I’ve always had a yearning to be heard and understood. As a young child I developed an explicit vocabulary so my mother would understand my side of whatever had just erupted into my sibling’s furious tears. At six I could have been a lawyer.
In college, I learned the power of the printed word. Careful attention to sentence structure, vocabulary and style in any academic paper could be the difference between an A or a C. Once, a well-meaning professor, slapped a freshly graded philosophy paper onto my desk and said, “If this music thing doesn’t work out for you, you could always make it as a writer.” He probably meant it as a compliment, but at age 20, I was filled with too many doubts about my worthiness as a musician to appreciate it.
When I began teaching elementary school music, I learned the power of the synonym and the metaphor. I wanted my young students to develop a richer vocabulary, so when I deliberately used a word unfamiliar to them, I’d follow it in the same sentence with a metaphor or a series of synonyms to clarify its meaning.
As the artistic director of the Pennsylvania Youth Chorale, I learned the power of the detail. If I wanted the parents of my choristers to have their young singers at the right concert venue, on time, dressed in the proper uniform, with all their performance equipment in tow, I needed to be very specific in my weekly communications. If I wanted them to read that email, I had to be succinct.
Through a lifetime of extensive journaling I learned the power of honesty and vulnerability in my writing. Journals that hold my travel and meditation experiences, my nightly dreams and daily adventures, are treasure chests of the most intimate parts of myself.
In my 70th year, a traumatic personal crisis shook my world and threatened my very being. When I needed them most, the words I had served all those years, gathered to serve me. They comforted, healed, and eventually propelled me forward into a new relationship with them—into a life-sustaining love affair with memoir.