were feeling alone, outside of the expected, and bursting with so much color, so many inspirations inside–well, now we can connect on a larger scale, in a global way, those of us who had aspirations far beyond being “normal.” It warms the heart. P.S. I painted my cow blue.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Davy D

    Lesley, I am on my feet and cheering and whooping in the best way an Englishman and his English ways can muster. How many free spirits you must have fostered to fly into this world because you refused to conform. Not only a Rock Queen but a rebel of a teacher. Oh how I would have loved to have been taught in one of your classes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! A whooping Englishman? Now that’s quite a feat! Lol I certainly hope I fostered free spirits. I think my goal was joy. I had a sign up by my door that I wrote in calligraphy that said, “Joyful Learning inside”. I just wanted young people to be inspired and follow their own path. Sure, I taught the basics,but my drama and art background did it with flair and then they were set free to soar. I would have loved to have had you in classroom. My former students keep in touch with me through social media. One of my best writers found me on Facebook and messaged me at the end last year that she had been the editor of her school newspaper and had just gotten into to Harvard. She thanked me for inspiring her to write. She told me she saved and still used the writing and poetry notebooks I had the compile while in 4th grade. Another student who I encouraged to run for political office when he grew up sent me a photo of himself in between Obama and Biden last Christmas. He was a WH intern while going to law school. It’s funny how as a teacher you can see the individual gifts various students have and how they often follow in those directions on their journeys. The beauty is that now with social media they can find me and let me know what they are doing. Some will even message me and still send their essays. I had no idea how much impact I made until recently. But I just didn’t want any other child to feel the chains I felt. Apparently my little chicks have all flown in all the right directions, including my own sons. I suppose The Universe knew what I was meant to do. I didn’t set out to be a rebel. It was just bubbling up inside of me when I felt restricted. Thank you so much for your enthusiastic and lovely response.

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  3. Beautiful story.beautiful teaching.kids are individuals with their own thinking head despite the direction it takes their creativity should never be restrained.i wish more teacher would teach to think outside the box and more parents would stop to consider their offspring an extension of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. You bring up great points. Yes, creativity should never be restrained. It should be encouraged and developed.And teachers should let parents know the specific talents their children have that perhaps they may not have noticed. A teacher sees the whole child If the environment in the room is a safe one. One in which children can thrive.

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  4. Lesley… I love your soul. I’m like one of your fangirls! I am. Your posts connect with me. I love everything I’ve read so far. Your comments are passionate and unfettered. I think that’s why I feel such a connection with you. You’re not afraid. I love that about you!

    Please… don’t stop dancing! This was great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mel. I never thought about about being afraid when it came to creativity. I didn’t know any other way to be. But I very much appreciate your passionate responses. I would assume we are a lot alike and that you also dance to the beat of your own drummer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well,you keep dancing too. I truly believe the Universe connects like minded people. Social media has allowed that to happen more often these days and what a gift that is. Most of my life I knew I was misunderstood but I had no choice but to do things that made me happy. Life was never easy. (Single divorced mom etc. during the 70’s when women couldn’t get credit cards in their own name and many schools didn’t hire female teachers who were divorced. Yes,seriously it was like I wore a scarlet letter D on my chest. I was so atypical from everyone else. Thank goodness I was so used to everyone thinking I was quirky that I pushed through all that. I mean the gender gap was huge back then. So when I taught my goal was for both the students and for myself to have a good time. Luckily it worked. Plus, I taught gifted and all 5 grades so I created my own new curriculum each year that way I wouldn’t get bored. ( I was as fidgety as the kids) and needed to be doing my own thing too. People like you who get me understand that. My sister read this poem, called me and said, “Thank God I don’t live in your head. I’d never survive.” I told her I’d never survive if I didn’t hear the music in my head. But hey, I think you just have to realize that not everyone is going understand. Their loss. Imagine how dull their imagination must be… your enthusiasm inspires me Mel!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Ward Clever

    Oops! It was your music and spirit that I saw back on your first comment. I sensed that here was a kindred soul, a little bit different, a little unusual in the best ways, the most magical. I am happy to have encountered you, and I am inspired by your story, and you. I like you! Keep going. Never stop, and one day I may speak poetry from your stage! ❤😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much. Isn’t it funny how kindred souls find one another? You keep writing as well. And since we live in a world where you can perform via video clips, then you can try that too. It’s all creative expression. But, you sir, have the music in you, so keep on truckin’ along and writing. You are very unique. Which is what drew me to your work in the first place. Creativity abounds in you!!!

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  6. Laura Routh

    Beautiful, Lesley! And it appears that, last night, we elected some kindred spirits from around the country. I identified with so much of this, but I don’t have time to explain at the moment. But I will say this: After many upheavals in my life, including raising three children on my own, I’m finally getting back to following my beat. I still have a fourth child in the nest, who definitely marches to a different rhythm and keeps life stirred up. This is true for my other children too! In fact, my daughter just published her first blog post, which I’m including a link to in my next news-links series. But I better leave it at that because I could go on and on. Oh, one more thing: I would have loved for my kids to have had you as their teacher. You’re a gift to humanity. 🙂

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    1. Oh Laura, thank you so much. You have me tearing up. I am sure I would have loved teaching your children. My boys and my three grandchildren all dance to their own beats as well. And YES!!!! I am so happy that we elected some some people around the country that have an agenda on equality and unity rather than negativity. What a breath of fresh air! Raising children on your own is most challenging. I did it in the 70’s and 80’s and then again in the 2000’s. I often find, those children develop a spirit of independence and strength. And we as role models show them how a driving force of kindness, understanding, guidelines and tolerance for others is more important than having wealth or necessarily two parents in the home. My oldest son, who is in his 40’s and has one teenager called me a few weeks back to thank me. When I asked him what for, he said, “I just want you to know that I couldn’t have been an easy teenager. And now that I have one of my own. I really appreciate everything you did. I don’t know how you managed it all. So it’s a bit late, but thanks mom, I love you.” I told him it’s never too late and that while he was sometimes challenging, he was always lovable. And he laughed. So life is pretty wonderful, even when it is difficult. I very much appreciate your lovely comment. Thank you so much.

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