Last week I asked my memoir-writing students to pick a song, any song, and use that song title as the topic for their next essay. Take “All Shook Up,” for example. With a title like that, you could write about living through an earthquake. Or about a startling event in your lifetime that really left you shaken. Or, hey, if you just love Elvis, you could write about him!
The song titles they came back with were as diverse as the writers who chose them. A new student in class wrote about a memorable road trip she and her husband took to West Virginia to meet his farmer uncle and aunt. Song title? “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Annelore chose Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” and wondered out loud why it is that she easily regards people in their forties as equals but has a hard time looking at her 40+-year-old daughter as a grown-up.
Wanda chose the title of a Billie Holiday tune to describe what life was like when “Mama started “working in private family” – Wanda’s words explaining that her mother had to live with the family she worked for. On Wednesdays, her only day home with Wanda, “Mama” would supply her young daughter with sayings like “God Bless the Child” to help them get through their days away from each other.
We had song titles from the 1930s through the 1980s, from Doris Day’s “Que Sera, Sera” to Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” And then Audrey surprised us all, choosing the title of a current song, and writing about something she’d signed up for just the week before: a class on Afro-Caribbean and World Rhythm drumming. Audrey wrote that her only previous experience with percussion had been in her kindergarten rhythm band. “I played the bell and triangle then, and that was a long time ago!” Playing percussion must be like riding a bicycle. Audrey took up right where she left off. From her essay:
After a few preliminary instructions, Carlos had this group of 25 stately senior citizens beating bongos and conga drums, tapping bells, shaking tambourines and maracas, reviving rhythms as if we had been doing it all our lives. As we played, one energized participant called out the famous Desi Arnaz’ expression…“Ba ba loo!”
The drumming class met at the Chicago Cultural Center, the same place I teach my class. Audrey has a long commute to memoir-writing class each week – she lives on the southwest side of Chicago and drives to her closest CTA stop and takes a 45-minute bus ride to downtown Chicago from there. In her essay she admits she hadn’t slep well the night before her drumming class. “I drudged on to class and am I glad I did,” she wrote at the conclusion of her essay. “When I left to go back home, I was wide awake. AND NOW, I can’t wait for the next class!”
People sometimes ask me what gets me going, what motivates me to get out of the house and do so much. Well, now you know. I’m inspired by the seniors in my memoir-writing class. Oh, and before I forget, the song title for Audrey’s essay: “Drumming Song” by Florence and the Machine.
PS: Big thanks to my friend Janie for coming up with this song title idea. If any of you blog followers out there have a song title you think might make a good writing topic for my memoir-writing classes, please leave that song title as a comment here. I’m all ears!