Each one is its own universe, an invitation to activate my imagination and perceive life through a completely different lens.
Somewhere in the last ten years I turned into a voracious reader. I’ve always loved storytelling, especially in visual media such as films, television series, and even dance. But lately, I just can’t seem to get enough of books. Each one is its own universe, an invitation to activate my imagination and perceive life through a completely different lens. Some books are fast food, enjoyed for a moment and forgotten. Others leave an indelible mark, shaping me in ways it might take years to fully understand.
Most times I like to see the visual construction of sentences and savor the author’s craft, but sometimes I prefer listening, especially when it’s a memoir read by the author. Over the last year, I’ve spent riveting hours with Barack and Michelle Obama (separately), Demi Moore, Tara Westover, Glennon Doyle, Alicia Keyes, Alan Cumming, Debby Irving, Marion Roach Smith, Laura Munson, and many more.
Just last week I finished They’re Playing Our Song, Carole Bayer Sager’s memoir recounting the highlights of her prodigious songwriting career, and her journey of self-discovery through the significant relationships in her life.
A celebrity memoir has different rules from the memoir genre of unknowns. The latter requires a clear universal theme and a central argument. But with celebrities, it’s enough to touch the glamour and hear fun anecdotes about what it was really like to work with Michael Jackson, or win an Academy Award, or survive a nine-year marriage to a narcissist like Burt Bacharach. I’ll confess, when I downloaded the book on Audible, I thought it would be a fun, insider look, and a nice way to pass the time on my daily walks.
What I didn’t expect was to fall completely in love with Carole Bayer Sager.
Walking among the majestic oak trees in my neighborhood as she spoke the book’s final words, I wanted to cry. Were there really to be no more daily strolls with my friend Carole? Carole, if you’re listening, will you consider a podcast? I miss you! I know you’ve got a full life and you’re busy painting now, but I miss your adorable voice, and the way you imitate your mother. I miss your compassionate heart and dry wit, sharp as a razor, causing me to laugh out loud as I passed my neighbors.
“How did she do it?” I wondered. How was she able to relay her story in a way that dissolved any sense of separateness and transformed her into a cherished friend? Admittedly, I feel a bit like Hugh Grant’s character’s sister in Notting Hill, when meeting Julia Roberts’ superstar character, gushing that she’s always believed they could be best friends. But I really do feel as if I could sit down with Carole tomorrow and fall instantly into the ease of friendship. What was her secret?
And then it hit me that her memoir style resembles her songwriting approach.
As a lyricist, Carole is not a showy wordsmith like a Stephen Sondheim, whom I also adore for a very different reason, but I don’t feel close to Sondheim. I worship him from afar. Carole’s true talent is connection. With the simplest lines, she speaks universal truths of the heart. My favorite of her songs, The Prayer, never fails to put a lump in my throat.
With the simplest lines, she speaks universal truths of the heart.
I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know
Let this be our prayer when we lose our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe
Can you read or hear those lines without tearing up? I never can. They are just as potent today as the day they were written, perhaps more so with the escalating uncertainty of our world.
This idea of intimacy with the reader is on my mind as I complete the first draft of a memoir I’ve been writing for fifteen months. I can’t help but wonder if the reader will feel close to me. I’ve given my heart and soul to this book, depicting the most vulnerable scenes from my life, sharing candid thoughts and feelings. But I also know there can be a kind of formality to me that to some feels standoffish. Will my stories dissolve those barriers?
Our deeply rooted fears get triggered when we put ourselves fully into our creations.
I think it is part of the process, the way our deeply rooted fears get triggered when we put ourselves fully into our creations: Am I enough? Is who I am lovable? Will they see me? But these are not the questions that will help me connect. Each day I work to bring myself honestly to the page, trusting the love in my heart and the deeper intention that calls me to share my story.
One day, when my book is in the hands of others, or streaming through their headphones, I hope that new friends I’ve never met will feel that loving connection. I hope they will laugh and cry and see themselves in my story. Of course, I don’t have control over how others will perceive my journey, what they will think about me, or the choices I’ve made. It’s taken me years to be willing to let that go.
When we share ourselves from the heart, we invite connection and remind one another the truth of a friendly and loving world — that in our shared humanity, we touch the sacredness of all life.
Instead, I will offer my imperfect work in the belief that when we share ourselves from the heart, we invite connection and remind one another the truth of a friendly and loving world — that in our shared humanity, we touch the sacredness of all life. Regardless of what the reader thinks of me, I pray they will come away from the experience with a deeper sense of connection to themselves and greater hope for the future.
Between the books downloaded on my iPad, and the titles waiting for me in Audible, there’s a queue of potential new friends just waiting for me to enter their worlds. I can’t wait to get to know them.