"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why I Do Not Sing

See that picture above with the two blonde girls in their cowgirl outfits? I'm the one on the left. This photo brings back one of my earliest memories of vacationing camping as a family.

We had made friends with some other little kids in the campground and one of them came up with this idea to sing for our parents. We practiced a song called "Lilies of the Valley," hiding back in the woods, over by the stream where no one could see or hear us. A girl, not one of my sisters, was in charge of practices, organizing everything and setting up the performance.

Really most of the details are fuzzy until I get to the actual performance, which is a clear and vivid memory. Our little group singing in front of half a dozen adults. The adults smiling and laughing, probably because we were so cute, but what did I know about the workings of the adult mind? I thought they were mocking us. I had been chosen to sing a brief solo, which I did, all the while in agony due to the laughter. I remember cracking on the last couple notes, unable to focus, knowing how terrible I sounded, hating their eyes on me, feeling intense shame and humiliation.

We finished "Lilies of the Valley" to grand applause, which didn't come close to making up for the laughter at the beginning. They begged for more, and we complied, singing two other songs we had practiced. I say "we." Not me. I never wanted to sing again. I stood there like a stone, just watching the audience. They didn't laugh as they had at first, but it didn't matter. The damage was done. Music and I were not friends from that moment on.

I could continue with other episodes involving singing, embarrassment and the torture of having to participate in choirs, up until recent years. Now I'm done. I will sing in church if my husband opens the hymnbook and holds it in front of my face. Then I'll sing about half the notes. Maybe.

And it all goes back to "Lilies of the Valley." I must have had a fairly good voice and tone or the bossy girl in charge wouldn't have picked me for the solo. But that one event shaped me for a lifetime of not singing. No loss. There's plenty of music in the world without my contribution. Interesting how our earliest experiences make us who into we are.


  1. It's also intereseting how we can so vividly remember those moments that had the biggest impacts on us.

    I think I sing quite well, but nobody else agrees with me, so I keep it to myself...

  2. Oh, Karen, I feel so for that small little girl you were. I had an incident like that as well - several in fact. For me, singing has become a vehicle for growth as I work thru overcoming the effects of those childhood experiences.Now I'm having a blast.

  3. Pat, I'm sure I wouldn't even remember this incident if all had gone well. Because I was very young, probably just 5 or 6.

    Karen, I'll let you be the singer, and I'll be the appreciater!

  4. Karen...now I have discovered your other blog. As soon as I read your profile, and your book FARM GIRL about your Mother's life, I got a lump in my throat. I just may have stumbled on my purpose for living 250 miles from my family.... Maybe it is to write a book about my Father's life. He was admitted to a nursing home June of 2009. My blog, Mystical Journeys is about our experience with his diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer's.

    He has always been a man who loved the out of doors and working with the land. He had a degree in landscape architecture and taught Science at a College in Pasadena. Now he is inside most of the time, but his vivid imagination, which enriched his six children's lives with childhood stories, keeps him entertained. As a young Marine, he fought in the bloody battle of Tarawa in World War II. He met our Mother at a bus stop. He was with two other Marines and Mom was with an Art School classmate. Dad burst past his two buddies, not giving them a chance to meet "the most beautiful girl he had ever seen". Even now, at 89 years old, he remembers the phone number she gave him over 65 years ago...

  5. You're still the same, shying from the limelight. But like the little girl who sang her solo, I bet you're better at it than you think. If Oprah calls, you'd better say YES!

  6. Oh no!!I'm so sorry you felt that the adults were laughing at you rather than with you all! But this really has affected you hasn't it - it sounds so traumatic that it can't help but affect you in later life! Fear is such a powerful emotion, really and truly!

    Music may have lost a fab singer as you - but the writing world has gained an incredible writer instead. And that is to be celebrated! Yay!

    Take care

  7. Kitty, Looking back on it now, of course it's obvious that they were laughing in delight because we were so adorable. But at the time that never occurred to me! To think I might have been another Karen Carpenter LOL, but instead writing is my passion not singing! And thank you for the compliment :)

    Theresa, If Oprah calls it won't be for my singing either!

    Donna B., I hope you hurry to write down as many memories of your dad as you possibly can while you have the chance! He sounds like an absolutely fascinating person. (You had me at "Marine" because my son goes into basic training for Marines in October.) Now you've inspired me. Tomorrow I'll post about ways to collect the memories, etc etc. Maybe I'll do a series on it. I've mostly been telling personal & family stories here lately. It's time to get down to business and talk more about the how to of writing one's memoir or that of a loved one.

  8. Every human being has a great story to tell - and sad and happy memories.

    Now, the reason I don't sing...Well, I do, but not in public!!

    Hope you and your family have a lovely weekend.

  9. WE all have memories that mark us, leaving permanent scars! You sing with words, your writing dances off the page. We all have to find our creative niche...you have yours! I'm sorry your feel that way; You could of been a performer if not felt mocked and laughed at. Why do some of us, feel threatened and others sing louder when attacked?! (I am the threatened type)
    *my nephew is considering the Marines, Oct or Nov training in South Carolina! xXx

  10. I wonder how many stars have been lost due to misconceptions? Well now we know of one for sure!

  11. What a shame that happened to you! Sometimes it happens the other way round. The first time my mother wore trousers (pants), I told her she looked awful in them. (I was very young at the time.) She never wore trousers again! ~Miriam

  12. Karen, can you please email your email to me at donnab6464@gmail.com? I want to ask you some things...thanks!


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