Bang On Stuff

from Lucy & The Waterfox by David Robinson

from Lucy & The Waterfox by David Robinson

John said, “The real challenge is how to help people across the ‘I can’t’ line.” What a great phrase! I imagined myself drawing a line in the sand while my imaginary inner-voice shouted, “Don’t step over this line!”

“Everyone has an “I can’t” line.” John added, “The challenge is never the external stuff. It’s the stuff in our heads that stop us.” Too true!

John is a terrific drummer and extraordinary teacher. He told me that many people come to the drums from the place of, “I can’t” and his job is to hold their hand as they cross the threshold. “Of course they can,” he said, “they just need to know it.”

“How do you do it?” I asked. “How do you help them know it?”

“I have them bang on stuff and I bang on stuff with them.” He smiled.

In other words, gets them to experiment and play. When experimenting, there is no line between can or can’t. It’s a unified space called, “Let’s see!” In play, there is no need for achievement or expertise; there is only play. Bang on stuff and see what happens: it is a great definition for artistry. It is beginner’s mind.

In Austin Kleon’s latest book, Show Your Work, he suggests that we be intentional amateurs. He writes, “Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.”

If you desire to step across the “I can’t” line, embrace your inner amateur. Work for the love of your work and not the need to impress or “do it right.” Bang on stuff. Make messes. As Skip says, “Put a stake in the ground and then test it.” Pull on the chain. Walk through the door. Ask questions. Try a new technique. Invent a new technique.

In a bizarre and beautiful chapter in my life I was given a full ride scholarship for a masters degree in costuming. I’d never touched a sewing machine and was a danger to myself and others when trying to cut things with adult scissors. “Why not!” I said to myself and I went for a year. After turning in my first assignment in costume construction, the professor hugged my muslin mess to her breast and laughed, saying, “In the history of garments there have only been 7 possibilities (shirt, pants, skirt, etc.) and you have just created the 8th!” I didn’t know what I could or could not do so I did anything. It was fun. I had no “I can’t line.

John reminded me that the world’s first drum was (and is) a heart. “Everyone’s a drummer,” he said. “The day you can’t drum is the day you are dead.”

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One Response

  1. DR,
    I find it disturbing. Every time I think of something it shows up in one of your essays.

    Turns out earlier this week I was thinking about “can’t” also. And, yes, I’d agree with John The Drummer. Most “can’ts” come from within but there are those around us who may be dangerous in this regard too.

    There have always been plenty who will say: “It can’t be done.”

    Ignore those.

    Surround yourself only with those who say: “It can.”

    I’ve come to believe this is less about can and can’t than about the challenge of doing.

    And not doing is always easier.


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