singing and sleep away

graffiti fromm Istanbul: two yellow hands holding the strings of balloon eyesgood morning good morning good morning.

It’s hard to be chipper in the grey, isn’t it? At least, that’s true for me this morning.

I’m having a longing for true (i.e., Midwestern) summer. Someone brought deliciously deviled eggs to our Write Whole: Survivors Write potluck last night (we have a potluck on the last night of each workshop, a wonderful chance to share food and a bit more of ourselves as well) and I almost got teary with missing cookouts, family reunions, home food. Maybe this weekend I’ll make some ambrosia salad, of course it won’t be even remotely the same, eating it without all my cousins, my sister, my grandma there.

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Today we’re working on the pup being able to be in her kennel and alone; she seemed like she’d gotten accustomed to this, and pretty easily, too. Then the Mr went away for awhile and I had to leave her a couple of times, and she started having some separation anxiety. It’s not remedial work, though, is it? It’s different work this time around. She doesn’t want to play or eat in the kennel, though I haven’t yet found her a toy that would only live in the crate. That’s the next thing to try.

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Today is a rest day, a transcription day (meaning a day for typing up workshop writes), a walking-with-the-pup day. It’s a day to be present, again, with this homesickness that’s settled into my chest. Maybe I’ll take 20 minutes and look at the cost of tickets to NE, or CO, or both.

And so today, too, I’m thinking (again) about what homesickness means when one doesn’t have a solid or clear sense of where (or what) home is.

The first time I remember feeling homesick was when I went to sleep away camp for the last time (well, at least until band camp when I was starting high school, and where I met my first love — you know about those loves that start at band camp). This was after my mom moved in with the man who would be my stepfather. This was early on in their relationship — I can’t for the life of me remember now why I would have been allowed to go. It was surely a YMCA camp, located somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha. I’d been to sleep-away camp before, back when we’d lived in Lincoln — we would go to day camp for a week or something, and then the last day of camp included an overnight trip (It was at those earlier YMCA camps where I learned to sing “Proud to be an American” whenever I pledged allegiance to the flag. I still have that song memorized. Talk about indoctrination). This time, now that we were in Omaha and now that my parents were divorced, it felt different. This must have been early in their relationship, maybe even before they were married. I wanted so much to get away from the house and then, once I got to the camp with its cabins and bunk beds and strangers, I wanted to be back home with mom and my sister and even with him. I remember feeling confused by this — why did I want to go back there? I felt like it said something good about me, that I was homesick — I wasn’t the bad kid he told me I was. See, I missed them and it hurt! I remember telling them about it (or did I write a letter? How long was I gone for?) after I got home, how I had that feeling — did they name it homesick for me? I think he was glad, proud, that I missed them (him), and that I was safe from his persecution for a little bit after I got home. I don’t remember anything else about that camping trip, just that I was scared to be alone.

So it’s not like I can’t understand where Sophie’s coming from with her separation anxiety.

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Here’s something I noticed last night, though, speaking of senses of home — I felt very much ‘at home’ during the writing workshop. There wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be, nothing else I wanted to be doing. That was tremendously reassuring and settled something in me that had been afraid.

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As our first prompt last night, I read Martin Jude Farawell’s poem “If I sing” — then we wrote for 20 minutes. Can you give yourself 20 minutes with this prompt today? Notice if there are particular phrases from the poem that stay with you, that spark your writer’s imagination (John Fox also suggests, as a prompt from this poem, filling in the phrase: “If I ___, then I___” as a beginning place.)

I’ve used this poem as a prompt several times in the last year since John Fox first offered it at last summer’s Healing Art of Writing conference, and each time my own response has been different; it’s something to keep in mind, when I’m afraid of offering folks a prompt that they might have had in a previous workshop with me — every time we meet a prompt, we meet it fresh and new; we get to go someplace different from the first time we used the prompt.

Here’s my write from last night:

I sing in the car — it’s about the only place I feel free enough, when I’m behind the wheel, when I’m alone. I put on the country music station or push in one of  my sister’s mix tapes, and I sing, and if I am very lucky — I think it’s about whether or not I’m lucky — I will cry. That hard lump rises, the ache spreads it’s webby fingers from throat full into my chest, my arms, my eyes fill and I catch my breath. Everything gets warbly and thick and then I am not just me now, it’s me and my sister in the back seat of the VW bus or in the old red Mercury Monarch or even later in the black Jetta. we are singing along to the radio, our voices tinny and high, climbing over each other, twinning together. We were showing off; I wanted to know every song better than her, than anyone. We sang Pat Benatar, the Pointer Sisters, Hall and Oates, we sang along to the old folk records at Grandma’s house, we sang with the Beatles and Jody Collins on dad’s old reel-to-reel. We wouldn’t stop, our voices were everywhere, there was nothing we couldn’t capture, emulate, no curve or strain of voice, no fold of tremolo, no tottering pop crescendo, no predictable chord change that we didn’t want to hold in our own mouths. We sang dad’s made-up songs, every Christmas carol, even along with Steve Martin being a wild-and-crazy guy. We mimicked and imitated and even started making up our own songs.

Isn’t it true that once upon a time, you couldn’t shut us up? Who taught us to tuck our sings away? She went on, my baby sister, sang choir in school, then studied opera. She was the designated singer, the one whose voice had a way to go, a frame, a structure, a harness. Neither of us were freefalling through words or melody anymore — one day we were singing along with the cassette tape recording of the Broadway musical they brought home with them from New York City, and the next day the car rides were full only of horror and implausibility; the radio was turned off. There was too much noise already just with him in the car, just with all we weren’t saying. How could it e that, with all we had sung, with all the notes and possibility we learned to turn our throats, our tongues, our voices around, we hadn’t learned to say thing — even just say the one thing — that should have been able to save us?

Thanks to you, today, for your songs. All of them: the ones sung and the ones unsung. Thank you for your writing, too, for your words.

One response to “singing and sleep away

  1. I’m sorry for your story, the part when you were silenced. Sorry for your loss, it would be so great to see and hear you and your sister be that playful, singing together again.

    I’m glad you’ve found some release, singing in the car. I love your voice, it’s sweet and beautiful. It seems like years since we’ve had a road trip long enough for you to find the right song, the one that encourages you to leap into your heart and sing. Maybe next time we can start the trip that way, you driving and singing and Sophie and I laying back and trying to harmonize when we can.

    It’s no where the same, I know. Its not trying to be, its just about now and how happy and sad you can get when you sing. And I hope you’ll consider it! This weekend????