Growing Older: Reader Essay by Miriam Queensen

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2017

W2017_GrowingOlderMiriamQueensen_Inline300 When I first started playing drums at age 50, many family members thought I was crazy.¬†Although I had a classical music background and knew the rudiments of music, I had never played percussion, and I had certainly never played rock music. But for a long time I had been looking at my son’s dust-covered drum kit thinking, “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Widowed at 42, I raised my kids on my own and had little time for fun, creativity, or a social life. By the time my children were both in college, I was functioning on a very basic level, simply doing what I could to keep things going and working to make enough money to support us. I had fallen into a seriously isolated rut.

Once I recognized that, I felt open to learning something new in a way I hadn’t allowed myself in a very long time. So I signed up for drum lessons. Playing along eagerly to familiar rock songs in my basement, I could almost feel new synapses firing in my brain. The process of retraining my limbs and mind to do things they had never done before was exhilarating. But I had to let go of the idea of immediately being good and just allow myself to try, to make mistakes, and to try again.

Most of us in midlife have experienced a rut, no matter our circumstances. We come to rely on the activities and habits of a lifetime, just doing what we’ve always done, which is for the most part what we already know we can do. We are no longer beginners at anything.

Being a beginner is scary. It means not knowing what on earth you’re doing. When performing music, it means not knowing what you’re doing in public. Despite the fear I felt about performing, I loved the feeling of being a beginner again—the wonderful phase of learning something new when your progress is fast and palpable, despite your insecurity. The rush of experiencing that rapid progress is very exciting. It’s a feeling we forget as we grow older.

When I first started to drum, I never expected to play in front of, or with, other people. The very thought terrified me. But after discovering a music studio called Rock Camp for Dads (which was very welcoming to non-dads also), I faced that fear and signed up to play in a band.

The first night I sat behind the drum kit with the band, I was scared out of my mind. There’s nothing tentative about playing the drums; you make a mistake, and everybody hears it. Yet I did it anyway. Sometimes I made mistakes, sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t, it was thrilling. I saw my new bandmates in front of me—strangers who would soon become friends—tapping their toes in time to the music. They played along or sang. It was a powerful feeling: I made the rhythm they were responding to! I made that happen!

That was the best part of beginning again: learning how to work together in a community to create music. Now I’m playing in bands with other amateur musicians, in front of audiences, and having an amazing time! I’m learning constantly, making friends, and feeling energized to continue exploring new things. The thought of undertaking a new hobby, traveling, learning a new language, or taking a class in an unfamiliar subject no longer seems scary, but exciting and motivating.

- Miriam Queensen, Golden Valley

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MINNESOTA ALUMNI MAGAZINE, Winter2017

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