I’m in Chicago, it’s Mother’s Day weekend. I won’t be with my husband and daughter on Sunday, and my mom died a few years ago, I’m here for auditions for the reading of SQUASHED The Musical, the most fun new venture — a musical of my first novel, SQUASHED, the book that got me started in YA, the book I wrote after a car accident, neurosurgery, pain, and absolute despair. I didn’t know what I was doing writing that first story! I’d never written a novel, I hurt like crazy, I was unsure, but my character Ellie Morgan — she was sure. I heard her voice, I let her show me, I gave myself to her story, and let her quest to grow the biggest pumpkin in Iowa be my quest for doing something big and bold. SQUASHED was wonderfully reviewed, and now it’s got a new voice, a musical voice, and I’ve found my music after all these years.
I was surrounded by serious music growing up — my mom was a jazz pianist — that woman could swing. She had such a gift, such a love for it. My sisters and I danced around the dining room table as Mom played. I’m convinced there’s a great jazz band up in heaven. I played the flute and Mom and I would play duets — some of my best memories were standing at the piano doing that. And here I am with this musical in the works and she’s not here. It’s the one hole in the show. I know, she’s in the soil of it, I know she handed me her love of music like a baton. She told me to study the piano — I didn’t listen — why didn’t I? But I’m listening now — I need to get better on the piano, so much better, but every now and then I’ll play a deep bluesy chord and I know that my mom played that chord with everything she had.
It’s easy to hold back on trying something bold and new — oh, I’m too old, or too busy, or not old enough, or whatever. For years I had carpel tunnel and couldn’t play an instrument, but those days are over, and when the stirrings came a few years ago to start writing songs, I could hear the melodies in my head, and I stepped out, so cautiously at first. I found the nerve to sing one of those songs for a musician friend. I waited for his eyes to glaze over, but they didn’t. I waited for him to back out of the room when the song was over. He didn’t do that either. He encouraged me. Keep going, keep at it, you’ve got something. We need encouragers in our lives! My husband, my greatest encourager, wouldn’t let me quit. Keep going. Okay! I felt bolder and now here I am about to listen to singers audition for the SQUASHED reading with my collaborator, Jeff Bouthiette, head of Second City’s music training program. We wrote this show together.
I can see my mother grinning, pounding out the beat with her mighty left foot, giving herself to the music. You’ve got to give yourself to a thing, and let all it is and all you can bring to it come out.
How very cool to have a mother who taught me that.