Tag Archives: Drum Circles

Desperately Seeking Spirituality ► Another Pastoral Letter

Analog writing

Dear Pastor Kenny: 

I’m not feeling terribly pastoral these days, yet it seems time for another Pastoral Letter, so here we go into the dark abyss of my soulless psyche. 

I’m starting this in longhand on the night of the Summer Solstice as I catch a breather before heading out to the Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle. It’s a drum circle so crowded that trying to find any kind of spirituality seems foolish.

So why, you may ask, am I going? Good question. Bad answer: I’m not entirely sure, but I have equated drum circles with serenity and the search for something pastoral, as you know. Which, if nothing else, explains why I am writing a Pastoral Letter, Ken, even if I’m not feeling it.

Recently I revealed to a drum circle buddy that I was going to the Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle to see if I could find spirituality. I was surprised when they told me that they were a Nihilist, something I never would have suspected of them. I think that’s one of the few philosophies I haven’t tried on yet.

As an aside, I learned this morning that:

[T]he meaning of the “the shruggie” is always two, if not three- or four-, fold. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ represents nihilism, “bemused resignation,” and “a Zen-like tool to accept the chaos of universe.” It is Sisyphus in unicode. I use it at least 10 times a day.

I’m feeling more nihilistic than pastoral because of last week’s church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, cradle of the racist south. I’m not feeling very pastoral because, as soon as it happened, so many people on the Right became heavily invested into denying that racism had anything to do with it, instead blaming the War on Christianity, video games, and the evil Left Wing Libruls, as opposed to the twin scourge of Racism and easily available guns in this country.

Even after Dylann Roof admitted it was a racial attack — that he was trying to start a race war (echoes of Charlie Mason and Helter Skelter) — Fox “News” and others were still denying the obvious. It’s that denial that allows incidents like these to happen time and time again in this country.

Coming so close on the heels of Ferguson, Baltimore, McKinney, and more, the senseless slaughter of 9 innocent people — at a Bible study class — is simply an overt example of the pernicious racism that pumps through this country’s bloodstream. It’s in our DNA. It’s baked in the cake with the Constitution’s 3/5ths compromise. Black folk were chattel, property to be bought and sold, owned by anyone who could put up the cash at the many Slave Auctions through the south.

When slavery was outlawed — following the Civil War — and Reconstruction was abandoned, Jim Crow took its place. Redlining folks into ghettos, refusing home renovation loans, lower wages, worse schools, a lack of opportunity, and White Flight — not to mention lynchings — kept Black folk in enclaves as tightly controlled as those that existed during slavery. This as Black folk did most of the back-breaking work that built this country.

As you know, Pastor Kenny, I use these Pastoral Letters, for the most part, to kick around ideas about religion and atheism that I’ve had my entire life. This one will also address some of my ideas about race relations in ‘Merka.

Bottom line: If there was a God, She wouldn’t have allowed 9 innocent people to be slaughtered in Her house. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s been said a million times before me, so many times that religionists have a ready answer for it. I forget what it is because I just think it’s a bogus rationalization.

Oh, wait! I remember now. It’s God’s will. Got it.

I had been on the verge of tears all week following the massacre, but I totally lost it when the families of the victims started giving their impact statements at the bail hearing. Every one of them spoke about God’s forgiveness and Jesus. Their capacity for forgiveness was more than my already over-wrought emotional capacity could bear.

They were forgiving Dylann Roof, but it sounded to me more like they were forgiving God for allowing it to happen in the first place. 

To me this was incomprehensible. More incomprehensible is that this fellow Jesus, by all accounts a pretty good guy, was the God of their Slave Masters. Why would anyone adopt the God of their Masters? Still more incomprehensible to me: The same Bible used by the Slave Masters to justify slavery was used by the slaves as a prediction of their eventual emancipation. They identified with the Jews and the motto “Let my people go!”

It’s a tricky book that can be used by all sides to justify whatever people want. Right now it’s being used to deny LGBT communities basic human rights. I’m glad you’re fighting against that, Ken.

Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle at sunset, June 21, 2015

The overriding reason I go to these drum circles whenever possible is because I felt an irresistible spiritual tug to it when I covered the Coconut Grove Drum Circle marching in the King Mango Strut.

Tonight I went to the Tequesta Summer Solstice Drum Circle, but I wasn’t feeling all that pastoral either. I had had an intermittent stomach ache all day, that only got worse once I arrived at the park. That kept me from getting inside the rhythm, which is my comfort zone within a circle. I’ve yet to achieve that at Tequesta, because of how crowded the field is with 3-400 people in it. For some reason I still want to see if that’s even possible.

You see, I’m still trying to figure out why I have such a visceral need to bang 2 pieces of wood together. Is this a desire on my part to replicate the human heartbeat? Or, in the alternative, am I just another case study for Dr. Oliver Sacks. While standing and watching the crowd on Sunday, I couldn’t help but feel a weird kind of cultural appropriation.

When I first experienced a drum circle, at the 2013 King Mago Strut, I couldn’t help but think of Kebo. Apparently Kebo was a village in Africa. It’s also the name some of the original Bahamian immigrants gave the enclave that is now known colloquially as West Grove in Coconut Grove. On that day I was struck with the fact that I was standing in modern day Kebo and listening to a bunch of White folk bang on drums. I couldn’t help but wonder what the ancestors buried in the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery would think of this development.

Now, I don’t want to say that only Black folks have rhythm because
I’ve heard a lot of amazing White drummers in these drum circles. What I
will say is that I see very few Black folk at these drum circles. I find that interesting and worthy of note.
Before I left Tequesta (at 9:30, long before the crowd would have reached its zenith) I decided to walk around the circle 3 times,
which isn’t easy when it’s so crowded. While I did so I counted the Black folk I saw. I
counted 14.

For reasons I can’t even describe it didn’t help make me feel pastoral.

I’m still recovering from whatever stomach bug I picked up, but am starting to feel better, Kenny. Well enough to try to organize the rest of my thoughts and finish this latest Pastoral Letter before it gets too old.

Some people see things through Rose Coloured Glasses; Since leaving Detroit I see things through Race Coloured Glasses. It may be a blessing, or a curse, but my mind almost always immediately jumps to how Race plays into whatever sitch-eee-ay-shuns I’m observing. There are many reasons for this. However, I believe it all goes back to the awakening I had when Pops lost everything in the ’67 Detroit Riot.

I didn’t have the words for it at the age of 15, but these were my first inklings of White Privilege and Black Rage. I’ve been piecing the rest of it together ever since.

Read: The Detroit Riots, Part Five
of the Unpacking My Detroit series

Ken, yesterday I went to Barnes and Noble to get your book. There’s only 3 weeks before we get together next month and I wanted to have digested it before we talk about it.

It turns out A Letter to my Congregation is not one of the religious books Barnes and Noble stocks, so I had to order it, pre-pay for it, and pay an additional $3.99 shipping fee for the experience. Just for shits and giggles I told the clerk that I didn’t want a book that I couldn’t examine first. Couldn’t they have it shipped to the store so I could make an informed decision on whether I really wanted it or not by holding it in my hand?

No. That’s not something they do. But, I was given a choice. I could either buy it, or not buy it. I chose to buy it. Furthermore, I was told your book will be shipped to me anytime between a week to a month. It may not arrive before the 3rd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research, so I may not know what’s between the covers before we meet again. Worse yet, how will I get it inscribed by the author?

So, I am still forced to read discern your Biblical reasoning from your posts and the book reviews I’ve been reading.

I have said more than once that those who believe in God have it a lot easier than the rest of us. How nice it must be, whenever one is buffeted by the injustices in life, to be able to place everything in the hands of the Lord and just go on. Even more interesting to me is that whole “Get out of hell free” card religions offer: Make a confession, do a few Hail Marys, and poof! You’re good to go again with a clean slate.

An Atheist like myself has to live with the fact that I screwed up. Only I can make it right. A prayer won’t fix it. Yet — as I take a quick self-examination — I’m not breaking any of the 10 Commandments anyway. At least none of the biggies. I don’t need a book to tell me what’s the right thing to do. None of us should. I don’t need a promise of Heaven to do what’s right.

Nor do I have to find justification in the Bible for treating people with simple dignity. That you have had to spend all those pages to say, in essence, “What would Jesus do?” seems like a waste of time and energy. That you are considered an outlier in your religion should tell you something. It tells me churches have been wrong — about so much — for centuries and that’s not about to change in our lifetimes.

If there really was a God it would change tomorrow. She’d kick some ass and get ‘er done, to quote a Redneck comedian.

My receipt: Barnes and Noble
didn’t stock your book, but it still
tried to sell me books it did have.

As fresh as today’s Headlines Du Jour, because it was published today, is Pastors want to create a Christian community open to all, your interview on Michigan Radio:

Ken Wilson founded Vineyard Church in Ann Arbor and served on the national board of Vineyard USA for seven years.

he and co-pastor Emily Swan left Vineyard to form Blue Ocean Faith, a
new church that seeks to create an evangelical Christian community in
Ann Arbor that openly welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender

Wilson says that leaving his congregation at Vineyard was difficult, but it’s a move he’s proud of.

denomination I was a part of rejected my move toward being fully
inclusive with LGBT, and so that necessitated our starting a new
church,” he says.

How many breakaway churches are needed before we reach the least common denominator?

In that interview you are making the same point as I did above before I even heard this, about the church being wrong:

Absolutely. We were wrong on interracial marriage, we were wrong on slavery, we were wrong on the full inclusion of women. For 2,000 years the church taught a very, very strict line on divorce or remarriage, where virtually no one who had a living spouse could be remarried. And this was just — didn’t square with reality.

However, we look at these previous errors of church doctrine differently. How could God let Her creation be so self-deluded? Over and over again? How do you know you’ve finally got it right?

Over the last 2 days we’ve have seen a seismic shift in our treatment of the Confederate flag in this country. Soon  the Supreme Court will hopefully rule in favour of LGBT marriage and equality. Eventually, the church will either have to embrace LGBT equality, or die. I believe it will be the latter.

Until that happens, I’m not feeling very pastoral. Maybe I can find some of that at Saturday’s drum circle.

See you next month.

Your childhood friend,
Marc Slootsky

Bang The News Slowly ► Unpacking The Writer

Here we go again, readers! Unpacking The Writer is a monthly pulling-back-of-the-curtain to reveal the inner-workings of a one-man news operation. Let’s get right to it.

The most exciting news of the last month is the campaign to put Harry Nilsson in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Every year when the RnRHoF nominees are announced I scream, “What about Harry?” Then when I see who is finally inducted, I just shake my head in despair. This year I decided to do something about it.

Just a few days before last month’s Unpacking The Writer, I fired up a facebookery called Harry Nilsson for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was only a few days later that I discovered there was a similar page started much earlier than mine. Had I known, I would have signed onto Harry Nilsson belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, started by Todd Lawrence, instead. Todd and I connected soon afterwards in IM. I assured him that I didn’t consider my page competition to his and that we should cooperate for the greater good. It can’t hurt that there are two such pages because we travel in different circles.

It wasn’t long before Todd asked we could add Gabriel Szoke, moderator of the Harry Nilsson facebook fan page, to our IMs. Then the 3 of us started kicking around various ideas to put #HarryintheHall. None of our plans are ripe enough to be revealed, but I can assure you that they are grandiose.

There are 3 ways you can help, dear readers: 1). Stay tuned; 2). Join our facebook pages; 3). And, watch this. A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night is a sublime BBC production of the LP of the same name. It is one of the few times in his entire career that Harry Nilsson sang live, even though there was no audience and it’s certainly not Rock and Roll:

This is definitely not Rock and Roll

Meanwhile, the Not Now Silly Newsroom has been busy breaking actual news during the past month. 

Since our last exciting episode I’ve written [in chronological order] about Richard Nixon (once again); attended and reported on the campaign kick-off of District Two Candidate Javier Gonzalez; finally told my Sally Kellerman story, which I had been threatening to do for years; wrote about the Bicycle Shop (again), which resulted in a $1,000 fine against Aries Development; and, if that isn’t enough, wrote about a rip off of Miami taxpayers by the valet parking companies — connected to Aries Development through family — and alerted the Miami Parking Authority to this scam. [What’s more is that I’ve been constructing longer and longer sentences.] I’ve been busy little writer.

I make no bones about it: I’m always delighted when I can score points against Gino Falsetto, the rapacious owner/developer of Aries Development. Rather than go through all the reasons why, just read Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!! Now Honour Your Past. Then join Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House on the facebookery and help me make this campaign go viral.

A PERSONAL MESSAGE TO GINO FALSETTO: When I began writing about the E.W.F. Stirrup House more than 5 years ago, I phoned and emailed several times to get your side of the story. You never gave me the decency of a response, even if it were to tell me it was none of my business and to get lost. However, that did not deter me from trying to save the 120-year old house and the amazing legacy of Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup. However, I’d still love to hear your side of the story. Contact me. I promise to be as fair to you as you have been to Coconut Grove history.

This month’s Top Ten Posts

Tangent over, dear readers.

Those are the writings that appear above the surface. What’s below the surface? Well, to start with, there’s always the ongoing research on other stories still to be written. Then there are those stories only partially written. On those I’m either stalled because I’m looking for additional information or have hit the wall on that topic, hoping I’ll eventually return to it. Writer’s Block is a cruel mistress.

But, that’s only what’s just immediately beneath the surface. That’s what will, in all probability (but only if things go well), rise to the surface and eventually appear on these pages. Not everything does. There are currently 23 posts in draft form and I know that not all will make it to the front page of the Not Now Silly Newsroom. To compare: there are 747 posts here, not including this one.

Of course, there are deeper layers. F’rinstance, my continued exploration of Drum Circles. I am trying to solve — in an intellectual way — why I feel such an unworldly attraction to them. The fact of the matter is I’ve never been a joiner. Most of my adult life I’ve eschewed groups the same way Groucho said he wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. However, since my first encounter with a drum circle (a story I tell in The 32nd Annual King Mango Strut), I try to join them whenever I get the chance. I’ll even drive an hour to go to a drum circle.

I play the claves, mostly, but occasionally will play the wood block and, even more occasionally, the cowbell. When I’m playing cowbell nobody shouts, “More cowbell!” because I’m terrible at the cowbell, which takes far more rhythm and wrist than I’ve got. When I play cowbell, I play real quietly, hoping I’ll eventually find the groove. I never seem to.

I was recently discussing my attraction to the claves with one of my drumming buddies. It actually started with mutual book recommendations. I suggested she read Dr. Oliver SacksMusicophilia; Tales of Music and the Brain. I’ve read Sacks books for years, loving his case histories. Reading Musicophilia explained part of my attraction to drum circles and my relationship to music. From the book blurb:

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.

Here’s a true confession: When I was growing up I was constantly told, “Stop fidgeting.”

However, I wasn’t fidgeting. I was keeping an internal rhythm with my feet or hands. I would be tapping my fingers and toes to the music I heard playing in my head all the time.

However, it took me a very long time to realize that not everybody hears music in their head all the time. I’m always hearing music in my head, but only when there is no music; especially if there is no music. Sometimes the machinery I hear on the streets is converted to song as it passes through my ears to other receptors in my brain. Leaf blowers cease droning to become a background pipe organ to a brand new song my grey matter invented on the spot.

there’s no music playing, I can have entire swing bands playing my own
arrangements in my own head. Or a Blues band rocking out to a tune
that’s being made up on the spot. I used to do this more often when I
was in my late teens. In fact I remember several hitchhiking trips
when I composed entire tunes in my head. I would write down the lyrics as soon
as I got the chance. I can still remember some of them, which have become far more elaborate in my head over the years.

When there’s actual music playing, my head, hands, and feet keep a counter-rhythm to it, or add trumpet parts, or other vocals. But, only in my head, translating those complexities into seemingly spasmodic jerking of my fingers and toes.

Maybe I should have been a composer/arranger, but I play no instruments and can’t read or write music. However, when I am at drum circles, that part of my psyche seems to get a workout. When I’m in a drum circle I play what I think of as the accents with my claves. Sometimes (in my head) it’s what Ella would sing when she was scatting. Other times I hear my little rat-tat-tat bursts as the parts for a brass section.

I know I have entered my personal groove at a drum circle when what I hear is melody and not strictly rhythm. While I’m not sure I described it so that it makes sense to my readers, it makes perfect sense to me, which is what counts.

If you’ve been following along at home, you’ll recognize Pops, to the left. After my mother died a decade ago, I came down to help Pops. It’s not that Pops really needed my help. He played golf 4-5 days a week. However, he’s of a generation that knows where the kitchen is, but never mastered the magic required to get a meal on the table, unless it came out of a microwave. That’s has always been my main role here.

Pops turned turned 89 on Valentine’s Day and, for the most part, he’s been healthy. But, he’s slowing down. There are fewer chores around the house I’ll let him do. However, it’s hard. I remember how sad he was when I told him that I was taking the laundry away from him. It was one of the household jobs he had to learn when my mother went into the hospital, and he was so proud of himself. He argued for a while, but finally gave in.

Two weeks ago, during a routine pacemaker check-up, it was discovered that it was not getting any signals to his heart. One of the wire leads became corroded some time since his last check-up 3 months ago.

That was the bad news. The good news was that his heart was beating well enough on its own that he didn’t require an immediate operation. We scheduled a pacemaker procedure for the following week, after adjusting some of his meds. This past Thursday he went in for the operation to replace his pacemaker.

Normally, this is an outpatient procedure; a quick in and out. However, because of Pops’ age, they thought it was a good idea that he be kept overnight. I spent about 15 hours at the hospital last week, split over 2 days. I brought Pops home on Friday and he’s been taking it easy ever since.

Now you’re all caught up until next month.

April Showers Bring Headaches ► Unpacking The Writer

Delray Beach Drum Circle – April 15, 2016

Here we go again! As long-time readers know, my Unpacking The Writer series is where I peel back the curtain to reveal the inner-workings of the mind of a one-man newsroom operation. 

The Wizard of Oz analogy is always appropriate since I once wrote under the nom de plume of Aunty Em and christened my haters The Flying Monkey Squad. But enough about those crazy MoFos.

I usually begin these Unpacking The Writer on the 15th of the month and spend a few days slapping down the points I want to make for the month. Then I use part of another day to kick it into shape, finally publishing the sucker under this rubric when it feels right. It hasn’t felt right because I’ve barely had time to work on this.

I started putting this together in my head at Wednesday’s Delray Beach Drum Circle. I’m still going to drum circles whenever possible. Over the last year I’ve developed some Drum Pals, and we either meet up or share rides to the event. I am generally the designated driver; not because anyone is drinking alcohol, but because I just love to drive. I am fascinated by my interest in Drum Circles. Why is this so important to me? I’ve never been a joiner, but find myself abandoning my inner curmudgeon to get together with other people so I can bang wooden sticks together.

People rocking out to the Delray Beach Drum Circle

I know there’s a story of several thousand words in Drum Circles, but it’s yet to find me and I have not found it, either. Like I used to tell my children when they couldn’t fall asleep, “You can’t go looking for the Sandman. He has to come find you.” Same with stories I really want to write.

Campaign Carl helping me cement our great friendship. We’re now like THIS!

The last week has been somewhat hectic. I went to the Marco Rubio campaign kick-off and managed to get 2 separate and totally different stories out of it. Three Stooges In The GOP Clown Car is my take for the Not Now Silly Newsroom, while Outside The Curcus Tent At The Marco Rubio Campaign Kick-Off was an EXCLUSIVE for PoliticusUSA.

However, the best part of last Monday was exchanging information with my new best friend, Campaign Carl Cameron, Chief Political Correspondent for the Fox “News” Channel. We had a few laughs over the fact that his bosses hate me, but he had to do a live pop for Cavuto (or was it The Five?) before we got around to discussing anything important, like “Is Hannity as crazy as he seems?” or “Does Loofah Lad Big Foot everyone in the Fox corridors, the way he does guests on his show?” However, there’s always the next time. Call me, Carl. You have my business card.

Politically, NNS started this past moth with Cruzing Back To The ’50s ► Presidential Politics Post, which tipped my hand as to how I plan to follow the GOP field of candidates. I’m not going to take any of them seriously until the field has been narrowed to the top 3 or 4, and then I’m going to start making fun of them.

This month also included A Passover/Easter Pastoral Letter, the latest in that series. While I have a great need to be exploring these issues, I’m not so sure Pastor Kenny shares my need. What has me puzzled is why Pastor Kenny doesn’t sense my need and minister to me. No matter, because I am still making discoveries on my own, mining an area I call “The Trunk Lost In Transit.”

The month ended with another campaign event (and my first real headache of the season, but I’ll get to that eventually). Compared to someone running for POTUS, the Miami District 2 campaign is small ball. However, aside from the fact that the District 2 Commissioner is considered the most powerful in Miami, local politics is really where the rubber meets the road. Think globally. Act locally.

Lorry Woods in conversation with a voter in West Grove

Restauranteur Lorry Woods has been on what she calls a listening tour of her potential constituents in Miami’s District 2. Because she held a Meet & Greet in the part of the district 2 that interests me the most, I drove down to West Grove and posted my day as Coconut Grove Is Not Out Of The Woods Yet. It was nice to run into so many people I knew at the BBQ and meet several new people.

That’s where the headache comes in. I was fine when I left Coconut Grove, but partway home I started to get one of my debilitating migraines. By the time I got home, I could barely see straight and had to crawl into bed to try and nap.

I go through this every Spring. It’s a symptom left over from when I had a vestibular disorder almost 2 decades ago. While the constant dizziness and vomiting eventually dissapated, 3 symptoms never went away: 1). When I am in a room with an awful din of background noise, I can’t hear the person right next to me; 2). I have occasional attacks of tinnitus. These are not as difficult to handle as some people experience because it only ever lasts from a few seconds to a minute, tops, and then it fades away to nothing. Although, it’s incredibly painful; like high-pitched feedback. Instructively I cover my ear it hurts so much; 3). And, massive headaches when the air pressure is changing rapidly from RAIN to FAIR. That tends to describe Spring and, to a lesser extent, Fall.

Sure enough, as I was driving home, the clouds rolled in and I could see lightening in the distance. When I finally got home and upacked the car, I checked the barometer in the kitchen. The needle had swung all the way over to LIE DOWN NOW!

The biggest news this month is that I have FINALLY reformatted the hard drive in my PC tower, after threatening to do it for so long. It kept the Not Now Silly Newsroom off the air for 2 weeks, but it was worth it. I’m now running WinDoze 8.1 and everything is a whole lot faster than it was previously. At the same time, to help facilitate the downtime without a RC tower, I bought a laptop, which is also running WinDoze 8.1.

The laptop and renovated tower will, hopefully — because that’s the plan — make the Not Now Silly Newsroom more productive. With so many stories in the hopper, I should be busy for quite some time. F’rinstance, there’s a whole new Trojan Horse Parking Lot story I want to write, not to mention a more recent story on a brand new way the City of Miami is trying to keep public information from the taxpayers. However, there’s still some more research and a few interviews I want to conduct before that sucker’s ready.

Meanwhile, I recently had a whole new idea to explore that has nothing to do with writing, politics, or Drum Circles. However, I can’t tip my hand yet. Maybe by the next Unpacking The Writer, I’ll have all the disparate threads on that tied up and can make an announcement on this new venture.

Until then, we take you back to our original Not Now Sill programming, already in progress.

A Different Drummer ► Unpacking the Writer

A funny thing happened at the 32nd Annual King Mango Strut

Back in December, when I covered the 32nd Annual King Mango Strut,
I could have hardly imagined it would be a life changing event. Yet,
almost immediately I realized it was a transformational day.

TO RECAP: I attached myself to the Coconut Grove Drum Circle to cover the King Mango Strut from the inside. The parade, which went
around a small 2-block circuit exactly one time, spent the entire morning
marshaling on Commodore Plaza. I had a lot of time to think. It took 5 times longer to get ready for
the Strut than it did to Strut. That was over almost before it began.

A journalist
straddles a tiny grey area between participant and observer. One tries
to stay out of everybody’s way, without blending too far into the background. Taking notes, taking pictures, taking impressions at once removes the
journalist from the action, while it immerses the writer in the experience at the very same time. It’s an anomaly.

One thing became clear to me during all those hours: I DID NOT want
to be covering the King Mango Strut. I just wanted to be hitting those
drums instead.

I’m no drummer. I barely have any rhythm. I’m not even a musician. The blog post My First Band ► Cobwebs And Strange
recalls my HIGH-LARRY-US teenage attempts at being a lead singer in a Rock and
Roll band. To sublimate my lack of musicianship, I love listening to
all genres of music passionately. It’s not a fair tradeoff, but it’s all I’ve got. [That and 42 linear feet of CDs, more that 25,000 tunes on my hard drive, and enough Spotify playlists to last several lifetimes. Whoever has the most music when they die, wins!]

Djembe drums awaiting use

the day of the King Mango Strut, all I wanted to do was to slap those drum skins. Every once in a while one of the drummers would let me have a few
whacks on their oddly shaped drum, which I now know is called a
djembe. But, walking past a drum and giving it a few taps is different
from putting it between your legs and banging away. And, I was desperate to put one of those things between my legs and bang away. The only other time music had such an immediate, visceral effect on me is told in The Day I Met Bob Marley, another popular post at Not Now Silly.

the time the Strut was over, I knew I would be joining the
Coconut Drum Circle again, but this time as a participant. I would get my chance soon enough. There’s one held on the
first Saturday of every month, just a few hundred feet from where we
marshaled for the Strut.

So, skip ahead. It’s the first Saturday of the month. At the corner of Commodore Plaza and Grand Avenue I was handed a djembe. I spent the evening pounding away like a mad man, until my hands hurt. Sadly, it was nothing like what I had anticipated and it turned out to
be a very unsatisfying and deflating experience.

To begin with, I should have brought my own camping chair. I don’t mean to be churlish because I was graciously supplied with a drum and a tiny stool. But that little thing hurt my delicate ass after several hours. To make matters worse, I couldn’t hear myself. That’s why I hurt my hands. I was trying to make my drum loud enough so I could hear it over all the other drums. Not
being able to hear meant that I couldn’t tell how hitting the head in different places affected the sound. Only later did I realize I sat next to all the BIG DRUMS that people were hitting with big sticks. No wonder I couldn’t hear myself.

Worse still was the fact that, once again, I had to face up to the limitations of my left hand. Back when I was a teenager my guitar teacher told me I had no absolutely coordination in my left hand. To quote myself:

It turns out that time proved him right. Over the years I have learned
that my left hand is pretty useless for most tasks. When I smoked I
couldn’t even use my left hand to hold the cigarette because I managed
to drop it so many times. Trying to use a remote with my left hand?
Forget it! I’m the EXTREME opposite of ambidextrous. Hell! I’d give my
right arm to be ambidextrous.

It’s probably just as well I couldn’t be heard in the mix at the drum circle. Whenever I tried to find my own beats within the group’s rhythm, my left hand would lurch out spasmodically, finding crazy syncopation never intended for music of any kind, even Jazz. I drove back to Sunrise from my first drum circle dejected. It was not at all what I had hoped. Nor did it feel as if I could ever fit myself within the group’s rhythms.

Yet, there were moments that first night that transcended thoughts, transcended time, transcended my crappy rhythm. I would find myself transported, soaring through millennia of music making. I imagined myself back in Kebo, the name the original Bahamians
gave to this area of Coconut Grove a century ago when they settled here and built Miami. At night there would have been music-making. I could feel the
energy we created merging with rhythms from the past, present and future. Outside was one thing. In my head I could fuse what the circle created with Gospel melodies, horn sections, Rock and Roll, Jazz, New Orleans, and Reggae rhythms. Again, it penetrated me deeply in a way that words just seem so inadequate to describe. This paragraph will have to do instead.

I was pissed. As much as I was drawn to the drumming — as much as I wanted to be a part of it — my lack of left-hand rhythm kept me at a distance, kept returning me to reality. I was running these thoughts through my mind the next day as I listened to music. I soon became aware that, as always, I was tapping my feet and ‘drumming’ the fingers of my right hand on my desk to the tunes. What was going on?

TANGENT: My odd relationship with music didn’t quite make sense to me until I read Musicophilia by Dr. Oliver Sacks. That’s also when I started to over-think my lifetime contract [sic] with music and how I process it. I’ve been reading Sacks, who writes fascinating books about people who have anomalies, diseases, or damage in their brain, for many years. However, this book was the first time I ever thought he was talking directly about me, in part.

I happened across the Sacks book right after reading This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin. Musicophilia is about the [almost mystical] effect of music in (on?) the brains of case studies, both normal and abnormal. This is Your Brain describes the science of measuring the changes in the brain caused by listening to and/or playing music. These two books summed up for me my relationship to music, whether it’s shaking my eardrums or being created inside my head.

Growing up, adults always
told me I was fidgety. It took many years to realize that I wasn’t
nervous. I was keeping a rhythm to music by tapping my feet and/or drumming my
fingers. Even if there’s no music playing. Especially if
there’s no music playing. My mind is
always creating music when there is none: the ticking of a fan, the hum of florescent lighting, or the sound of footsteps can all lead to my brain over-laying a tune on top of it. My toes and fingers are reacting to that. As a child I never had the language to describe it. As a young adult I figured if I told that to people, they might lock me up. Now that I am — ahem — mature, I’m quite comfortable with the music in my brain. TANGENT OVER. MOVE ALONG.

I spent almost a week of analyzing my disappointment to my first drum circle. Friends told me I was over-thinking the whole dealie, but that’s how I process events that rub me wrong. One friend tried to make me understand that all that was needed was for me to feel the music. It wasn’t necessary to think the music. I especially didn’t need to over-think the music. But I did. I knew I did. How did I know? Because I couldn’t get the problem out of my head.

Then the light bulb went on. I realized that what I really wanted to play was what I heard in my head and what I was hearing in my head was not a drum. A drum circle plays
budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-dum-dum-daddah. [repeat] What I was
hearing in my head was tink, tink, tink, tinka-tinkahh, tink, tink,
tink, tinka-tinkahh on top of the rhythm.

It came to while I was ‘drumming’ my fingers on the desk again. Paying better attention to what my fingers were doing — over-thinking it, you naysayers — I realized they weren’t beating out a steady rhythm at all. My fingers were popping off accents within the rhythm. I was hearing the syncopation inside the rhythm.

Mine looked exactly like this
until I knocked the logo off

Over the next week I visited a couple of music stores and tested out a number of percussion instruments. I really liked the sound of the wood blocks, but they were all far too expensive for this weird, new obsession I was chasing. What if I didn’t like it?

I finally settled on a set of claves and a cowbell. I spent the next little while practicing the claves as various genres of music played on my computer jukebox. I knew almost immediately I had found my instrument! My left hand needs to do nothing but hold a stick. How hard is that? My right hand only needs to bang another stick against it. How hard is that?

Since finding my instrument I’ve also learned about several different drum circles in my area. Until recently I had no idea drum circles were even a thing, but they’re all over the place. There are a few nearby on each full moon and several within an hour’s drive at other times during the month. There are drum circle classes and larger, yearly, conglomerations of drummers. These bring together many drum circles and people make a weekend of it and howl in the woods (in my imagination). I’m learning there’s a very primal need being fulfilled with drum circles. The journalist in me says they require further investigation. The neanderthal in me just wants to bang sticks together.

I have now guest starred with a few separate drum circles, insinuating my tink, tink, tink, tinka-tinkahh, tink, tink,
tink, tinka-tinkahh within the budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-dum-dum-daddah. I’ve now sat in enough drum circles to note each have a different personality. I’m not quite sure how anyone else takes what I do, but I’m having a great time finally playing what I hear in my head and meeting new friends along the way.

And that’s the story of how covering something as a writer changed my life.

NOT NOW SILLY NEWS FROM THE NOT NOW SILLY NEWSROOM: There are several new posts already in the works, with the research pretty much finished. Just within the last few days so many things have occurred on Charles Avenue, that I’ve barely had time to keep up. I have a few outstanding phone calls, but that will get its own post coming up in the next few days. I’m also part-way through documenting a second chapter of Where the Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins. And, as I keep promising, there’s a new chapter of Farce Au Pain coming up. While on the subject of books, don’t miss The Johnny Dollar Wars ► Chapter and Verse, in which I expose my crazy cyber-bullies for the malevolent creeps they are, last thing Mark Koldys wants anyone to know.