Memory – Sandra Kring

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By Sandra Kring

Music and written words have always been my sanctuary. When I was a child, music — whether it came from my father’s guitar, the radio, or our voices — had the power to calm my mother, and to lift my brothers and me above the anxiety caused by never knowing when her next violent episode would come. By the time I was in my late teens, I discovered that I could open my heart when I opened a book, and be assured that we all live the same sorrows and fears, and harbor the same hope for joy. So it was fitting that my most valuable lesson about intention should come from music, and that the lesson should be my saving grace when I became an author. ♥

I was in my early twenties, married, and with young children. With no degree or training, and money tight, I needed a way to supplement our income. One afternoon, I was discussing my dilemma with my brother, who was also facing the same issue. During a lull in the conversation, he unconsciously picked up his guitar and we started singing. And the solution became clear. We’d become a duet, and sing for our supper.

Our first opportunity came in a request to perform a few songs at a benefit for a teenage boy who was dying of brain cancer. I didn’t know the boy, nor his family, but I could imagine their grief. Knowing that soothing him would soothe his family as well, I set out to find a special song for him. A song with a beautiful melody, and lyrics that would give voice to emotions the boy might be unable to express.

I chose Memory, from the musical Cats. Not because it would fit the venue or my voice, but because everything about the song felt right. The night of the benefit, in spite of first-time jitters, a lineup with seasoned musicians, and the crowd so large, I sang only for him. For the boy whose heart surely was crying out, “Touch me, it’s so easy to leave me, all alone with the memory of my days in the sun.”

When the song ended, the hall thundered with applause, and many were wiping their eyes. By evening’s close we had a string of bookings.

How easy it was to get caught up in the praise over the next few weeks. No, I wasn’t looking for a life of music on the road (my roots were planted in motherhood then), but even on a small scale, it gave me what the human ego always longs for: admiration. Praise. To rise above the ordinary and be singled out for what we can do well and love doing.

A few months later, my brother ran into the boy’s aunt, and learned that he’d died shortly after the benefit. She told of how someone had made the boy a recording of the event he’d been too ill to attend. He’d played our rendition of Memory every day. And near the end, when he became too weak to rewind the tape, his mother would rewind it for him.

What shame I felt when I heard the story. How had I forgotten him? When had my intention switched from what I could give this young man, to what the gesture could get me?

After the lesson comes the learning.

In time I came to understand that we all long to be loved, acknowledged, accepted, and respected. That there should be no shame in having these needs, nor in striving to meet them. Yet, just as it is the soul’s nature to give, it is human nature to grab. And if left untempered, the ego will grab for more praise, more fame, more money, more success — until the aspiration that once gave us pleasure now gives us pain. Pain birthed from not only the fear that we’ll never reach the heights we’re aiming for, but might even lose the ground we gained.

In my forties, I set my aspirations to become a novelist. I found myself in the competitive world of publishing, where the weight of my worth as a writer, and the fate of my writing dream, is determined by dollar signs. Here especially, Memory serves me well. Every morning when I sit to write, my original intention — to give readers a place to open their hearts and minds, and be reminded that we are more alike than different — is with me. It is a part of me now, the foundation on which I write. It is what saves me from exhausting myself with anxious self-promotion, and what exempts me from experiencing positive reviews as sustenance, and fearing negative ones like bullets. Fear lives in the human mind, not in the human soul.

Granted, there are non-writing moments when my human side, that part of me that loves to write so deeply, starts questioning if I’m doing my story justice, or fretting over whether my sales will continue to climb at a fast enough clip to keep my publisher pleased. When this happens, my first impulse is to tune out this anxiety the same way I tune out background noise when I’m working. But as I’ve learned, the human ego will not be subdued by disregard. It is a part of us, after all. A member of our inner ensemble which, when ignored, will turn up its volume until its wails and rage are all we can hear. So I’ve learned to pause. To listen. To feel compassion for my humanness. Then I turn on some music, open my story, and grab onto the joy that creating brings me. I write for what I may give.

Sandra Kring is the author of five novels, including bestseller The Book of Bright Ideas, which was named to the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list in 2007. Her novel Carry Me Home was a Book Sense Notable Pick and Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award nominee. She lives in Northern Wisconsin with her high school sweetheart; they have three grown children. Writing is her greatest passion, but she also loves reading, music, and movies. Running for Water and Sky is her first YA novel.



  1. Jonathan Schramm

    June 24, 2016 at 6:18 am

    Great post, Sandra! I think this is the same thing we unpublished writers struggle with. We are always thinking about becoming “famous” or respected when what we should really be focusing on is the true calling and joy of a writer– creating stories simply for our own fulfillment and the fulfillment of others. Then hopefully the other stuff will come later… Thanks for sharing your “memories”. Your message will resonate with me for a while.

  2. Jill Kring

    June 26, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Beautifully said, Sandy. Hope all is well. Hope to see you and Kerry in September.

  3. Terry Ervin

    June 29, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    Sometimes a story shared will touch a reader deeply, sometimes only for a moment, but I think you’re right on target, Sandra, in that writing from the heart and sharing with readers is something to strive for.

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