Inspiration: What’s Your Spark?


My middle daughter, Hannah, had an assignment for this week in school.

That, obviously, should come as no surprise to anyone.  School is in session, she obviously has assignments…but hers was particularly interesting.  She had to pick something as a prompt for writing that initially was a low point in her life that then led to a high point.  A moment that pushed you to be inspired or a burst of enthusiasm or . . . what have you.

It’s no surprise to me, of course, that her mother’s death was probably the lowest point of her very short life.  It’s an interesting thing to see the differences in all my children in how they treat the loss of their mother.  Noah doesn’t talk about it and the grief almost overtook him at times.  He had a hard time at school.  He got into trouble.

Abbi, my oldest, doesn’t like to talk about it much.

Sam, Noah’s twin, doesn’t either.

But Hannah always had no problem letting it out when she was sad.  Usually, though, that was simply to say “I miss Mom” and left it at that.

Her writing, though, was deep and poignant and sad . . . and uplifting.

Our Little Jam Session
Our Little Jam Session

Hannah is my guitar player.  She has a 1953 Supro student model guitar that I gave her and a black Fender Stratocaster that I built from parts that she uses as her mainstay.  She uses them both, which makes me happy, because I bought the Supro a number of years ago because it matched a tiny tweed Supro amplifier that I own and have recorded with in the past.  I gave it to her when she showed a propensity for the guitar.

The essay she wrote centers around the guitar lessons she took initially, when her Mom was still alive.  I stopped the lessons the summer Andrea passed because a) Hannah was going to spend the summer in Nebraska with her grandparents and b) she was not progressing as much as I knew she could.  On top of that the music director at her elementary school is amazing.  The man was a session player in the 1980’s and ’90s, he plays tons of instruments, and he’d seen Hannah play and thought she had a spark.  She had intensity not a lot of other kids her age do to play the guitar.  I knew then what he knew already: Hannah needed to be a little uncomfortable and to that end I stopped the guitar lessons.  I had her join the school choir band so she was forced to play with people who had more experience than she did.  Now she’s writing her own stuff.

Hannah started with the tragedy and some things I hadn’t realized.  When Andrea first took a turn for the worst the kids were all in our king-sized bed.  Hannah was snoring, I thought.  In her essay, though, she describes in great detail hearing me get up at 3am, rush out the door, and speed off down the road.  She talks about how I came home and told them Andrea had gone into cardiac arrest but was still alive.  She recounts the hopeful tone I tried to give the day before she died because her mother had reacted to my voice.  She avoided the funeral or the day Andrea died, simply stating that she passed away.  Hannah also wrote how we weren’t well-off then, but were even less-so now and that’s part of why I made a decision to pull her from her guitar lessons.  She’s not wrong.

But Hannah wrote about the period just between when I stopped her lessons and when she picked up the guitar again.  Much like her father (me, if you’re not paying attention) she didn’t know what to do.  Inspiration didn’t hit her and she wasn’t sure if she would keep going.  Where I wrote one song over a 2-year period and that’s it . . . she just stopped.  It was then one of our family friends told Hannah about a conversation she’d had with Andrea.  The Mom told her how proud Andrea was of Hannah.  She said that it made Andrea smile, something she did reluctantly those days due to paralysis from Bells Palsy.

Hannah heard that her mother loved her progress…even though she knew that Andrea hated the fact that I was a musician.  Hannah took that as a prodding to move forward.

Move she did.  She took the 1953 Supro off its stand and began to play with a vengeance.  Santa brought her a guitar amplifier and she plugged into it, playing constantly.  She learned Barre Chords, which is no small feat.  She began writing.

In the end, she wrote “I learned as much as I could, even though I know I have a lot more.  I did it knowing, hoping, that somehow she can hear me playing . . . and she’s proud of me.  I have a black guitar, but I still pick up that 1953 Supro, and I play it at home all the time.  It’s my connection to my Mom, and I hope she knows that she’s helped me to learn and be better than even I thought I could be.  I hope she can hear me playing and singing to her.”

I couldn’t ask for better sentiment.  I couldn’t have provided a better spark, and hearing what she plays and writes . . . it’s near a roaring flame now.

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