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October 23, 2006

Striking Out

Kelly's column is reprinted with permission from The Hills Newspapers.


My friend Deryl
came over the other day with his Gibson acoustic and humored me on another one of my “projects”: a children’s song about Homonyms. (My kindergartener and I have been tripping over homonyms for months, ever since that fateful morning when she got twisted up in “two,” “too” and “to.”) You can’t believe how often homonyms pop up. Bare, Bear. Aunt, Ant. Wring, Ring. Anyway, I really thought there was a song there. Possibly even a song and dance that could become a video that would go around the world on YouTube or find it’s way onto Sesame Street. (I’m overrun with daydreams—can’t stop the images from coming.)

So Deryl and I spent an hour on my deck playing various types of music, looking for something to build a melody on. Country, then bluegrass, then Jack Black-ish hard rock. From there, we started to work through the lyrics. The opening line was a cinch:

“When my friend Phil said ‘Fill it to the brim,”
I said ‘Whoa! Is that a homonym?’”

For that one minute, it looked like writing a kids song was as easy as it sometimes seemed. We joked that guys like Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell were robbing the bank with their albums. (We even used finger quotes when we said “albums.”)

On to the next verse! Nose and knows. It took a little longer than Phil and fill but eventually, I suggested something like:

“Every pirate knows that a ticklin’ nose
means ‘Look out boys! Thar she blows!’”

I could tell by Deryl’s guffaw that he didn’t think that one was even worth transcribing. Concerned about losing our momentum, we quickly scraped the nose-knows pairing and tried to come up with a verse using blue and blew. Surely there was something there, something about blue skies and wind that blew, but we couldn’t find it, and by then, it was time for Deryl to get back to his real job as a software developer.

So the afternoon didn't yield much and another day went by that I didn’t return the plastic ponys and flip flops that my children brought home from playdates last week. I guess The Homonym Song was a stupid idea.

All I can say for myself is that it was fun and refreshing and humbling, like falling in the snow. Being a beginner, being lost, making things up, that made me feel young. Plus, my short-lived foray into songwriting made me love a good song all the more, just as the experience of making a bench made me appreciate the tidiness of a properly mitered edge, and the experience of painting a laughably misshapen portrait of my daughter made me recognize how layered and clever even the simplest paintings are. And lastly, it can’t hurt for my kids to see me try to do something I’ve never done and fail so happily. Especially when their lives are a near-endless string of new things they are forced to try—tying a shoe, dribbling a ball, inverting a fraction.

So I say: Take a swing at it. Whatever it might be. And make sure your children are around to see it. A handful of afternoons watching you venture and stumble and maybe even come up short will save you a lot of long lectures about trial and error, gumption, and the joy of shrugging your shoulders and saying “What the hell? I’ll give it a whirl.”