Drum Love

Life is so full of metaphor and mystery. I am remembering a conference that I went to many years ago on Whidbey Island in Washington State. It was a gathering of people who had been on cultural exchanges to Kenya with Wangari Maathai, recent Nobel Peace Prize winner. I had been on such a trip, and had come to the island to hear her and others. Speaker after speaker talked about the economics of Kenya, the cultural and social problems, various proposals and ideas for how to address such concerns from our distance. I will never forget some of the things Wangari said on this occasion, they are indelibly imprinted on my heart, but most of the rest of what was said there was forgettable for me.

However, there was a Nigerian man named Eze Anamalechi who had been hired to help create ritual space. He created portals for us to walk through, put ash on our heads, and did drumming on the breaks. This guy, this spirit, this ethos, that is what I wanted. That, more than lectures, is what I had come for. So at breaks I would go sit near him to watch and feel the drumming. At first he seemed to be curious, possibly annoyed, like what is this white lady doing here like that? Why isn’t she socializing with everyone? I wasn’t deterred from embarrassing myself in this way, however. I was consistently drawn to go sit close to him when he drummed.

Finally he stopped and asked me if I wanted to try the drum. “No, thank you.” “Try it.” So I did. I don’t know when I have ever felt so awkwardly, stiffly white. He seemed to be completely fluid, like there was liquid in every joint as he played it. I felt all elbows and wrists and knuckles and not one portion of me felt fluid. Ow! Eze worked patiently and respectfully with me, and went back to drumming. From then on, before and after sessions and during breaks began to go similarly.

Finally on the last day Eze told me that he had been watching me throughout the conference, how I went and took care of the babies while their mothers spoke, or got someone something to drink, or helped sweep the floors after, cleaned up empty cups and such. He said, “You are like the African women. You are always helping and watching and walking around the edges of everything with an eye to it all. But,” he said firmly, “you should not be on the edges,” he declared as he tapped his fingers on the edges of the drum, emitting the soft sound that comes from those tight, wooden areas. He said boldly, “You should be HERE.” And he banged the center of the drum head making a loud, powerfully resonant sound. Booooooommmmmmmmm. He was admonishing me for holding myself back. I think he could see through me all the way to my core.

I later worked with Eze for about 9 months in a very intense initiation process, flying between Los Angeles and Seattle several times, and applying myself regularly to tasks and assignments he gave me in between times, one of which was to shave my head. I said to him, “Ok, I’ll do it, but I’m going to go into the woods and stay there alone on a vision quest for 10 days right after I do it so that I know who I am and why I am doing this.” I was then teaching in a college and at a graduate school, so the shaved head idea was hugely challenging. I did the 10-day vision quest, and survived baldness.

Last December a friend came to my retreat here on the mountain. He noticed behind my couch a little drum that I had bought in Africa when I was 19 years old. The skin on the drum was cracked through, and I had been told a new head could not be put on it. So it sat, like a sad but loved artifact, behind my couch next to other fancier, usable drums.

My friend took that drum with him when he left, for some reason drawn to it and saying “Sure it can be fixed!” This fellow doesn’t understand the word “can’t” anyway. Just a couple of days ago I got a package in the mail – my little drum, the little drum that thought it couldn’t  – with a gorgeous new goat skin head on it. It’s sound is divine.

Today I finally began again on a book that I had completed the first draft of in 2003 which has been sitting for years on a shelf because I didn’t think I knew how to proceed with it. Something didn’t feel right about it and I could not seem to figure out what or why or how to think about it. Today suddenly I see it. I wrote a new introduction, and miraculously feel like I know where to go from here.

I’m thinking of Eze. That boom on the drum. His admonishment to me for staying on the edges. He urgency that I make my music. My friend who fixed the drum has admonished me similarly. Now he has given me this drum. And soon after my book began again. I can’t help but feel the metaphor.

Boom. Here I come. Have drum will write.

I am just this moment reminded of a big dream I had maybe 30 years ago that foretells this – with a drum and a writing instrument. I will save that story for another day.

3 Responses to “Drum Love”

  1. Josi Says:

    How exciting — the breakthrough with the introduction, I mean! It must be such a relief to finally find your way back into that project. Hope things go well from here.

  2. Darita-Rose Alden Says:

    Have you read the wonderful novel about Kenya, “Green City in the Sun”? Really good. Helps us to understand something of why things are the way they are today.

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