The Soundtrack of Your Life Project
It was winter break 2004, and I was home from Washington, D.C., sitting at the dining room table, the Chicago Tribune scattered and divided among my family and I. (I always started with the comics, then the magazine with the longform essays, and if there was time, the Style section.)
That year my brother Geoff and I were obsessed with the TV show The OC. I don’t mean to out him, but it’s Geoff’s fault I got sucked into the drama in the first place. He showed up at my condo in DC sometime that fall with the entire first season on DVD, plus two CDs with the soundtracks. I don’t think we did anything else in our nation’s capitol that weekend except watch the show and listen to the accompanying music.
That Sunday morning (I’m sure it was Sunday, and I’m sure it was morning because that’s when we read the paper), my dad slipped an article my way with a photo of the woman who was in charge of matching the music to the scenes in the episodes of The OC.
Coolest job ever, and it was at the dining room table on a cold December morn, that the Soundtrack of Your Life project was born.
That year I was teaching middle school English, and one of the skills I needed to teach was how to integrate quotations into one’s writing. Whether we use someone else’s words in our writing to support our opinions, develop our research, or move stories forward, at the heart of our decision to quote is because someone else’s words impacted us. We want to support those words in our writing so that they’re significant to the reader too. This is no different with music and song lyrics. Lyrics reinforce our stories. They help us to feel, to understand, to empathize, to keep going. I decided to have my students practice this concept using songs they love.
They were to choose 8-10 songs that mattered the them. Then they needed to design an album cover and write liner notes for it (teachers know to call it something other than an essay), quoting some of the lyrics from the song. The lyrics had to be a part of their story, just as it’s done in TV shows and movies, and they needed to be in the background, illuminating the story.
I was reminded of that project this morning when I read Margaret Walker’s Southern Song and Sorrow Home. In it, she writes about her Southern roots. I can smell the wild onion growing in the spring, and I want to walk with her in the tobacco, cotton, and sugarcane fields. She writes about the “melody beating in [her] bones and blood.” She prefers “warm skies and gulf blue streams” to the music of the cities’ els and subways, and she writes that the music in her heart is restless. “I am ready to be gone,” she tells us.
In the last stanza she leaves readers with a question. She wonders how long the Klan, hatred, and past and present inequity and racism will keep her from her own music. She uses the soundtrack of her life to get at universal themes. This is what I hoped my students would learn to do when they were expressing why song lyrics were important to them. I think it’s good and important to discuss the urgent topics of today — racism, sexism, injustice, education, COVID, etc. — but to do it through poetry, story, and music, though, is art.
It’s art that makes us feel at home with ourselves while at the same time giving us the desire and willingness to expand what and who and where home is.
This week, write a poem that gives readers a sense of the soundtrack of your life. Bonus points if you can get at a universal theme (hope? struggle? inequity? love?) in your poem.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s one from Megan Willome that we enjoyed:
Morning, Lake Isle
sunrise is its own mass
the crossing between zones – perhaps
days of beauty, perhaps
a day as hard as the ground
tundra turned sienna as its sacred origins
dawn does not bequeath serenity
but eastern lights point to linnet’s wings
I am not the woman I was –
some second Eve
arranging stone roses
around the deep heart’s core
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.
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