My friend, Cheryl, wrote the poem above for me in 1980. She inspired my song “Just a Tune” and I really miss her (she died in 2008.) I share more of her touching words from another card at the end of this story.
When my children were young, I was immersed in creating a beautiful childhood for them. During that time, I anguished over their challenges, sibling rivalry and the occasional scary emergency room visits. I have no doubt that the loss of my first-born child clouded everything and brought with it a lot of additional anxiety. The flip side was that I was in awe of their existence and treasured them.
I am always relieved when my children tell me how much they cherish sweet memories while growing up. So often, I was exhausted and overcome by frustration that I couldn’t smooth over all the fighting that went on. My husband was usually angry overall and I felt awful that I couldn’t make him happy either. In order to function with so much unhappiness, I plodded and refused to allow myself to feel.
In a “diary of my life,” I feel like the last 30 years are emotionally blank pages. My grief was a lingering dark cloud where I carried a heavy umbrella fused to my back. The sun didn’t shine and my enjoyment in life came vicariously by living through my children.
My current life is a huge contrast to my prior existence. I no longer feel like I’m required to put on a happy face. Rather than denying emotion, I am fully immersed in feelings and memories.
I am a woman following my songwriting dream because the emotional expression of my songs soothes the emptiness I’ve carried for a long time.
Because the last 30 years were filled with so much emotional detachment (other than deep grief), I often return to the time when I had passion for life. That would be when I was a budding songwriter between the ages of 17 and 21.
It’s probably no coincidence that my memories from that youthful time are also jogged because of my close involvement in the lives of my three children who are now 18, 21 and 24.
In my past, my life revolved around emotionally fixing things for my children and I still tend to do that. But my greater energy is toward my own feelings now.
I wake up every morning knowing that I have many choices about how I want to live my life. The greatest choice is whether to feel happy. When I’m not feeling great (and especially when my eyes hurt), I know that I must search for ways to feel better.
I feel like I have gone from riding through life emotionally in the back seat to steering my own course!
I realize that steering is an illusion of control and it can add pressure if I allow it to. I try to reframe thoughts of: Where the hell am I going? Am I going to crash?
Instead, I prefer to think: “How exciting that I’m steering my life now. It hardly matters what the destination is because this trip is the best part!”
Link to hear my song’s beautiful arrangement:
“The Emotional Wall”
I couldn’t wait to sing a vocal for my new arrangement of “Just a Tune.” There was only a slight problem, though – My song did not have finalized lyrics or a bridge.
I continued to experiment with new lyric ideas for a third verse. And late at night I sang line after line of scrawled words for a bridge. I hoped a sweet melody would appear.
Finally it happened!
Even though I wasn’t completely sure about the new lyrics or bridge melody, I planned to record my song anyway. It would be great practice and I might even improvise and discover something great. It had happened to me before.
I had a deep connection to my song and that was priceless; I didn’t want to wait. It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. The sky was a brilliant blue and I felt excited. I sang at every stoplight and within five minutes I was at the studio where I recorded my vocals.
It was a beautiful place to sing, a home recording studio that was built as a labor of love by an Israel singer. His son, Darrin, was my engineer; he was a busy and talented musician in his own right.
After so many sessions of listening to me sing, Darrin was quite familiar with my singing style.
I often chuckled and reminded him, “Now you know my secret! I’m not a great singer – but I am really adept at editing all those takes in order to get something that’s decent.”
I was always amazed at how often I sang off-pitch. Perhaps it was because with headphones on I had trouble hearing myself sing.
I was getting closer to releasing my music, but there were many older songs that I was still working on. Sometimes, I had trouble finding the connection I really wanted for them.
A week ago, I saw how sturdy my emotional wall was. After I sang a fourth take of “Beside Me Always,” Darrin announced over my headphones, “I’m hardly feeling any emotion from you today.”
On the next take, I concentrated on my lyrics and suddenly the wall went down. I was gasping as I opened my mouth – the painful flashbacks were too vivid for me to sing through.
I left the studio that day with 4 boring takes and one that was blank except for few weepy words trailing into tears. I wished I had something in between.
I wondered how it would be singing “Just a Tune.” I wasn’t sure what emotion I’d find.
The friend I had written it for back in 1979 had died seven years ago. And we weren’t close for many years before that.
Projecting future love felt terrifying and impossible, although so many of my songs held prophecies for me. I was certain it would choke me up if I projected my song to a future imaginary lover; I wasn’t going there.
There was only one way I could relate to my song – it was with self-love.
Finding my own worth was what actually allowed me to create the music I loved. I probably never would have found the courage to change my life if it weren’t for the lyrics from my subconscious that guided me.
My gratefulness for it knew no bounds.
For over a week, “Just a Tune” was the only song I was attached to and it had been tough to sing other songs.
I burst into the recording area and said to Darrin excitedly, “I’ve got a brand new song arrangement I’m going to sing today!” Darrin grinned and said he was looking forward to hearing it.
I put on my headphones and took a few deep breaths. I was ready.
From the first notes, the music lifted my heart. As the introduction played, I mentally repeated the lyric changes in my head. I hoped I could let go of that focus so my song would have emotion.
No doubt, I would be coming back to record this song on another day. But this was such a glorious start!
I began to sing . . .
As my words flowed out, I was reminded about how music had truly healed me of all pain in my life. I remembered how lonely I had been for decades in my marriage. For 31 years, nothing could have been lonelier than to live with someone whom I hid all of my feelings from. But I was never lonely since I’d found my music and writing in 2010.
After I sang my song two times, Darrin said, “Can you try to sing with more emotion on the next take?”
I closed my eyes, took a slight breath and gently opened my mouth to sing.
And that was when I heard Cheryl’s voice! It was unmistakable – She gently spoke my name.
“Jude – Come on, Jude.”
There was something so soothing about the way she said it. I could hear her smiling with those words. A tear began to quickly swell in the corner of my eye. Suddenly, I could remember the feelings that caused me to write “Just a Tune.”
But it was such a long time ago!
I played it for Cheryl almost every time we were together. Initially, she would study me as I sang. Her eyes were doe-like while she mouthed the words along with me.
I treasured the sweet memories of playing my guitar and singing that song around a campfire. During some of my best times in my life, I played my song on a beach with the sun setting behind me.
Now my emotional wall crumbled and the tears gushed forth.
My brain was yelling, “Oh, my God! You are a 55-year-old woman and the last time you were excited about being with someone was when you were 19. And it was with a girlfriend! For decades you’ve lived with a void that no one else has ever filled – that is so very sad!”
That was all it took. My singing turned into tearful gasps.
My eyes were closed and I heard Cheryl’s voice again. She whispered, “Jude, it will be okay.”
Then she was gone.
The music continued playing and I sniffled as salty tears dripped onto my neck. I was desperate to get a hold of myself. Then I laughed aloud with embarrassment that Darrin was listening to my weepy warbling.
A few minutes later, I was back singing.
This time, I allowed the sweet melody to wrap around my heart and comfort me as I sang.
Transcription of my 20th birthday card:
I know that words cannot express what actions convey, but still I feel the need to write to you. So many times my heart literally aches with love for you, our friendship, for us. This love I feel is genuine, I know, because of the way that I feel about myself. Remember the saying “You can’t love someone until you love yourself?” Well, I’ve always believed that, but it’s meaning has really hit me hard the past few months.
You see, never have I been so happy to be me and the kind of love that I am feeling for myself makes me want to share that love with you – because I can only give you the best that I am and you’ve given me the courage and confidence to go out and search for that person in me. I feel as though you’ve helped me to understand, to come to terms with what’s important in my life (internally and externally). You’ve given me more than anyone ever has – my life wouldn’t be as special if you weren’t here to share it with me.
And just as much, I want to share your life with you. For me to thank you and to tell you how much I love you doesn’t seem like enough . . .
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