Marching to the beat of your own drum…

When you are growing up you are often told by your parents (or whoever is looking after you) to ‘be an individual’, or ‘not to worry about what others think’, or to ‘march to the beat of your own drum’. (As a musician, I find this phrase strange. No-one wants to work with a muso – in particular a drummer – who just plays whenever they want.) I heard Alexei Sayle interviewed on the radio last week, when I was driving to a concert, and he was talking about the fact that he never really fitted in. He didn’t really ever know how to. And it got me thinking…

So as a kid, we are encouraged to be free, to be different. But as an adult, we are encouraged to fit in. To not rock the boat – with our opinions, or life-style choices, what we wear or even how we do our hair. When does this all change? Did I miss this class?

I don’t really fit in, you know. If you know me, this probably comes as not-much-of-a-surprise. I joke about ‘being normal’, but I know that I’m not really. I’m not hugely radical with most things – but I am aware that I’m a bit left of centre. Most of the time I’m fine with that – but sometimes it gets a bit lonely.

I didn’t come at my performing career the ‘right’ way. I was a late bloomer, as a cellist – probably due to laziness and excessive beer drinking which caused me to get a bit lost in my late teenage years. Also I was actively discouraged to be a musician by many of my teachers at school, and it took me a number of years to have the courage to do what I really wanted to do… So I didn’t go to the ‘right’ summer camps, or study at the ‘right’ post-graduate places. I loved the different path I took – it exposed me to some amazing musicians, teachers, mentors and concert venues – but it was a struggle most of the time, and completely unremunerative. (Yes – I know that’s not a word. And my spellchecker agrees with me.)

I don’t do the ‘normal’ sort of teaching (sitting with cello students in a small room teaching one-on-one). Some of my string-playing colleagues have commented on this. Some of my amateur-musician-friends have also commented on this. And the reason that I don’t do this is that I don’t want to. I don’t think it’ll benefit my cello playing that much (as I’ve been told it will). I love the sort of teaching that I do. It’s mad, and energetic, and exhausting, and it inspires me, and keeps my feet flat on the floor, and my head wondering about why I love music so much. I love the kids I see, and the programs I run.

My hair isn’t ‘normal’. My mother pesters me about this. I love my hair. I love that I look like a cross between a crazy-lady and a homeless person. I love that I don’t have to brush it, or wash it, or straighten it. I love that in the era of hair straightening and smoothness, my hair is a mop/ nest/ mass of tangles. It suits who I am, and who I want to present to the world. Funny that the person who taught me to be individual wants to change this part of me.

And the biggest thing of all? I have chosen not to have children. This seems to have threatened an awful lot of people. I have lost friendships over this. I have drifted away from others because my friends got consumed with parenting. I love kids – but I don’t want them. I never have. I don’t understand this ‘wanting’ to have children. I ‘want’ ice-cream, or a glass of wine. But not a child. And this seems to threaten people. Most of my closest friends are the generation older than me. I have a few others – women who haven’t let this get in the way of relating to each other. The number of times I’ve been told ‘I’ll regret not having children’ or been told ‘tick-tock, tick-tock’ (yes – I kid you not) is astounding.

I am not hoping to be normal. I don’t want to be. I like that I’m different. And I know that a lot of people admire that about me. I’ve been told by some people I’m inspirational – although I wouldn’t go that far. But sometimes I wish that I could be satisfied with talking about Instagram, or reality TV. I wish I could be more polite and less quick to blurt out things that people often find a bit confronting (who knew so many people were offended by the term ‘box gap’?). Times that I’m tired, or drained and don’t have the courage to stand up and face the world on my own terms.

But most of the time I don’t. I’m proud of who I have become, and what I do.

Where’s that drum?