Welcome to my mixtape of life!
Songs from the Canary Cage is my first full-length novel, but my writing endeavors date back to the age of nine when I was creating a book about a lost dog. That fateful story was penned on a stack of loose-leaf notebook paper that blew out the back of my dad’s station wagon as we traveled down the highway on a road trip. After that experience, I vowed never to sit in “the way back” again, but I also never stopped writing.
The first article I sold as a freelancer was a humor piece titled “Living the Mother’s Curse.” In it I described my “crazy” mother who, in her many moments of frustration, would yell, "I hope you have kids just like yourself someday so you'll know what it's like to raise you!" Her curse worked, and I realized after having kids of my own that every mother is a little bit bonkers – at least in the eyes of her children.
But I always thought my mother odd. And why wouldn't I? She sang – almost constantly. And sometimes she would stop mid-verse, turn toward me, and confess, “You know, they say that singing all the time is a sign of being crazy.” Then, with no hesitation she would shrug, flash that mischievous smile of hers, and return to whatever tune was enchanting her at that moment. Mom was known to sing whenever Mom felt like singing. I thought it was weird then. Now, I call it brave.
I’m not a sing-out-loud kind of girl, but when I think of life, I think in terms of songs. My life marches to the beat of myriad songs. I know I am not unique in that complexity. Most people experience a variety of situations and emotions every day. We long to live in ways that speak to us. We wrestle with conflicting ideas and perspectives. We return to the wisdom of comforting beliefs. And yet, we somehow feel compelled to apologize when we break rules that serve no good purpose yet restrict our joy…like the ridiculous notion that we shouldn’t sing unless we are prompted to by societally-blessed circumstances. What an absurd rule!
Bad rules should be broken. That is a statement of fact. Two other truths I wish to lay on you are that life is a messy endeavor and forgiveness is an essential element for all healing. Those declarations mark the underlying themes that run through Songs from the Canary Cage.
This book was inspired by an actual journey I took at the age of thirteen (photo at left). In similar fashion to the women in this story, my mother packed me, my sister and my grandmother into the car, and we headed out on a momentous genealogical expedition. The complicated women in my family inspired certain charms and challenges found in the book's characters, and for good measure I wove into the story a few incidents from the actual trip, but Songs is a work of fiction. None of the characters or the storyline are based on actual people or events, and the characters are not real (with the exception of Brown Eyes – he’s very real).
Everyone has a life song – a mixtape, if you will. Mine has taken me in more directions than you’d care to read about here, but I’ve appreciated every strange turn along the way. One of the best turns I ever took led me back to Brown Eyes. We had two kids, and I spent part of one summer writing another lost dog book with them. We didn’t complete that story, but fortunately I still have what we started and hope to finish it alongside my granddaughter someday. I’m not sure if she’ll be an obsessive singer or a writer or something entirely different, but she is as plucky a female as our family has ever known, and I will delight in watching her compile her own mixtape.