We are giving away a copy of For the Sender: Four Letters, Twelve Songs, One Story, a book/album package by Alex Woodard. For the Sender is “a story of how [Woodard] came to accept and understand his life by re-framing the stories of others through songwriting,” accompanied by a CD of the songs that were inspired by letters he received.
Check out this excerpt from the book, and then leave a comment for a chance to win your own copy of this book!
An Excerpt from For the Sender, by Alex Woodard
Me and the leaves are barely hanging on when I get the letter. Autumn is painting change everywhere, and I am turn≠ing over a season of my own, although the trees are doing a better job of letting go than I am. Leaves and dreams alike are either dying on the limb or already gone. And so is she.
One night on the road, after a particularly empty gig in Chicago, Iím far away from anything or anyone familiar and standing in the unforgiving bathroom lights of my hotel room when I see it for the first time. I lean over the sink, closer to the mirror to make sure Iím seeing what I think Iím seeing. My eyes are tired with small wrinkles at their seams, and it looks like a few gray hairs are coming in above my right temple. I am older. I stare at myself for a couple of minutes, and after a while itís as if Iím staring at someone else. I turn the lights off and make my way to bed, only to search the ceiling for answers to the questions reflected in the bathroom mirror.
How did I get here?
Do I give up?
I remember my dad telling me, ďDonít be an old man in a young manís game,Ē but thatís not the answer Iím looking for. The ceiling holds nothing else for me, and I watch the dancing shadows cast by the blue light of the television until sometime around daylight I finally fall into a broken sleep. I dream of myself as a child on a cold, rocky beach with a gray sky threatening overhead. The child has just come out of the water to find that someone has stolen his clothes, so he stands there holding his privates and shivering. Just shivering.
Shivering, that is, until I fly back to Seattle the next morning and pull into my driveway later that night. Konaís gentle eyes shine like fireflies as my headlights trace across the window, and I can hear her deep bark signaling my arrival. I open the front door, and her tail is wagging so hard that it hits the coat-closet door and bleeds a little, leaving small red brush strokes across the entryway wall. Kona doesnít care, and neither do I. Iím home.
The next morning I paint over the streaks, but itís a futile effort since it happens whenever I leave her and come home; weíre both used to her being my constant companion and the unconditional keeper of my heart. I tell her what Iím scared of and share my little victories with her. She listens without judgment, always with love, and ends most of our conversa≠tions with a thump of her tail and a search for something to play with to help me refocus on the important things. Being present. Living. Playing.
Long after I get home from Chicago, the scenes from my shivering dream continue to flash through my head. Some≠thing has to change, and I wonder if maybe itís my surround≠ings, so I rent my house in Seattle to a mutual friend to cover my bills and move back to Southern California to be closer to the ocean and my family. I find a little house north of San Diego where I spend early mornings rediscovering my love for surfing and the rest of the day knocking on music-industry doors via phone and email.
Some nights I play shows at local coffee shops and bars, but most nights I run with Kona on the beach before making dinner for myself. I rinse my plate, turn off the kitchen light, and head to the couch, where I write and rewrite songs until Konaís soft steps on the hardwood floor follow me to bed. I lay with fading faith that maybe this next song will be ďthe oneĒ and someday this will all make sense.
I still carry someday with me everywhere, but now I hang on to it like a tree hangs on to its last leaf in the early winter wind, sensing that with one strong gust that leaf will fall. And soon enough it does.
Christmases come and go and come again, and I am dis≠connected, ground down by the chase, and sitting in the cold white lights of a veterinarianís office when I hear a faraway voice saying that Konaís bones are starting to disintegrate from cancer and that she probably has a week to ten days to live. I donít want to get in a car wreck on the way home, so I hold back, hold back, hold back until I carry her through the front door and lay her down in the living room. I donít stop crying until I fall asleep on the floor next to her.
Even then, I donít really stop.
When I wake up a few hours later, I lift her over the mess of cables and cheap recording gear littering the room and onto my bed. I sit next to her and stare at our reflection in the window until Iím looking through the glass and down into a well carved deep with memories, with only the edge of a dream peeking out from the brackish water that laps against the side. In the well water I see the past 14 years rushing by like a movie in fast-forward.
The scenes fly by fast, from a puppy picking up a knotted sock in my auntís garage, through those cold, wet nights play≠ing guitar while she slept at my feet, when I wasnít really alone because she was with me. I see almost every moment up to right now, when my eyes come back into focus on the window and settle on our picture framed in the glass.
I quietly shudder and Kona looks up at me and wags her tail once, which she often does at the close of our conversa≠tions. Itís how she says Itís okay, Dad. I put my hand on her shoulder. Itís not okay, Kona. Not at all.
Next: Saying goodbye, and receiving the first letter…
Photo: Kona on Alex’s lap. Photo Credit: Alex Woodard, Hay House
That week I invite anyone who ever knew Kona to a Christmas gathering at my house to say goodbye to her. My new neighbors and some old acquaintances show up, and her vet brings a soft blanket for Kona to lie on. The cancer hurts the worst where it started in her shoulder, so she lays on her less painful side at the top of the stairs where she can see everyone. She thwacks her tail on the hardwood floor as people with wet eyes line up single-file and bend down on their way out to rub her belly, some giving up the fight and crying for what seems like forever with their heads on her disintegrat≠ing shoulder.
The last guests make their way down the stairs, past the lit-up tree, and out into the night, where their worlds keep on turning toward Christmas Day, New Yearís Eve, and the rest of their lives. I lean against the counter and feel my world sputter a little and lurch forward and back until I pick Kona up, lay her in my bed, sit on the edge, and wait for it all to stop.
She slowly deteriorates but surprises everyone with her bright eyes and resilience, and it is midsummer of the fol≠lowing year before she dies in my living room with her head on my lap. A single tear emerges from the corner of her eye, trickles down her gray muzzle, and disappears into the fabric of my shorts. A friend who is there to help says that it might look like she is crying but itís just her body reacting to death, and I say to myself, Itís the same thing. I leave the three folded pages I have written to her earlier that day next to her body and cry my way through our old beach run until I canít see through the tears and sit on the sand with my head in my hands, watching everything I thought would happen by now trickle through my fingers into a pool at my feet.
So, me and the leaves are barely hanging on when I get the letter.
Every year around this time, I feel a little nostalgic and sad, because this is the season when I lost someone who meant a great deal to me. You see, I am one of the lucky ones, I have experienced the amazing connection of love with a soul mate. A real kindred spirit. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but I still consider myself lucky, not only because I have felt true love, but I have lost it as well and that too can be consid≠ered a gift; for I now know even more than before just how pre≠cious life and love are. Of course, I am not always able to smile through the day, sometimes I still miss him, painfully so. Like in autumn, not only the time of year when he was taken from me, but also the time we loved best. So, every year around this time, when the memories fill me, I write him a letter. I thought Iíd share it with you, not so youíd write a song for he and I, but because I think your songs are gifts. Pieces of yourself used to help other people with their stories. So, here is a piece of myself. It is all I have to share in return for the wonderful thing you are doing with your music and your talent.
I donít know Emily or how she has heard any of my songs, but folded behind her letter to me is the one she has written to her partner earlier that autumn. I open the parchment-thin pages, and the auburn-colored leaves included in the envelope fall out onto the table along with a photograph of a man with his arms outstretched, who I assume is Emilyís soul mate. And the air catches in my throat as I begin to read.
I can feel my heart beat faster as I crawl inside Emilyís letters and feel her loss and love and gratitude, different from my own but the same at its source. As I read I realize that Iím allowed into her words because she received me somehow: she heard a song of mine somewhere, connected to it, and let me in. Someone was listening.
Read Emilyís letter to her soulmate and the song it inspired at The Autumn: Emily’s Letter.
Singer-songwriter and Hay House author Alex Woodard has toured nationally behind five critically-acclaimed albums, earning prestigious industry nods and sharing the stage with some of today’s most popular acts. His book and album package, For The Sender, features his story of release and redemption woven through songs written about real-life letters. When he’s not surfing in his beach town north of San Diego, Alex lives with a big dog and bigger horse in the mountains of Idaho.
Excerpted with permission from For the Sender: Four Letters, Twelve Songs, One Story, by Alex Woodard (Hay House, Sept. 2012), a unique book, album, and concert event. Proceeds generated by the songs from each letter go to a cause of the senderís choice. Share your story and read othersí at www.FortheSender.com.
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