Friday, January 22, 2010

It’s like my heart’s restored. . . .

When I was a kid, I sang a lot. My whole family did. Our mother sang love songs while she did housework and taught my sisters and me how to harmonize as we washed and dried the dishes. Our father belted out Irish tunes and sea shanties and led us in rounds on long car trips. My sisters and I entertained ourselves, the neighbors, and our parents’ friends at every opportunity—and sometimes when there was none.

My son Jimmy started singing as soon as he could vocalize, and he hasn’t stopped yet—thank goodness! He reminds me of my younger self, of the pure joy of letting go with an exuberant song, and of how words and music together can express emotions even better than words alone.

Ten years ago, I suffered through a terrible winter. Everything seemed dull and endless, dreary and gray. I was grieving the loss of my father, struggling through graduate school, trying to figure out what I could do with the rest of my life, and wondering whether I would ever be able to put my thoughts into words that adequately expressed what I felt.

When spring finally arrived, I saw green shoots poking up through the snow and felt the warmth of the sun. I heard birds chirping and felt like singing myself. Spring is more than my favorite season. It’s a whole new beginning, a fresh start. For me, the new year begins on March 4th, which I celebrate annually. March forth!

Nina Simone perfectly expressed that feeling of renewal in her moving version of “Another Spring,” written by Angelo Badalamenti and John Clifford:

“And then one morning
Another spring is there outside my door
Things are blooming
Birds are singing
And suddenly, yes, well I ain’t sad
Ain’t sad no more, ain’t sad no more
When it’s warm and the sun is out
It’s like my heart’s restored. . . .”

Of course I find inspiration in music. The refrain of a song I found in a hymnal expressed my feelings, too: "How Can I Keep from Singing?" by Robert Lowry.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

All those separate pieces (and more) came together in my head to become Sing-Along Song: that joyful spring, Jimmy’s exuberant singing, and the "How Can I Keep from Singing?" refrain. Other pieces fell into place, too. My sister Judy contributed the word “delish,” which she used to coax our kids to eat. Memories of my father coming home from a long day at work and my mother cheerfully cooking fit in, too.

One inspiration alone may not be enough to make a book. Ideas pile up, combine, and percolate until they achieve a momentum of their own. The evolution of a book can be mysterious even to the writer, who has only to trust in the process and keep going.

Writing Workout:
A Bird in the Hand

Do you keep a writing journal or notebook? Do you jot down ideas on scraps of paper and collect them in a file or drawer? Or do you list them in a document in a computer file? The sum of your random thoughts might be greater than the individual pieces.

Explore your idea collection. Choose two or three ideas that don’t obviously fit together. Try to find a way to connect them into one story. Be open to surprises. Trust the process. Have fun!

JoAnn Early Macken

P.S. Are you a Teacher or Homeschooler? Remember to enter our contest! The winner can choose one of six Teaching Author books as a prize. Read all about it here.


Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

I remember reading SINGALONG SONG to my daughter a few years ago (probably when I was pregnant and hormonal) and unexpectedly finding my eyes welling wtih tears at the point in the story when the father comes home from work. I emailed JoAnn and told her about my reaction, and she shared the genesis of the story and how she had shed tears over her father when writing this passage. I may be the only other person on the planet who had this reaction to the words (and picture) on the page, but it really brought home to me the evocative power of subtext and the story behind the story. Thanks for sharing, JoAnn!

Kimbra Kasch said...

I'm not a teacher or a homeschooler unless you call being a "Mom" a teacher - which I think that counts.


Carmela Martino said...

Yes, Kim, I agree that moms are teachers, too. But for the purposes of our contest, we'd like input from those who are specifically teaching writing. :-)
Thanks for commenting!

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Kim, I definitely concur! Thanks so much for your comment.

And JoAnn, while I (sadly) do not keep a writing journal, I just read a wonderful piece in The New Yorker about the evocative power of smell that accomplished, I think, exactly what you set forth in your Writing Workout.

April Halprin Wayland said...

"How can I keep from Singing?" is one of my very, very favorite songs. Thanks for writing this and making me burst into song as I read it.

JoAnn Early Macken said...

JM, I read through Sing-Along Song before I wrote this post to try to remember what inspired it, & I remembered that conversation we had about my father. Although he carried a lunch box instead of a briefcase like the father in the illustration, I can still picture him coming home from work & settling down to relax at the kitchen table. Thanks also for the New Yorker link. I've heard that smell is the sense with the most power to bring back memories.

Kim, moms are always teachers, aren't they?

April, I'm enjoying the image of you belting out a favorite song!