I love listening to stories. When I was a little girl I begged my parents and grandparents for stories of their childhood until I had them all memorized and written down. Even then I still preferred hearing them say the tales out loud.
I strategically planned conversations with my grandma that I knew would lead to stories. And I shamelessly pulled out her photo drawer and spread her memories across the table just so I could see that look in her eyes when she stared up at the spot where the wall met the ceiling and told me her yesterdays.
Growing up rarely changes the fundamental things we love, so you probably know already that stories are still my passion. But more specifically, I still love listening to stories. I almost never watch television, but I listen to around 200 books a year. And I also juggle a number of podcasts that focus on story—both fiction and non-fiction. I simply love the oral storytelling tradition.
Naturally, when Macmillan Audio approached me about hosting the Raise My Roof podcast, I agreed before they had even finished the question. “I LOVE podcasts!” I squealed.
The noise I made when Macmillan asked me to narrate the audiobook for my memoir was something else entirely.
I didn’t want to do it.
No one likes a hypocrite. And I instantly knew that if any other author came to me and asked me if they should do this I would scream, “Yes! Of course! No one else can tell your story! You have to do it.” And of course, this is exactly what everyone said to me.
Applying that advice to myself was a whole different thing. The best I could do was agree to try. I had little faith I’d be able to get through it, and that’s saying a lot because I’m stubborn enough to believe I can do some pretty tough things.
Rise is deeply personal. Many of the things in it I have never said out loud to anyone. Not friends, not my parents, not even my kids. So how could I possibly say them to any person who ever decides they need an audiobook to keep them awake on a long drive or pass the hours of their commute?
I know, of course, on an intellectual level that these things are already out there. That anyone can read them in the book. That none of this is new information just because it’s in a new format.
But, actually, it is.
Because whatever monotone reading voice you might hear while you speed read the book will be replaced by the real emotion in my own. This is my real story. These are my real kids and my real parents. These things really hurt. They really made me happy or proud or knocked me to my knees.
I’m not a voice actor. When I say these things out loud, I can’t hide the crack in my voice, or the smile. I can’t even hide the tears — and yes, there were a lot of real tears when I read Rise.
I’m not a person who cries. I’m a problem solver. Tears aren’t going to get us anywhere so I’m all about pushing forward toward solutions. But by the third of five days reading Rise in a phone-booth sized studio in the Flatiron building in NYC, I confessed to my (fabulous) producer Chealsea, that maybe I used to be a person who didn’t cry.
Writing a memoir is emotional in some of these same ways. But writing is done in isolation, and usually reading is too. I feel like there’s an element of privacy to my silent words between the pages of a book. All the secrets feel oddly protected by those hard covers.
And there I was, letting all the secrets out. Could there be a single thing I’ll ever do that would leave me feeling more vulnerable than that? I doubt it.
Song lyrics are a good example of the way words can transport us to a place in our history.
Rise is the song of my most difficult and triumphant times. And it was one I ultimately had to sing all alone.
Getting from the opening line all the way to the copyright information at the end was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. And like most things that fit into that category, it left me with a profound sense of accomplishment and pride.
I slayed one of my biggest dragons and here I am still.
And a big part of writing a memoir was knowing that my grandchildren and their grandchildren would have their history in writing. Now, they will be able to listen to me tell it in my own voice. That’s one of the most powerful feelings I can imagine.
Instead of feeling wrapped between the protective covers of this book, I feel completely wrapped by the support and love of my family and friends. And I also know the sound of my heart breaking and soaring will lend a voice to other people still working to find their way through to the other side after traumatic things.
There it is. There’s the soul of me. There’s no taking this back. There’s no silencing it. These things happened. And despite it all, my kids and I live and love and laugh.
There’s an enormous power in putting a name to things, in finding the exact words that describe how we used to feel, how we feel now, and how we wish we felt. Writing is my thing, and maybe you or someone you know who is going through tough times isn’t a writer, maybe they don’t have the words and that makes them feel robbed of some power.
And that’s why it was worth it.
It’s my voice. It’s my story. They are my words. But anyone at all who needs them is welcome to borrow the power.
You can listen to a sample of me reading the Rise audiobook right here.
And order through Audible or Amazon now!