"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Deciding to solo in last night's performance was like so many choices in life: You say a reluctant yes, believing you can change your mind at any time, when in reality the yes refuses to be so easily undone.

I'm a new drummer. An accidental drummer, truth be told. Walt and I started classes with Clifford at the beginning of March. We had such a great time with the first one, we took a second, and a third. The only option for summer drumming was a performance class, so we signed up for that, trusting Clifford's right hand Audra when she said we'd do well and it would be fun.

And it was so much fun. Learning whole rhythms that involved not only the djembes we play, but also dununs, the bass drums of Western African drumming. Meeting new people. Getting to know new friends better. Feeling like a real drummer, with a true sense of the music, the beat, the complex weaving of sounds.

From the beginning Clifford talked casually about the fact that he wanted us each to at least consider soloing for the performance. Part of one class session was spent practicing both individual and group solos, with nothing decided about who would or would not do a solo at the end.

At another session closer to the actual performance date, he asked us all to try a solo during practice. Nothing big, just a couple of good hits to mark our place and intention. After we'd all survived that, he asked us who wanted to solo for at least one of our three rhythms at the performance. Mine was the next to last hand in the air.

I didn't want to solo. But neither did I want to be the only person who didn't solo—yes, there apparently is an adolescent alive and well inside. Plus I was hooked by the challenge of it, and maybe lulled by Clifford's easy confidence that we couldn't fail. Mostly, though, I agreed because I was so afraid of soloing. And I figured it wouldn't be too bad to hit a few quiet notes for one rhythm from the safety of our line of djembe players.

Then Clifford told us we needed to play loudly enough that we could be heard over the other drums when we soloed. Once we'd practiced a few times with very short  and sufficiently loud solos, he mentioned that it would be a good idea if we each stepped forward when it was our turn. When we all managed that without trauma, he added that we could play a solo for all three of our rhythms if we wanted.

No place to hide.

The thought of the performance itself didn't make me nervous at all. I practiced nearly every day and listened to recordings of our classes when I wasn't practicing. My handing and tones improved noticeably from week to week, and although I knew I wasn't even close to sounding like Clifford or Audra or any of the  drummers in the advanced class, I felt confident that I would hold my own in the group.

The thought of soloing was another story. It wasn't really something I could practice because it was supposed to be from the heart—my own personal rhythm in response to the larger rhythms being played around me. In order to solo, I had to be willing to step toward an audience, away from the safety of the group, and do my best knowing best would be far more about enthusiasm and guts than skill.

When my turn came last night, the first solo in our second rhythm, I stepped forward and made myself look into the audience. Where I saw two of my brothers and a sister-in-law smiling wildly, cameras at the ready. Where I saw my dear friend Daune and her husband and daughter with faces full of curiosity and kindness. I smiled back and  gave myself over to a nervous, short and sufficiently loud rhythm. When I stepped back into the safety of the line with the warmth of Walt's approval to my immediate left and the palpable love of my friends and family to the front, I felt the same sense of satisfaction I'd felt earlier in the summer at the end of our day in Actun Tunichil Muknal.

There was a second solo for the last rhythm, also short, also nervous, and nothing like the intricate and wonderful performances of both my husband and the more experienced drummers in the group. My success came not in the quality of my rhythms, but in my willingness to open the door for them to emerge. My willingness to be seen as less than perfect (even though I do really know perfection is a toxic myth). My willingness to celebrate my particular place in this process of learning without feeling the shame I often do that I'm not somewhere farther ahead.

Monday, August 13, 2012


We sat outside the Tillamook Cheese Factory savoring rich ice cream and the perfect coast weather when Lisa asked if I'd ever been to Pacific City. We were on an adventure at the beach with the plan of continuing north to wander Manzanita and Cannon Beach. Pacific City was to the south, but the possible adventure of dune climbing at Cape Kiwanda made the change of plans an easy decision.

She knew of a place by the dune that stood above a crevasse where the ocean had cut through the sandstone. It had seemed magical to her, even in the fog of the day she was there—a place that might receive a hearts' desire and return it fulfilled beyond the asking. It was a perfect destination for two friends who hold each other's dreams as close as their own, whose times together are always gifts of discovery.

Our trudge up impossibly steep and loose sand in the sunny salt air was invigorating. Instead of arriving at the edge of the crevasse, we found ourselves at a fence with a sign warning us that to proceed was extremely dangerous. Even that far back from the edge, I felt the first stirrings of vertigo, my body's warning system warming up. We both held rocks gathered at a beach on the way intended to hold the wishes we were going to send into the crevasse and out into the universe. I decided that neither a fence nor my fear would interfere with our intentions.

I found a spot to duck under the heavy wire, leaving my shoes behind and proceeding carefully toward the edge. Each step was a bare foot connecting carefully with solid packed sand, until I saw the cut and the rush of compressed surf far below. Lisa was right, it was a magical place, even more powerful on this incredible cloudless, sun-filled day.

She joined me. After looking over the edge we stood back a bit, and held hands while she wished for both of us and flung her rock as far as she could. There was no sound beyond the surf and our breathing—no splash, no ricochet report of rock against rock, as if the wishes flew beyond. When it was my turn, we held hands again, I offered my wishes, one for Lisa, one for me, and hurled them with the perfect round stone over the edge. Again silence.

Satisfied, but not finished, we decided to proceed to the top of the dune. We watched people half our age climbing on hands and knees, rested with a young man whose face was geranium red, marveled at how tiny the people below appeared.

Finally standing atop the dune at Cape Kiwanda, my face stinging from the wind-blasted sand and the exertion of the climb, I took in the forever view of the rugged Oregon coastline. On one side, far below and spread out before me in a panorama of greens and blues with white lace trim, lay the Pacific Ocean. On the other, young people loped pell mell down the tawny mountain we had just climbed. I realized for the first time that high places no longer have the power to rob me of possibility.

Just a week later, on another part of the Oregon coast, with Sandi this time, I stood at the foot of a very long flight of stairs leading up from the beach. We were on the second day of our adventure which included antiquing and one long deeply satisfying conversation with roots in the ease of a common history and the sisterhood of shared tragedy. Our morning began with a slow meander up the beach picking the wrack line for rocks and shells accompanied by a lone pelican hunting in the surf.

Looking up the concrete stairs, I thought of the Maya pyramids I'd climbed with Walt earlier in the summer. I remembered the dune climb with Lisa. As Sandi and I moved upward, one slow step at a time, I considered how easy climbing felt when done in the company of connected hearts. We reached the top much faster than either of us anticipated, with much more wind remaining than we believed possible.

I'm going into my classroom this morning for the first time this year. It's time to begin setting up. To begin thinking like a teacher again. To begin trading the flowing gauzy freedom of summer for the more substantial crisp structure of school. Today represents the beginning of a different kind of climb, a metaphoric mountain looming above. In years past, last year in particular, the climb felt daunting—impossible even. Certainly not one whose summit I anticipated would hold a life-changing, soul-feeding view.

This summer has given me a new appreciation of heights and the often long and difficult climb to achieve them. As long as I'm not climbing alone, I have nothing to fear, and everything to hope for. And every step upward in the company of shared love is an adventure in itself. I'm ready for the next one: adventure, mountain, climb.