Songs of Susannah: Music is my first language






Below are the stories behind my songs.

Back to lyrics page.

A Voice in the Wind
Always
Apprehensions
Backstage
The Dark Horse
Disappear
Distant
Don't Go
Elevator
Empty Place
Gatita
Going Home
Half Sick of Shadows
Hallway
Hanukkah
Hiatus
Hold On
Honeysuckle Tree
How Great It Is
How Many Days
I Never Saw A Moor
If I Knew Then
If Nothing Else
Is It Just Me?
The Light in the Darkness
The Lost Library
#metoo
My Father Cheats At Solitaire
One of Us
R'lyeh
River Swans
Reality
Ringtone
River Swans
(What Caused the) Silence?
Silent Struggles
Singing in a Damaged Voice
Student Housing
The Swallow
36
Tied to the Beauty
Trail of Tears
Understand
What Lies Ahead
When I Come Here
Where's The Door?
Who Has Seen The Wind
Winter's Day
Without You
Wond'rous Star (a carol)
Writing A Song For You
You Inspire Me
You Meant The World To Me


A Voice in the Wind


I wrote this late in 1999. Many people were very worried about the Y2K bug, so I wrote an ominous-sounding piece that mimicked the sound of a huge clock in a clock tower ticking its way towards midnight, and striking an indeterminate number of times (it ended up striking 30 by the end of the piece). I wanted to capture the feeling that so many people had that our civilization was about to come to a screeching halt.

Back To Top

Always

This was one of the last songs I wrote about my first break-up. Oddly enough, I was already dating my second boyfriend when I wrote this. I thought about all the things my first boyfriend had said, and about how easily and quickly I had become attached and had gotten so used to having someone in that role in my life, even though, with just a little retrospect, it had clearly been the wrong someone. I decided I wasn't going to tell another guy I loved him unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him (which was quite unfortunate for my second boyfriend, who certainly didn't deserve for me to sit there and tell him I didn't know if I loved him or not, even though I cared about him deeply.)

Back To Top

Apprehensions

This is one of the first songs that I wrote on the guitar. I imagined it being performed by the band Hole.

Yet another song about my first boyfriend, this one was written almost two years after we broke up. In 1998, we met a couple times to go and see movies together, just as friends. Yet, when I felt his hand brush mine in the movie theater, I wondered if it had been an accident, or if he was trying to hold my hand.

We planned to meet at Lesko Park in Aurora, Indiana, by the Ohio River, and walk on the new walking trail, but I sat there reading for hours, and I never saw him. Eventually, I concluded that maybe he had car trouble. This was before most people had cell phones, and neither of us owned one. I went to his home, and his car was parked outside. I knocked on the door. He either ignored me or didn't hear me.

When I got back in the car and drove towards the road, my eyes filled with tears, and I started scolding myself, "You stupid girl, you stupid, stupid girl." I had no idea why I was crying. I didn't think I cared enough to cry. I thought that there was nothing left of my feelings for him.

Not to make him out to be the villian in this story, he later told me that he went to the park and waited around for almost an hour, but never saw me. He was looking for a black Volkswagen Beetle, but I was in a navy blue Volkswagen Cabriolet, and perhaps I was so engrossed in my history textbook that I didn't notice his gold Pinto (after all, I had my back to the road, so I could watch the river).

Although we continued to exchange e-mails for several years, I never saw him again.

Back To Top

Backstage

This was originally a much longer poem that I wrote in 1997. The original meaning was obscured when the tune I wrote for the song turned out to be not quite half the length of the original poem.

Originally, this was about feeling misunderstood, and wanting badly to be understood, rather than about any conscious effort to pretend to be someone you're not.

As a child, a lot of teachers labeled me as a bad child because I confused them. On the one hand, I was highly intelligent, and on the other hand, I have multiple learning disabilities. They didn't know what to make of a highly intelligent child that did extremely poorly in some academic areas, and was so socially oblvious, so many of them drew the conclusion that I must just be bad. If I was so intelligent, but had such poor social skills and did so poorly in several subjects, that had to just be bad behavior, and not multiple disabilities. This song is really about seeing behind the labels that others imposed on me, to the person that I really am backstage.

I was in more plays than anyone in the history of my high school, and I was sitting by myself, playing the piano on the stage in my high school auditorium when I wrote it, thinking back to all the rehearsals, which had always been the place I found it easiest to make new friends. Perhaps because of the characters they played on stage, people just seemed more genuine backstage, they let their true selves show more than they ever did in the hallways, classrooms, or cafeteria, as if needing to create that contrast. People I got to know backstage really knew me. I wanted to have that kind of a relationship with the rest of the world, for them to see me and not draw false conclusions about me because of things I can't control about myself.

Even though I am Caucasian, I understand racism from the inside, because I was treated with the same sort of prejudice and discrimination that many have experienced due to the color of their skin. In reality, when you go backstage and look beyond the surface, what you find is very, very seldom anything that prejudice can predict. The world would be a much better place if everyone got to know each other backstage.

Back To Top

The Dark Horse

The Dark Horse was the fourth complete song I ever wrote, unless perhaps there are some earlier ones that I've forgotten about. I feel like this was the song that really cemented my musical writing style.

It was a Sunday afternoon in June or July, 1994, and I was sitting at the piano in a small chapel, killing time between Sunday morning church service and handbell choir practice. I was thinking about how alone and lonely I was, and how much I wished I had a friend. Because I was in a church, the song came out as a prayer. I put the depths of my loneliness into this piece, and also, the heights of my optimism, that the future would be better than today.

I entered this piece into 1994's Project XL student competition, and it reached Level 1. The school adminstration said that it did better than any previous entry by any student at my high school. I entered the song as an instrumental piece under the title, "The Dark Horse." The title was my mother's idea, because a dark horse is a little-known or little thought of candidate who unexpectedly wins the race. As someone who is different, I met with a lot of prejudice and discrimination throughout my childhood, yet I was intelligent, talented, and hard-working, so I was expected to have a bright future, nonetheless.

Considering that the song was about being so alone, but hoping for a better future, I thought that The Dark Horse was a good title for this song. I have tried other titles, such as, "Hope," but, ultimately, even if other songs have come out since I wrote The Dark Horse that have used the same title, there is really no better title than the original one.

Back To Top

Disappear

This song is about having a social anxiety disorder. It's about how, if one person says one little thing, it can have catastrophic consequences. I wrote this song because a friend of mine badly misunderstood something that I said. I told her that I thought that there would be a lot fewer school shootings if there were effective anti-bullying programs in schools. I described my own childhood experiences and said that I could imagine how someone else in my circumstances would have become a school shooter.

She very badly misunderstood what I was saying, and believed that I wished I had been a school shooter and thought that it was perfectly fine for kids to bring guns to school and shoot their classmates. I was horrifed at the misunderstanding, however, I was unable to convince her that she had severely misunderstood what I said. She believed that I was pretending to change my position because it was morally reprehensible.

This is far from the first or only time such a thing has happened in my life. One person saying one thing to me can cause my social anxiety to flare up for years. People have no idea the harm they do sometimes.

I wrote the bridge years before I wrote the rest of the song. It was just hanging around in a notebook from 2003 until, one day, I realized that it would fit perfectly with this song.

Back To Top

Distant

For a long time, Distant was the best song I'd ever written. I wrote the beginning and ending my Junior year of high school, just as an instrumental piece. In fact, I remember the day I wrote it, just after I finished playing it for the first time, a friend knocked on the door of the music practice room and said, "Congratulations, you finally wrote something in a major key!"

Although I had been writing a lot of music at the beginning of my Senior year of high school, I hadn't written one thing since my first boyfriend and I had started dating. Then, I wrote this song the day before he broke up with me, and right away, I bookended it with the piece from my Junior year.

I had no idea at the time that he was going to break up with me the next day. I only knew that he was acting very distant, and that something was wrong, but he wouldn't tell me what it was.

Back To Top

Don't Go

My mother had a hypertensive crisis. Although she recovered, I did not know at the time that she ever would. I didn't know if it was a stroke, or something else.

I asked her all the usual questions: What year is it? Who is the President? Seeing that words were giving her problems, I asked her if she liked the President. She gave me the wrong answer, so I knew it was not just a problem with language.

I asked over and over again if she knew who I was. She couldn't tell me. She finally did manage to say, "You," but that did not assure me that she knew who I was.

She couldn't repeat what I just said. She didn't know where she was. I was so scared that we would never be able to have a conversation again, that the rest of her life would be a living death, devoid of memory and of connection.

I can't read these lyrics without getting chills. I think it's a deeply moving song, and anyone who has ever had a loved one with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia or memory loss can surely relate to it.

Back To Top

Elevator

A song for my second boyfriend. While I could not write music while my first boyfriend and I were dating, it turned out that this was not true in other relationships. My relationship with my second boyfriend was a different kind of relationship, based more in music than in anything else. We used to spend a lot of time together in practice rooms, playing the piano together, and I have never had a musical relationship like that with anyone else.

I had been very depressed, and spending time with him made me feel like my state of mind had gotten on an elevator and gone from the bottom to the top.

Although I never told him that I loved him, I said it several times in the songs I wrote during our brief relationship.

Back To Top

Empty Place

I had a friend, his name was Chris. We had taken piano lessons from the same teacher, though I only knew him by sight until just a few months before his death. We became very close during those months.

We were both on the Fine Arts Academic Team, and three of the guys in Chris's garage band were in school plays with me. We bonded over music.

Chris confided in me about his depression, but there was nothing anyone could really do to help him. His loss was utterly devastating to me, and it permanently altered the course of my life.

I was late finding out about his death. He died on Friday night, and I didn't find out until Sunday evening. The next day, I made the mistake of asking permission to go to his funeral, and the school secretary told me I'd need a parent's permission. Perhaps I took her too literally; both my parents were out of town and unavailable until evening, so instead of attending his funeral with many kids who didn't even ask for permission before leaving the school campus, I stayed behind and waited by myself for hours after school for my mom to come and pick me up.

As I sat there by myself, grieving in isolation, the first verse and chorus of Empty Place came into my head. I only had my school notebooks with me, but I captured the melody as best I could, using college ruled paper as oversized staff paper.

Over the next couple months, the other verses and the bridge slowly took shape. The bridge was originally another complete song, but I realized that I had accidentally pilfered part of the melody from another composer, something that has happened to me perhaps six or seven times over the years.

I want to take this opportunity to say, if you are feeling suicidal, please get help. Call a suicide hotline. Even if you don't know it, there are people that really care about you who would be devastated by your loss, and who would help you if they only knew how. Reach out. If you feel like you can't go on, draw a picture about it, write a song or poem or essay about it, talk to someone about it, scream about it, cry about it, even break furniture about it, anything to keep yourself alive for one more day. It really can get better.

Back To Top

Gatita

In the early Summer of 1999, there was a feral calico kitten living in the woods behind my house. She was the great-great granddaughter of the calico cat my parents had before I was born, at least a fifth generation calico cat. (In those days, people in rural areas did not spay or neuter their cats, because barn cats helped to keep down the population of rodents.) Usually, our cats had kittens where we could find them, and they became used to people from a young age, but sometimes, they would be hidden in a place where we could not find them when they were very young, and they would hiss and scratch people who tried to get near them. If you got a kitten at just the right age, though, you could still teach it to socialize with people.

I tried to catch Gatita three times, and the third time, I was successful. I was wearing thick leather gloves so she couldn't shred my arm. In order to calm her down, I put her in the bathtub (with no water in it, of course) for about five minutes, and left her alone. Then, I picked her up and sat with her on the couch. She crawled under my elbow and started purring. I had never seen a feral kitten warm up so quickly. She was really too old for the attempt, but I suppose she was just unusually personable.

Gatita was my cat for many years. She lived with me during the rest of college, and for some time afterwards. Despite her feral kittenhood, in a few years, she was actually afraid to go outside, when I got her a harness and leash. She loved to play fetch (with the pompom eyeball of a toy whale that she had quickly destroyed, which fit perfectly into her mouth), and she always came when I called her name. During our first year together, she used to love to wake me up every morning by leaping onto my face, pressing her paws into my eyes and her claws into my eyebrows, but once I started instinctively sleeping with my arm over my eyes, she stopped that particular bad habit.

Later in life, I adopted a miniature dachshund. The two of them were about the same size, and they loved to wrestle and play together.

When she was just a little kitten, a few days after I took her away from her life as a feral cat, I started to sing to her, "La gatita, hola, hola. Hola, y ¿cómo estás?" I'm far from fluent in Spanish, but I tend to think in whatever vocabulary word, in whatever language, comes to mind first. I've been known to throw words from four different languages into one four-word sentence, such as when I once said, "Le bacon ist fine," which was French for 'the' (le), English for 'bacon' (bacon), German for 'is' (ist), and Italian for 'finished' (fine).

Gatita was a wonderful and much-loved cat, who lived a long life, much longer than she would have lived if she had remained the feral kitten in the woods. Since Gatita has come and gone from my life, there have been other cats, but none who inspired me to write a song about them. (Actually, in 1991, I made up a song for my kitten, Winifred, but unfortunatrely I later realized that I had used the tune from The Beatles song, Yesterday.) All of Calico's descendents are long gone now, but people do still dump unwanted litters of kittens from time to time, out on rural roads like mine, and every cat since Gatita has been part of such unwanted litters, dumped like liter next to the creek (though, thankfully, not thrown into the creek in a sack), each adopted by someone like me, a rural person who just can't let innocent cats or kittens be homeless if they are not too feral to make their home with me.

Back To Top

Going Home

I was practicing some chord changes on the guitar, when I started to hear a melody that went along with the chords, complete with lyrics, so I went over to the piano to write it down. At first, the lyrics only said, "Well, you know, I'm going over there," which made me ask myself, "Where are you going? Hmm. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill." Once I thought of that, the first verse immediately came to me.

I realized that this song could go one of two ways. There are songs like Wayfaring Stranger and Beyond The Sunset that are clearly about going to one's eternal home, however this song never felt like it was about crossing the Jordan.

I had just read a book that was set in Indianapolis, which is where I lived during my final year of college. I started thinking about that flat, treeless place, and what it was like to come home and see how beautiful Southeastern Indiana is, with the hills, streams, and trees. This song is about feeling like you're finally breathing again after living somewhere that felt positively stifling, and the peace and joy you feel when you've been gone for months and you've finally come home. It also felt poignant, because I wrote it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back To Top

Half Sick of Shadows

A lot of people are going to think this song is about addiction. Perhaps it is, though I was not thinking about addiction when I wrote it. This is about The Man of Shalott, a character inspired by The Lady of Shalott. The Man of Shalott may be half sick of shadows, but, as much as he abhors them, they are also his refuge. This is a song about anxiety, about being trapped by your own fears and unable to live the life you want, staying in the shadows instead of walking in the sunlight.

Back To Top

Hallway

Hallway was the eighth complete song I ever wrote, if my memory serves me well. My Junior year of high school, there was a boy I liked who I passed in the hallway every day after German class. For just a moment, our eyes would meet, and I'd quickly look away. When I looked back, he seemed to look disappointed. I also caught him watching me play the piano in the music department, so I thought maybe he liked me back.

As it turned out, he only liked my music. He also was impressed by my ability to be myself without fear. He was so petrified of bullies. He didn't know that I had survived such severe bullying that I had learned at a very young age that trying to be someone other than myself would do no good.

I had his admiration, but just as a friend and musician.

Back To Top

Hanukkah

On the weekend of the Fourth of July, 2020, my husband said, "I don't know why; I'm looking forward to Hanukkah." I replied, "That's strange; you're not even Jewish."

I was under the dining room table vacuuming, and he was in the kitchen. (I usually sit on the floor to vacuum and crawl across the floor, so I don't hurt my back by bending and twisting.)

I turned off the vacuum and sang:
I don't know why;
I'm looking forward to Hanukkah.
I don't know why;
I'm not even Jewish.

I stopped singing and asked my husband, "Should I write this down?"

"Yes, definitely," he said. So I crawled out from under the dining room table, grabbed a junk mail envelope, and went to the piano to write it down.

I know that I asked a Passover question regarding Hanukkah, but I find it really appropriate coming from someone who isn't Jewish and doesn't know much about Judaism, but is really interested, as if drawn by an ancestral memory.

I think it's good to have songs like this at a time when racism (and therefore anti-Semitism) has come to the fore and white supremacists are coming out of the woodwork.

Part of the inspiration for this is, when my husband was already out of college, his mother decided to convert to Reform Judaism, or, as we have privately joked, she became a Bacon Jew (a liberal Jewish person that eats bacon, thus does not keep Kosher). She changed her name to Azariah, a Biblical name.

On my side of the family, my name was originally going to be Hannah Rebecca Rolfes, but when my mom told my paternal grandmother, she said not to name me that because it sounded Jewish. My mom was taken aback, but decided to name me Susannah instead of Hannah. That's why Susannah is spelled that way; the Sus- stands in for the H-. (I do like Susannah better, but it's cool that Hannah is a palindrome. The joke was on Grandma, anyway, because Susannah is also a Hebrew name.) My middle name, Margaret, is after my aunt Maggie. (I prefer the sound of Susannah Rebecca, but I wouldn't legally change it because my aunt Maggie was very good to my sister and I when we were growing up.) We never knew if it was anti-Semitism or just that we are not Jewish and life might be harder for someone with a Jewish name. I assumed the worst until I was about 12.

Then, when we went through my great-aunt Loretta's things (my dad's dad's sister, so my paternal grandma's sister-in-law), we found a garnet Star of David necklace (which is now my sister's). That made us wonder if this was an heirloom, passed from mother to daughter for generations. Loretta's mother's maiden name was Fuchs, which is a German Jewish surname (and also just a German surname), so we have wondered about possible Ashkenazi heritage on that side of the family. I traced the Fuchs family back to a shoemaker in the town of Selters in the Duchy of Nassau, but I have only gone back five generations, and they might have converted to Christianity in the Middle Ages for all I know. I think the Fuchs family was Lutheran (based on the cemeteries where the first two generations were buried after they immigrated to the United States). The other sides of my dad's family are all Catholic, as far as I have traced them (which has been through church records, in many cases).

I have thought that perhaps I have Jewish ancestry since I was about 12. My mother-in-law was a Reform Jew during the final decade of her life. So both of us are, unsurprisingly, interested in, and have no prejudice against, Jewish people or Judaism.

The State of Israel is a whole other matter, and irrelevant to the discussion. Many Palestinians were and still are wrongly treated. Both nations have the right to exist. A refuge from the next Holocaust is absolutely necessary. But not at the expense of the well-being of another people, who have an equal right to exist.

At the risk of sounding, "All lives matter," no people deserves to be a fourth world people. The Jewish people were a Fourth World People from 69 C.E. (A.D.) until 1948. They had to pay a special tax to live in Islamic countries (in the Middle Ages) and they were persecuted, murdered (often en masse), and oppressed by European countries, and were expelled from every country in Europe at least once (except for Ireland). Then, they got their homeland back after almost 2000 years, which marginalized Palestinians, many of which had to give up homes and lands that had been in their family for over 1000 years, and without compensation!

That made Palestinians a Fourth World People, and my sympathies always lie more with Fourth World Peoples. Israel is separate from Jewish people. It's relevant to Jewish people worldwide, but a separate issue entirely. And Judaism is separate from people who are ethnically Jewish, as many people convert to Judaism, and many people convert away from Judaism. You could draw a Venn diagram to show the overlap and the differences between ethnically Jewish people, people who practice Judaism, and Israelis.

What I am looking at here in this song is an interest in the culture and religion of Judaism from someone who lacks familiarity, but feels a connection somehow. I am not the speaker in this song; if anyone is, it's my husband, though if so, I put mostly of the words in his mouth. Really, he's the inspiration, not the speaker.

Back To Top

Hiatus

When my second boyfriend broke up with me, it was because his family had decided to move to a different part of the state shortly after graduation. This pained me more than the breakup, since it would mean he would probably be out of my life permanently. In fact, I only saw him once after graduation, so I turned out to be right.

He told me that there was a chance his father wouldn't get the job, in which case, they wouldn't be moving, and we could re-think the break-up. Regardless, though, we would be attending different colleges in different parts of the state in five months.

Of course, my anxiety issues and attachment disorder meant that I didn't know how to talk to him once I was supposed to assume less familiarity. I felt like one of my internal organs was missing. Strange how attached I got to him, when we only dated for a few weeks and we never even kissed.

And yet, there was something there, in the music we shared, and in our conversations, that had been missing in my life up until that point, and it would be a long time before I had that kind of a connection with anyone else. I was bereft. I kept hope alive that we would reconcile until the day I heard he was engaged.

Since I won't be telling the story of the song I wrote the day of his wedding, I will talk about that here. I accidentally wrote that song to the tune of No Rain by Blind Melon. I visited all the places we had been together, and said good-bye. And by the time the sun began to set, I was finally over him. I hoped it was an evening wedding, because it seemed highly inappropriate for me to be pining away for a married man. Had he told me about the engagement himself, instead of waiting for someone else to tell me about it, I might have beat the deadline.

Back To Top

Hold On

I wrote this song less than a month before I realized that I was in an abusive relationship. Like a frog slowly boiling in water, I failed to notice how bad things had gotten.

On some level, I must have known, even though I wasn't consciously aware of it. At the time I wrote it, I wondered why.

I imagined this song performed by Billy Corgan with backing music similar to the song Cherub Rock by Smashing Pumpkins.

In order to protect the privacy of my former abuser, I will not say anything more.

Back To Top

Honeysuckle Tree

This song is a, "Please don't stop being my friend just because your girlfriend is jealous and suspicious," song, written to the man I eventually married 12 years later. It also reads as a, "Don't walk away from this relationship," song. We became best friends the day we first started talking. We were two Autistic adults perseverating on autism and feeling normal for the first time in our lives. When you have been different all your life, it is such a novel, fascinating, captivating experience to find someone who feels like they're from the same planet as you are.

Back To Top

How Great It Is

Another song written for my second boyfriend. He was the new kid in the second grade, and I liked him. I couldn't say why. He was kind and smart and geeky. I think maybe he was on the Autism Spectrum. There was definitely something about him. And, being that I was just seven at the time, one day before school, I asked him, "Do you know who my boyfriend is?" When he said he didn't, I reached out and touched the zipper tab on his coat, and then got very bashful about it. We spent every recess together for the rest of the school year after that.

Since almost all the boys in my grade hit, kicked, tripped, and spit on me, sexually harassed me, and called me names, there really weren't many to choose from when I tried to decide which boy I was going to have a crush on. I would sometimes try having a crush on another boy, but I just couldn't manage it. It was him or no one, even though this meant I was too shy to speak to him most of the time by Jr. High. What happened to that bold little girl who told him (didn't ask him; told him) that he was her boyfriend?

That is another story.

This was such a joyful song when I wrote it.

Back To Top

How Many Days

One day, I decided to go through all the Billboard Top 100 songs for each year, going back to when they first started keeping music charts, to see how many of them I knew. At first, it was because I didn't listen to popular music from about 1986-1996, but then after I read through the charts for that decade, I decided it would be fun to go through all the charts with my mom and my husband, to see which songs each of us did or didn't know.

One thing I noticed was that some of the same song titles kept coming up, even though they were different songs with the same title. I joked, "If you want to have a song on the Top 100 chart, name it Butterfly."

Years later, I was making a joke about writing a song called Butterfly, when I told my husband that the first line would be, "She grew milkweed for the monarchs."

That line immediately made me think of my mother-in-law, Azariah, who died of lung cancer in 2008. She grew milkweed for the monarchs, even though she lived in an apartment. I will always associate monarch butterflies with her, especially because we decided to honor her memory at our wedding by using a lot of blue monarch butterflies in our wedding decorations. There was a blue monarch on the invitations, there was one in every flower arrangement, there was one in my bouquet, there was one on my veil, there was one on my flower girl. Also, there is a monarch butterfly engraved on her headstone.

We made several lengthy road trips to visit her during her nine-month battle with cancer, and when my fiance (now my husband) and I went to oncology appointments with her, she kept asking them how much time she had left, and no one would give her a straight answer. I never saw her cry about anything except her desperation to know how much time she had left.

The last time we saw her alive, they told her she had at least six months. A month later, she was on her deathbed, and we were both scrambling to get time off work, and rushing to pack what we'd need. At the time, my fiance and I lived about 140 miles apart. We were both driving on our way to meet up for the long trip to Milwaukee when he got word that she had already died. They had told her she had hours left. We'd believed we could make it, but even if we had simply rushed out of our workplaces and started driving the second we got word, we already would have been too late.

This song isn't called Butterfly. It uses the motif of monarch butterflies, but it's really about Azariah, and how she wanted to know how many days she still had left.

Back To Top

I Never Saw A Moor

In 1997, one day, I sat down at the piano, determined to figure out what made a song sound Celtic. I tried various things on the piano and I wrote a short instrumental piece that sort of sounded Scottish to me, and I named it, "Scottish Aire."

Then, about a year later, I heard one of the main themes of the melody on the radio: the riff in, "My Heart Will Go On." I was so upset! I'd have to change my song, even though mine was first! I was so disgusted.

The following year, I was sitting at the piano and wrote, "I Never Saw A Moor," quite by accident. It just popped into my head. I realized that the remains of, "Scottish Aire," that didn't sound like the riff from, "My Heart Will Go On," would work well to bookend this new piece. I also thought the ethnic sound fit very well with the theme, because there are so many moors in Scotland.

All's well that ends well.

Back To Top

If I Knew Then

In January, 2000, a friend of mine who had never had a boyfriend or even been on a date finally found someone she liked, who liked her back. In a whirlwind, they were engaged in less than a month, planning to get married at the end of the semester.

Then, just a couple months into their relationship, he broke it off, and she was completely devastated. I wrote this song, partly in sympathy with her pain, and partly in relief, because I was pretty sure he was a narcissist and a sociopath, and I had been trying to figure out how to warn her without alienating her.

Back To Top

If Nothing Else

I imagine this being performed by Leonard Cohen. It just popped into my head one day in the Spring of 2009. It's the imagining of one's own self-depreciating eulogy.

I easily wrote the first verse and chorus, then it took me 10 years to find the right lyrics for the second two verses. I think it was well worth the wait, as I could not be happier with how the song turned out.

Back To Top

Is it Just Me?

This was the first song I wrote for my husband, who, at the time, was just a friend. We were both in relationships with other people, relationships in which we were both being controlled and abused, though neither of us were aware of it yet.

It's about the connection I always felt with him, based on us both being Autistic, working with the same basic neurological differences, and also having so many common interests.

Looking back, it sounds like I am protesting too much, like I am trying to keep believing that our feelings for each other are strictly platonic, like a brother and sister. Indeed, it took us an awfully long time to figure that out.

Back To Top

The Light In The Darkness

When I was in grade school, some of my teachers were very good, and some of them were not. Some of my teachers decided that, because I was different, I must be bad. Because I was severely bullied, I must be the cause of all the trouble.

There is a term now, "Bullycide," which means that someone has resorted to suicide due to bullying. Although bullycide is not new, it's not something that most people used to worry about; there wasn't even a word for it.

Some of my teachers did worry about me, though many of them said horrible things about me. One of them refused to help me because I may as well get used to it; another one told my mother that comparing me to my best friend was like comparing Dr. Jekyll (my friend) to Mr. Hyde (me).

None of it was deserved. I am far from alone in these circumstances.

Social Darwinism is the belief that some cultures are superior to others and will ultimately come to an end, replaced by superior cultures, superior peoples. On a micro level, this is how many of my teachers felt about me. No child can fail to be negatively affected by such attitudes. I survived. Not every bullied child is so lucky.

Back To Top

The Lost Library

This song was inspired by the Library of Alexandria, and other Lost Things. After my grandfather died, I remembered that there were so many things he said he'd have to teach us how to make someday, so the knowledge wouldn't be lost. Then, he died suddenly of a heart attack, in the middle of building a new cattle feed rack, without ever showing us how to do most of those things he had learned how to do when he was growing up in rural Kentucky during the Great Depression.

There are so many things that are so easily lost. Books and species, family histories, languages, systems of writing, great works of art and architecture.

It's the second song I wrote about this idea; the first one was in relation to my friend Chris's suicide, but I realized that part of the tune was inadvertently copied from another person's song. I'm glad that, later, I was able to write another song about the loss of irreplaceable things. It gives me chills every time I read the lyrics.

Back To Top

#metoo

I wrote this song during the #metoo movement in 2018. At one point in my life, I realized that only a couple of my female friends hadn't told me their story about surviving a sexual assault (whether a second-degree sexual assault or a rape), and I wondered if those few women simply didn't want to talk about it. (I also have had a few male friends who were sexual assault survivors, and their trauma is the same as that of the women I have talked to, there are just a lot fewer men who have survived a sexual assault and/or are willing to talk about it.) I wondered if it was a universal experience among women. I wondered if there was even one woman that I knew that had not survived a sexual assault. (Certainly, there was not one Autistic woman that I knew well who hadn't told me about having survived at least one, if not multiple, sexual assaults; we are a much more vulnerable population, because of our social deficits.)

I am a rape survivor, and prior to that, I was already a survivor of second-degree sexual assault. However, this song does not tell my story. Instead, it tells a more universal story about how that trauma continues to affect you for the rest of your life. It uses rain as a metaphor. When you survive a sexual trauma, it's like a tornado or a hurricane ripped through your life. Years later, you can just be going about your life and all of a sudden, something triggers those memories for you.

Unless you have a more serious case of PTSD, after a few years, it's like a dark cloud just came over everything. You don't let it control your life, you don't give it that power. You have reduced that hurricane down to a rain on your parade. Still, every time you hear someone else's story, you think about your own. Every time something reminds you (and it could be anything), that dark cloud comes over you and it still affects you, even though it was many years ago and a lot of good things have happened in your life since then.

I hope this song helps people who have never survived sexual assault to have empathy for those of us who have, and I hope, perhaps, it can give some sexual assault survivors hope that, one day, it won't overshadow your life. One day, it really will be like a rain on your parade.

Back To Top

My Father Cheats At Solitaire

When I was a little girl, Grandma Rolfes came to Cincinnati for about two weeks every Easter, and stayed with my aunt while she was in town. My dad and his brother would meet them at my aunt's house, and they would all sit around with decks of cards, playing Solitaire for hours. They never played card games together, and they didn't say very much while they were playing Solitaire.

There were never any other kids to play with, and there were no toys, and they always had the TV tuned to the Golf Channel. No offense to anyone who enjoys golf, but the only thing more boring than watching the adults play Solitaire was watching the Golf Channel.

My sister and I sat around listening to the sparse conversation and waiting until it was time go eat, while my mother tried to make polite conversation with my uncle's wife.

Once, it got so boring that I asked for a deck of cards. I sorted out the four suits, then made up a game using only Hearts and Spades (because a Spade kind of looks like an upside-down Heart with a handle). I had been playing this game for maybe half an hour when my aunt said, "You forgot some of your cards over here." I replied, "No, I didn't; I'm not playing with a full deck."

I hoped that people would appreciate my joke, that maybe someone would laugh for once. Instead, my aunt said, "You don't know what that means," and I cheerfully replied, "Yes I do." I never tried to make them laugh again.

Another time, my uncle started accusing my father of cheating at Solitaire. I thought, "Why would anyone cheat at Solitaire? You wouldn't be fooling anyone but yourself."

Later, though, I considered it. At home, my father played Solitaire every day. Sometimes, I would walk over and ask him to play cards with me, and we would play until he lost. The first time I won, that was it; he wouldn't play anymore.

So, I learned to play to lose. I would always start with King's Corners, because I could easily lose that game on purpose over and over again. The last game we played was always Crazy 8's, because there was an element of chance in Crazy 8's and I sometimes accidentally won because of it.

After he lost, it would be weeks or months before we played cards again. If he had that big of a problem with losing, perhaps he really did cheat at Solitaire, just so he could feel like he won.

A few years after the incident when my uncle accused my dad of cheating at Solitaire, my mom happened to mention it, and I wrote the line of music in my head, "My father cheats at Solitaire, he fools nobody, nobody, nobody but himself, himself, he fools nobody, nobody, nobody but himself."

As for the accompaniment, I wrote a song called Medieval Aire in 1996, and in 1997, I realized that, if I changed the style, I could use the same notes (with some variation) and it would sound like Swing. This only worked for the first 14 measures of Medieval Aire. I named the new, Swing version Cat On A Wire, and it remained unfinished until 2020.

I always felt like these two pieces would go well together. They were both Swing, and they were both written in the same key, yet, when I put them back to back, they never worked. Then, in May of 2020, I tried playing them one on top of the other, and voila!

After more than 23 years, I finally got them to work together! I would have needed three hands to play it as an instrumental piece, so I had never considered the possibility before.

My Father Cheats At Solitaire became what is probably my first complete Swing Revival song.

Back To Top

One of Us

There was a guy I liked my first semester of college. He liked me, too, but was hung up on another girl who just wanted to be friends. He realized that his feelings for me were never going to be more than a crush, though he did want to be friends with me, and he was attracted to me, even though he absolutely believed that I was not the right one for him.

No matter how I felt about him, there was no point in me waiting around for him to change his mind. It would take more than one of us to make a relationship, and I was the only one who wanted to pursue it.

Back To Top

R'lyeh

This song was originally two separate, unfinished songs, written about a year and a half apart. The middle part (about traveling alone and island dreams) was written first, and I had no idea what it meant.

Then, a year and a half later, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was playing chords and percussive guitar, when the melody and lyrics, "There is something moving deep beneath the ground," came out. Again, at first, I didn't consciously know what the song meant. I thought about all the things that move deep beneath the ground. Earth worms. Tectonic plates. Moles. Ground hogs. Badgers. Magma. Snakes. I decided it was something smaller than a tectonic plate, but bigger than an earthworm. In the natural world, it sounded most like magma, yet that clearly wasn't it.

Then, after I put the two unfinished songs together, I realized that it was about Cthulu, as a metaphor for COVID-19, the sleeping pandemic that could awaken to become the destroyer of worlds.

I think that, "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulu waits dreaming," is a good metaphor for COVID-19. Much like Cthulu, SARS-CoV-2 does not care about us. We are irrelevant. When I read Lovecraft, I didn't believe Cthulu himself was evil or malicious; it's just that we're like bugs to him. He has no idea that we are the intelligent form of life on this planet, so he awakens and starts killing people nearby, as you or I might swat a fly that was buzzing around us.

This virus is like that, it just jumped species and started killing people because it cannot understand the value of a human life.

I am sure that COVID-19 inspired this song, though I was not conscious of that when I wrote it. They always come from somewhere; some are more obvious than others. Sometimes, songs come like dreams, and, just as I can't always tell what my dreams mean, I can't always tell what the lyrics mean. Other times, the symbols are obvious, and still other times, they become obvious upon reflection.

Something is moving deep beneath the ground, trying to get out to annihilate us. Not so much as a species; as individuals. Your world ends when you die, because you no longer experience it. The world that is left behind is a different world, at least, it feels like it to those who loved you.

Cthulu turns over in his sleep. We feel the rumblings. A few sailors on a storm-tossed ship see R'lyeh rise from the depths, and only one survives to tell the tale. Will R'lyeh fall back beneath the waves? Will Cthulu turn over in his sleep and have another dream? Or, as it has already jumped from bats to pangolins to humans to tigers, will COVID-19 rampage through our food supply (cows, pigs, chickens, etc), causing a shortage of safe food, resulting in a massive die-off of humans and a collapse of civilization? We simply don't know.

The earth trembles. Cthulu stirs. May he dream on, and let this pandemic pass.

Back To Top

Reality

This was the last song I wrote about my first boyfriend. One day, I was putting on some old clothes, when I realized that the first time I wore these old, faded, torn jeans with the stain on the knee was my second date with my first boyfriend. I thought back about how I used to feel about him, and wrote this song.

I submitted it as a poem to poetry.com and it was published in an anthology, though I do retain the copyright.

Back To Top

Ringtone

I decided to try to write a pop song. I thought maybe I would feel more like I could try to sell music for someone else to sing if it wasn't about my own life. I needed a topic. A teenage girl waiting by the phone seemed to be a good one, except, I realized that teenagers don't really wait by the phone anymore. They carry them around in their pockets...with custom ringtones, so they don't even have to look at the phone to know who's calling.

It immediately became clear to me, the modern version of waiting for the phone to ring, wishing the guy would call.

When I played the song for my husband, he said it reminded him of Beowulf. Oops, I guess I'm no good at writing empty-headed pop songs.

Back To Top

River Swans

I wrote River Swans in 1983, when I was 3 or 4 years old. It was the first complete, evocative song that I ever wrote. Prior to River Swans, I'd written a lot of short melodies and jingles (some of which I have used in songs I've subsequently written as an adult), but I had never written a real, full-length melody until River Swans.

My parents had recently purchased a Farfisa Royal Artist chord organ for $15 at a yard sale, and I'd been making up simple melodies and playing familiar melodies by ear. One day, I heard some adults talking about the song Swanee River (The Old Folks at Home, by Steven Foster). To the best of my knowledge, I had never heard Swanee River, so, in typical toddler logic, I decided that I had better go write it.

To my hearing, they were not saying, "Swanee River," but rather, "swany river." I assumed that, "Swany," was an adjective that meant, "full of swans." I envisioned gently, slowly floating down the Ohio River in a small wooden boat, surrounded by swans swimming in and out of the fog. River Swans was the first song I ever wrote that could make someone feel something. It was expressive. Peaceful. Evocative.

River Swans is written in a minor pentatonic scale, something that I had no idea about as a child. When I learned that the minor pentatonic scale is one of the two scales (along with the blues scale) usually used in heavy metal, I was surprised, because River Swans is a very calm, peaceful song, so very different from heavy metal!

Originally entitled Swany River, I renamed it River Swans, to avoid confusion with The Old Folks At Home, which is often called Swanee River.

Back To Top

(What Caused the) Silence

When I was eight, I was sent a summer program that my parents believed was a summer camp for children with special needs, who are often bullied and marginalized by other children. My mother was always looking for good programs for me to spend time socializing with other children during the summer, such as summer theater acting workshops, swimming lessons, musicals, group art lessons, ballet and tap dancing classes, and summer camps.

What they didn't know was that this particular program was actually a behavior modification program for at-risk children. By the time my parents came to pick me up at the end of my ten-day session, I could no longer communicate. When my dad's car pulled into the parking lot, I noticed it but continued to walk in line with the other girls to our next activity. When my mother called my name, I barely glanced at her. They immediately knew that something was terribly wrong. My mother and I had always been very close and, prior to this, I had never been away from her for even 24 hours in my entire life. She expected me to run to her and throw my arms around her, and instead, I completely failed to react to her presence.

I've actually written an entire book manuscript about my experiences, what this program did to me, and what I have done to try to understand what happened to me, as well as my long-term efforts to recover from the damage that this program caused. It's difficult to know how to explain it concisely, except to say that it is similar to anti-Gay conversion therapy.

As a young child, I was known as someone who talked all the time. A girl on my school bus called me, "Motormouth," and people who don't know what they're talking about tend to assume that I'm bipolar and in a hypomanic phase, because I have pressured speech (as well as circumstantial thought, which seems like tangential thought to anyone who doesn't pay close enough attention to understand how two seemingly disparate subjects are related).

During my time in this program, I stopped communicating. Which is not to say that I didn't speak; I did recite rhymes, chants, and cheers that we learned in the program, but it took me a couple months before I could even ask why my mother didn't come and get me when I mailed her my letter on the third day. I waited an entire week for her to come and rescue me, while I got worse and worse every day. Because she apparently ignored my cry for help, I developed an attachment disorder which still affects me to this day.

It turned out that the program had held onto the letter and had not even mailed it until the day before the end of the program, which I have subsequently learned is typical of such programs, as well as of the troubled teen industry. They will not mail any letter or allow any communication that might cause a parent to come and take their child home.

Even though this happened the summer between third and fourth grade, many people that I went to high school with have subsequently told me that I never talked in high school. This seemed fairly shocking to me, since I thought that I had recovered a lot more than that by high school. I also remember having a lot of conversations and answering more questions than almost anyone else in any of my classes, yet apparently I didn't initiate conversations, so it seemed to most people that I just didn't talk.

People don't stop talking or communicating for no reason. When something like that happens, it's a clear sign that they've experienced a trauma of some kind. What amazes me the most about my whole experience is that the program I was in awarded me a ribbon for being, "Most Improved," at the end of my ten-day session. Even at the time, this confused me. I guess it's because I was quiet, and that's what mattered most to them.

Back To Top

Silent Struggles

I wrote Silent Struggles the day I first saw my first ex-boyfriend holding hands with someone else, just over a month after he broke up with me. He had a new girlfriend. There is little else that needs to be said about it; the lyrics say it all.

Back To Top

Singing in a Damaged Voice

In April, 2008, my voice was sore. I found it hard to get through the day at my call center job, and impossible to talk to my boyfriend on the phone before or after work. Day by day, my voice became more and more painful. I took a week's vacation in late June/early July, thinking the vocal rest would allow me to recover, but when I returned to work, I was barely able to make it through one day.

Before long, I had a diagnosis of a completely paralyzed true right vocal cord. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't get better, and my doctors all expected it to resolve on its own. Months later, they started telling me that vocal cord paralysis often spontaneously recovers within the first year. After that, there were really no options for me. The voice I was born with was gone.

Half my vocal range (my head voice) was gone, and I had trouble staying on key. Even after 9 months of voice therapy, I thought I could probably never carry a tune again. Some people told me they'd been tone deaf their whole lives, so I shouldn't worry about it. Others told me they could not even imagine how painful my loss had been.

Even though my original voice was gone, I worked very hard to build a new one. Eventually, I managed to build a new voice that is good enough to be a singer/songwriter.

When I performed at one of my hometown's first Song Circles in 2018, I knew that my voice was finally ready. I went home and wrote Singing In a Damaged Voice, and started getting ready to finally launch my long-delayed music career.

Back To Top

Student Housing

I wrote this during the Spring 1999 semester while drips of water and broken plaster fell from the ceiling onto the dull brown carpet of the off-campus apartment I shared with my sister. I was looking over at the phone, which never rang unless our mom called. In the next room, my sister was playing her radio, since she needs background noise to study, which made us rather incompatible roommates, because I need silence to study.

I can't remember what I meant about the brown velvet shirt, or who I was referring to.

When I hear this song in my head, it sounds a lot like Coldplay.

Back To Top

The Swallow

My mom's house is over 200 years old, and it has four chimneys, three of which are still functional. Because of this, she usually has birds in her chimney. Sometimes, a bird or a bat gets into the house and can't figure out how to get back out, and it usually falls to me to catch the frightened animal and safely escort it back outside.

A few days ago, her dog, who is about a year and a half old, decided to stick his head up one of the chimneys to bark at the birds. I guess this was sort of on my brain, because I sat down at the piano and started playing a new ostinato (riff), and singing over it. I find writing riffs for existing songs really challenging, but sometimes a song just sort of comes with a riff, or a riff comes with a melody, when it pops into my head.

I knew that the song was about a swallow, but I wasn't sure exactly how the lyrics would go. The only verse that came to me without much effort was the second one. The others sort of sat around half written for an hour or so. For a while there, I thought it was either going to go into the file of unfinished songs or the file of finished songs with unfinished lyrics, but it all worked out nicely.

Back To Top

36

I wrote this song on about January 21, 1997. Other than one day when we both got to school early, unaware that that there was a two-hour delay due to icy road conditions, my first ex-boyfriend and I had not spoken or even passed in the hallway at school for 36 days. In fact, I had intentionally changed my routes between all my classes so I wouldn't run into him, and avoided spending time with our mutual friends.

I did this because of my severe social anxiety. I didn't know what to do with myself, because I had developed an attachment to him and now I was supposed to go back to the way things were before, and I didn't know how to go backwards. I had a panic attack every time I even caught a glimpse of my ex-boyfriend, so I avoided him like the Plague. It had been just the same during our earlier week-long break-up.

36 days after he broke up with me for the second time, a friend of mine wanted to show me a mural of the 1920s which she had painted for her history class, and on the way to look at the mural after school, I suddenly saw my ex-boyfriend, and I turned around and ran. I was acting so strangely, she demanded, "Susannah! What is the matter with you? You act like there is flesh-eating bacteria in that hallway!"

I explained to her that my ex-boyfriend was in that hallway, and, in exasperation, she walked off in a huff. Meanwhile, he and I had apparently both moved down one hallway, and we walked past each other, me barely containing my panic, walking as fast as I possibly could. He said, "Hi, Susannah," and I bruskly replied, "Hi," while appearing extremely strange and distressed and putting a distance between us as quickly as possible, so I could get away from the overwhelming panic.

Other couples break up and try to still be friends. That never works out for me, because of the panic attacks that ensue. After 36 days, I was still having panic attacks. I felt less uncomfortable a few months later, when I had another boyfriend, but I was still extremely uncomfortable around my ex-boyfriend for well over a year.

I never had any ill feeling towards an ex-boyfriend, I just don't know how to be around someone I still feel attached to, who has demanded I move backwards to the distance of just being friends, as if my mother suddenly just wants to be a neighbor and not a member of my family. Only the passing of time, and the development of an attachment to someone else, can allow me to be friends with an ex-boyfriend again.
Back To Top

Tied to the Beauty

I wrote this song in 2005, when my two best friends who still lived in Indiana moved to Germany and Italy. Most of my other friends from high school and college that I'd stayed in touch with had already moved to places that might as well be another country from where we came from, such as California and New York City. I found myself suddenly without any friends in the entire region.

When we were in high school, many of my friends told me that they couldn't wait to get out of here and live some other place, and many of them even decided to move far away for college, but I wished that there had been an in-state school close enough for my to live at home during college, and I always planned to move back home right after college.

In fact, the first semester of my second year of college, I actually commuted to out-of-state Northern Kentucky University, which was an hour and 15 minutes away from home, believing that it might actually cost about the same to live at home (and pay out-of-state tuiton) as it did to pay room and board or rent and utilities at an in-state school, but ultimately, spending two and a half hours driving every day cut far too much into my time to make it a feisable option, so I never even compared the cost before I transferred to Purdue University the following semester.

When I first moved back home after college, I'm sure that some of my high school friends were around, but I had lost touch with them, since I had only kept in touch with my very closest friends. Little by little, I started to run into friends from high school. I saw one in the waiting room of the the local ear nose and throat doctor. I saw another at a hog roast benefitting the local fire department. Over time, I found more and more local friends who had moved back to the area after college, perhaps not right away, but they were drawn to this area for several reasons.

One of them was their parents. Many of them had children, and they wanted to raise them in the same kind of safe, rural community where they themselves grew up, where they could play outside. They wanted their children to grow up knowing their grandparents, instead of occasionally visiting them and not forming the deep relationships that can only happen when you spend a lot of time with someone over many years. Still others just didn't feel like home in the big cities where they thought they'd be happy after college.

For 15 years, this song sat around unfinished, until I finally realized that the best way to end it was to talk about my friends that decided to move back home. I still have friends who have moved to far-off places and will probably never live here again, but the isolation and sadness that prompted me to write this in 2005 got much better when I started to find new friends and reconnect with old friends who had also moved back home.

Back To Top

Trail of Tears

In Cherokee legend, the West is the land of the dead, the land of the setting sun. When soldiers came to force them from their homes with no warning, and gave them no chance even to pack what they would need for the journey, they must have felt that they were walking towards the land of the dead.

As so many died on the journey, on this death march to Oklahoma, it must have only confirmed their belief that they were headed to the land of the dead.

And when they got there and experienced flooding and famine and starvation, it must have only been what they expected, their worst fear, to be driven from their ancestral home and be forced to make their home in the land of the dead.

It must have been a few years before the survivors finally could muster any faith that they would actually survive.

We call it Oklahoma, because it is the home of the Okla, which is what the Cherokee called themselves, but it must have taken a long time for it to feel like anything like home.

The Choctaw, a brother nation of the Cherokee, had a legend that their ancestors had once been nomads, carrying the bones of their dead on their backs, until they finally reached the place where their dead should be buried. And that hill full of bones still exists. Choctaw descendants of those who were buried there still lived in the shadow of that hill until soldiers came and forced them to go West, to the land of the setting sun, where the dead lived.

The fear and the sadness and the pain that these people must have experienced, like so many other ethnic groups who went on forced death marches, is something that I have always known about. When I was just two years old, my family saw the play, Unto These Hills, at an outdoor theater on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. As a child, we visited the Cherokee reservation every year. We saw the play twice and we went to the museum at least seven times. I also saw another play about the events leading up to the Trail of Tears when I was in sixth or seventh grade. Unto These Hills was especially moving to me because a man whose wife died when one of the soldiers shoved her while forcing the family from their home, who then killed a soldier and fled with his son into the woods, gave up his life so that about 200 Cherokee people who were hiding in the woods would be allowed to stay, to return to their homes.

Because that man gave himself up, there has been a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina ever since. Before reservations started opening casinos, the Cherokee reservation was, I have been told, the nicest reservation in the United States. I wouldn't know, because the only other reservation I have ever been to is a Shawnee reservation in Ohio that seemed very much like any small town surrounded by forest.

In this song, the speaker is singing, "Oh, my love, oh, my love, whatever should I do without you, without you?" This is not necessarily sung to a person, at least, not exclusively. It has multiple meanings. As you see people die all around you, the person closest to you walking beside you, you can no longer suspend the knowledge that, at any moment, life can end, for you or for someone important to you. It is also a song to the home, never to be seen again, the familiar hills and streams, fields and mountains, and the heirlooms passed down through generations, left in the house when you were given no chance to even pack what you could carry. Many immigrants chose to brave the dangers and settle in a new world. The people forced on the death march known as the Trail of Tears made no such choice, and were given no chance to prepare. Their land was taken for no reason other than the fact that someone else wanted it and had the power to enforce their will, violating the rights of those who already lived there, who had inherited this place, generation after generation, for thousands of years.

Back To Top

Understand

A response to bullying. I wrote this my Junior year of high school, because of some particularly hostile classmates in my science class (I actually changed my schedule at the end of the first semester, in part just to get away from bullies, and in part because I had decided to drop Algebra II and take Painting instead).

The song speaks to how, while I longed to be understood, I was also afraid of how bullies could hurt me even more deeply if they really understood me, and the tension between those two conflicting impulses.

This song was partly inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, "To be great is to be misunderstood."

Ultimately, the desire to be understood is greater than the fear of being deeply hurt by someone who truly understands how they can hurt me, even though I have experienced both deep understanding and deep pain from verbal and emotional abuse since then. While someone who truly understands you and means you harm can hurt you like no other, someone who truly understands you and wants the best for you is a true treasure.

Back To Top

What Lies Ahead

I have no idea what this song is about. Some of my songs just arrive in my head complete with lyrics, like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus, fully grown and in full armor. I can usually at least tell where they came from. This one...I really have no idea.

Back To Top

When I Come Here

This song was originally several shorter songs that I combined together. In composition, it reminds me of Abbey Road, when The Beatles put a whole bunch of short songs together on the second side of the record.

I wrote the first part of the song at the very beginning of the school year, after a conversation with a friend who, like me, had never been on a date and had never had a boyfriend.

The place mentioned in the song is my high school auditorium, and there are a lot of people it reminds me of, because I was in more plays than anyone in the history of my high school, and my senior year, it was actually my classroom for Independent Study of Music. By the time I wrote that, it was nearly the end of my Senior year, and I was thinking about all the endings in my near future, as well as all the memories I would always take with me.

Back To Top

Where's The Door?

In October, 2016, a friend of mine was getting away from an abusive husband, just before my husband and I got married. Surrounded with the wedding decorations I was making at the time, it was so incongruous that I was writing this song. I was remembering what it was like when I had gotten out of my own abusive relationship when I wrote it.

Back To Top

Who Has Seen The Wind

I thought I heard this song when I was a little girl. Then, I was getting music together for the Pints & Pencils theme, "Go Fly A Kite," and no one I played it for recognized it. I thought perhaps it had been in a hymnal, or that my mother had taught it to me when I was little. I searched YouTube and found that none of the songs by that name sound anything like this one.

Eventually, I realized that I must have written it when I was about seven to ten years old; I must have composed it in my head when I first heard the poem, "Who Has Seen The Wind." However, since I don't really know when I first heard it in my head, I don't list it among my early songs.

Back To Top

Winter's Day

I wrote Winter's Day back in 1996 on Saturday, November 9th.
The day before, on Friday afternoon, my first boyfriend broke up with me, for no apparent reason. I was devastated, confused, and upset.

That Saturday morning, I got up before dawn to get ready for a piano competition, and I noticed that it was the first cold, wintry day of the season, which seemed very fitting to me, because of the sudden emotional coldness coming from someone I had felt very close to. I didn't have much time, but I grabbed a piece of typing paper and wrote,

"It's a cold winter's day outside
The first one of the year.
It's a cold winter's day in my heart,
Because you are not here."

The pen immediately ran out of ink, so I pressed really hard, so I could come back later and reveal the text with a pencil. I didn't have any more time to spare, so I hoped I could still remember the melody when I got home.

Early the next week, I realized that an unfinished song I'd written earlier in the year (in August), "Head In My Hands," would work perfectly as part of Winter's Day, better than the third bit of lyrics I had written on that same sheet of typing paper (Head In My Hands was about being depressed, not about the end of a relationship). By the end of the week, Winter's Day was finished. I think it was the tenth complete song I'd ever written up to that point (all the others being either unfinished or forgotten).

Exactly one week after we broke up, my first ex-boyfriend asked me out again. Two and a half weeks later, he broke up with me for the second and last time, causing me to write even more sad love songs.

Although I wrote Winter's Day on the piano, it was really written for voice and cello. When I play it on the piano as an instrumental piece, it sounds quite cheerful. It takes a brooding instrument like the cello to express what I was going through on that cold November morning, so many years ago.

Back To Top

Without You

I wrote this song when my dog died on November 7, 1998. I was at the emergency room with my mother and sister; my mother had a piece of wood imbedded in her hand, and it had swollen up alarmingly. My mother called my father from the payphone, and I could tell that he had told her something extremely upsetting, but she wouldn't say what.

My dog, elderly, hard of hearing, and with cataracts in both eyes, had wandered into the road while my father was in the garage. The woman who was driving was very sorry that it happened.

She was a 14-year-old Australian terrier, faded to the color of the autumn leaves, and probably nearly invisible on the leaf-strewn gravel road. She was probably crossing the road to get a drink in the creek.

I wrote the song so it sounds like anyone killed by a hit-and-run. You would never know that it was written about a dog, and not a person, unless you read this. Indeed, she was a person to me.

Back To Top

Wond'rous Star

In my experience, most, "Christmas music," is overly produced and one quickly gets sick of it, especially because it seems to be played for a quarter of the year these days. Christmas creep has not just overtaken Thanksgiving in the United States; it has even taken over Halloween. There is a big difference for me between, "Christmas music," and Christmas carols.

I'm not the only one who has noticed that new Christmas carols are simply not being composed anymore. Instead, it seems like every professional recording artist has produced at least one Christmas album, and, in an effort to make it stand out, they go overboard, and make it really not all that pleasant to listen to.

So, I decided to write a new Christmas carol, and Wond'rous Star is it. I wrote it in 2017, but I only had lyrics for a brief section of it:

Wond'rous star in the sky tonight,
Wond'rous star above,
Lend thy light on this
Coldest night,
Wond'rous star above.

Wond'rous star in the sky tonight,
Wond'rous star above,
Wond'rous star in the sky tonight,
Wond'rous gift of love.


I had a vague notion of, "Guide my feet," and, "be a lamp to my," and something about wise men and shepherds and peace on earth, but it wasn't until 2020 that I finally sat down and finished the lyrics. (Of all times, on Labor Day weekend! Talk about Christmas Creep!)

My Christmas album won't be like most of the others. I will include original carols and my arrangements of traditional carols, without any overproduction. I once promised my husband that I would make a Christmas CD for him that he would actually like, and, with this carol, I am one step closer.

Back To Top

Writing A Song For You

My first semester of college, I met a guy online who also wrote music. We started exchanging e-mails and one day, he sent me a MIDI file of a new song he had written and named after me. It was originally supposed to be a piano solo, but he realized you'd need several hands to play it.

I was touched by having inspired another composer to write a song, and a few months later, I wrote this song in response.

Back To Top

You Inspire Me

One of the members of my hometown's Song Circle wrote a song about being in hot water (in the bathtub), and it reminded me of lines from other songs that had an interesting twist to them, where the meaning suddenly pivots, so I decided to write one of my own.

Back To Top

You Meant The World To Me

I walked in on the man I was in a relationship with, and found him with someone else. I have never felt jealousy, but I did feel pain and betrayal, and that is what this song is about.

I won't say any more about it, because everyone deserves their privacy.

Back To Top