Banging the Drum All Day (Not)

The details are clear, but everything else–exactly where or when this happened–is fuzzy.

My husband, daughter, and I were on some sort of road trip, perhaps taking her to college (?) or on a ski trip (?). We were leaving a large sporting goods store (?). They had a blaring loudspeaker system, which was playing the 1983 Todd Rudgren song, “Bang the Drum All Day.” You know the one:

I don’t want to work

I want to bang on the drum all day

I don’t want to play

I just want to bang on the drum all day

My daughter said, “That’s a stupid song.”

My husband said, “It is a stupid song.”

I said, “I’ve always liked it.”

I was hit with a barrage of incredulity. “Why?!!?” they asked/shouted in unison. “It’s stupid!”

I explained it to them, as I will now explain it to you.

This song is played as an anti-work song, even played, I understand as a taunt by conservative pundits against unions and others they consider to be lazy. But the song is not celebrating sloth. Look at the third line. Not only does he not want to work, he does not want to play either! He only wants to practice his art, which happens to be playing the drum.

I don’t have to approve of his lifestyle or even agree that drumming is an art form, you understand, but the narrator of this song certainly does, and that is the basis upon which I approach it. This is a song about art, not about goofing off.

When it first came out, I was still working a job in a field that bored me. I wanted only to be a full-time writer. A famous writer. A rich and famous writer. This song, widely played in those days, ran through my head. I hummed it off and on all day long. I no longer wanted to work at my boring job of course, but I noticed something else: that when I reached a sweet spot in the writing of a story, I didn’t want to play either. I didn’t want to go hang out with friends, shop, or party. I only wanted to bang on my drum. I only wanted to keep writing, like the song says.

I go through several phases in the process of creating a story. I begin with an idea, usually just a situation, a short scene perhaps lasting only a few seconds. A “what if?”. This is giddy stuff, as several related ideas spring up as well, and I anxiously scribble them down. This is a Bang The Drum All Day phase.

The giddy beginning is followed by the task of actually putting the story on paper. By this time, I have a solid beginning, and possibly know the ending. Not always. The middle is still total mush. This part is hard to get through, as I have shared in the previous post. At this point, I am infinitely distractible, and am more than willing to go hang out, go do laundry, solve your family crisis, and even take a paying job in order to escape the creative mess I’ve made. It is not “banging the drum all day.” It is horrifying, because at this point, the work is so bad.

Then, working patiently, sometimes interminably slowly, I resolve the mess. This part is about as much fun as prepping for a colonoscopy. This goes on and on, but suddenly, I reach a point. Suddenly, I see how it can all make sense. It’s time to bang on the drum all day. Except, of course, I don’t get to. No one does. We’ve all our other stuff to do.

That’s where I’m at now with my novel, happily anticipating my writing time each day. I don’t always wait for writing time. Characters pop up throughout my day to talk to me and advise me on details of plot and setting. And yeah, some of my ability to concentrate on ordinary activities is compromised. I’m kind of a space cadet, losing my sunglasses, my keys, my shoes, and not sure where I left my car.

On the plus side, I’m way more pleasant and fun to be around.

I always wanted to write, and I still do. The rich and famous part has faded for me, though, in more ways than one. The odds of winning that kind of lottery fade with passing time–my personal time as well as the world’s. Even many award-winning, critically acclaimed writers can’t make a living these days. And fame…particularly the sort where people on the street recognize you…seems like no fun at all for an introvert like me anyway.

What I’m left with is the writing, and the relatively small group of people who will read it and enjoy it. I do want to get my novel published; I do want to be out there. I do want some money for my effort, as much as I can get. I can work toward the fame and money, but I can’t control that end of it. All I can control is the work itself, and for now, that is pure joy.



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