Standards to Love: Encourage Thyself
Remember Anne of Avonlea? In Chapter 12: A Jonah Day, Anne awakens with a throbbing toothache. It’s glacial outside. She trudges to school where she teaches a room full of boisterous children. Overwrought and wracked with the sort of horrendous pain only those who have suffered toothaches know, stormy-souled Anne, as L.M. Montgomery fittingly wrote, reaches the end of her fuse. When she catches some of her boys giggling over a box of what she thinks are pastries, she tells Anthony Pye, the ringleader, to throw it in the fire. The box actually contains fireworks, which results in a pandemonium that ends with Anne apply a switch to Anthony’s hand by way of punishment. Of course, while Anne is feisty, she’s also tender-hearted. She hates the pain she has inflicted. She holds herself together barely until she gets back home where she promptly collapses in a heap of tears. And when Marilla comes to see what’s the trouble, Anne says:
How many of you, dear readers, can identify with this sentiment? I’m sure we’ve all had days like that, where from the moment we wake up (yes, even before we put on our make-up), we encounter one mishap or frustration after the next. They just pile up, one on top of the other, until they present a mountain of agitation.
But, if you read a few lines down, Anne jollies herself out of her slump. By the next morning, she’s singing and chipper again.
What makes Anne Shirley so irresistible to me is her ability to encourage herself, even when she’s in the depths of despair. While her struggles are very real, she doesn’t allow herself to remain in the negative for too long. Instead, she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and starts all over again. My, but that sounds like a song. (Well, it is: Start All Over Again by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern.)
Like Anne, I too try to look for the silver lining and find the sunny side of life (see post here). One of the ways I do that is through music. Schwartz and Dietz said it best:
When there’s a shine on your shoes
And a melody in your heart
With a singable, happy feeling
What a wonderful way to start
To face the world every day
With a "deedle-um-dee-di-di"
Little melody that is making the world go by*
And while you might call this sort of outlook decidedly Pollyanna-esque, I know for a fact that the music you play does impact you. So, when I have Jonah days, I have a specific soundtrack that plays in the background of my life. The playlist is long and varied, but there are a few that I have tucked away for those particularly rainy days when the floodgates have opened and I feel overwhelmed. They’re the songs I sing to myself when I don’t have my music handy. They’re the Encourage Thyself soundtrack that can act as a lifeline in those drowning moments. And, because this is me, it’s the Great American Songbook.
Accentuate the Positive
This tune penned by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen has been a favorite of mine since I was a little girl. If the title didn’t give it away already, this song is about majoring on the positives and minimizing the negatives. What I appreciate about Johnny Mercer is how well he weaves allusions into his lyrics. Whether his songs are of a more serious bent, like a ballad, or more playful, like this song, you’ll find references to all sorts of things. To illustrate my last remark, Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark… That’s an actual line from this song, and it happens to fit perfectly with today’s post, what with us talking about Jonah days and all. So, what did Jonah do when he was having his Jonah day? Well, he accentuated the positive, eliminated the negative, and didn’t mess with mister in between. What makes this song particularly fun and upbeat is the pronunciation. It’s a play on the word accentuate. You see, there are two definitions for the word accentuate:
to mark or pronounce with an accent or accents; place an accent or accents on.
to lay stress upon; emphasize; give prominence; mark as of importance.
Johnny Mercer, in his wordy wisdom, puts both these definitions into play. Yes, he’s literally talking about marking positivity as importance. Emphasize it, even in your darkest times. But when you sing the song, you place accents for emphasis on the actual word of accentuate: ac-cent-tchu-ate. You’ve got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive…Brilliance. My favorite version was hard to pick. Today I’m choosing Louis Armstrong, well, because this man never fails to make me smile. Joy exudes from his soul. (Check out Nancy Lamott’s and Judy Garland’s.)
Look For the Silver Lining
I’ve already mentioned this song in this post, not to mention dedicating an entire post to it (see here), but the sentiments contained in its lyrics bear repeating. This standard by Bud De Sylva and Jerome Kern highlights the important thing about finding the sunny side of life: everything you wish to see manifest outside of you starts inside of you. That’s a life lesson right there. Of course we know this with diets and healthy eating and exercise, but it applies to the decisions we make regarding our emotions, too. Fill your heart with joy and gladness will out you on the path to happiness. Jane Monheit’s version is my favorite. I think. Picking favorites is hard.
Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen composed this gem. Everyone I know who’s ever heard it loves it because it captures a reality everyone dealt with at one time or another in their lives. We all hit rockbottom. But when you’re at rockbottom, look around and learn a thing or two. No matter where you are, there is something you can find that will lift your heart. Jimmy and Sammy are writing about consistency and perseverance here. But both of those attributes are rooted in hope. Cahn and Van Heusen’s conclusion: with high hopes, you can accomplish anything. Chin up, ya’ll. Here’s Bing singing it.
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Years ago, I remember Jonathan Schwartz- American Popular Standards connoisseur- saying that on a cold and dreary winter day, when you’re walking down the sidewalk cloaked in shadows, direct your feet to the Dorothy Fields side of the street. Of course, he was paying tribute to a female songwriter who forged a way into the boy’s club of songwriters. Fields held her own as a woman in a male dominated profession. Her tenacity opened the door for many more female songwriters to enter. When I hear On the Sunny Side of the Street, a song Fields penned with Jimmy McHugh, I think that it was Dorothy’s way of telling anyone who was in a tough situation to keep their chin up. She knew what it was like to feel adumbrated by others, and I’m sure she knew a thing or two about lack. So, when she wrote gold dust at my feet on the sunny side of the street, she knew that it wasn’t other people’s validation or wealth or any outward show that would galvanize her. It was what was already within her. She decided how to see life, and I’m forever grateful she chose to look to the sunny side of the street. Robin McElle has my favorite cut of this tune.
The Best Is Yet To Come
To echo the blacksmith Kate’s words in A Knight Tale, let’s end with hope. Love. Life. Blog Posts. It should all end with hope. And, there’s not more hopeful and encouraging lyrics than the ones that Carolyn Leigh and Cy Coleman wrote. Frank Sinatra owns this song. Feel free to let me know you’re favorite version. But, for me, it’s just Frankie. Period.
These songs lift your spirit. Many of them were written during tumultuous times in history (Depressions, World Wars, etc.). They help get the Greatest Generation through some real tough times. But, tough times never go away. They’re always there. Sure, the trimmings may change, but the meats the same. Sometimes life is the furtherest thing away from a bowl of cherries. Sometimes it’s gruel. But, these songs were written from people who knew that, but who also knew that to get by, you have to do just as Kern and Fields said: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. Keep on keeping on, dear readers.
What songs are on your Encourage Thyself playlist?
In the course of doing research for the next novel I am going to write, I came across Eric Blehm’s excpetional biography of Navy SEAL Adam Brown, Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Six Operator Adam Brown. Adam’s life is a prime example of what makes a man truly great. While it is a true feat to achieve all the accomplishments, accolades, and awards that Adam did while a Navy SEAL, it is his heart that is his greatness. This book is one which will encourage as well as inspire you to greatness, too. That’s why I am giving a copy of it away here at Whiskers On Kittens. Truly, I’d love to be able to give it to every single reader of this blog, but I am unable to that. Simply (1) subscribe and (2) leave a comment at the bottom of The Eternal Significance post (link at the bottom) telling me why this is a book you’re interested in reading. The giveaway is open to all residents in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia from today, November 11, 2018 to November 28, 2018at 11:59 PM (CT). Winner will be announced on November 30, 2018 via email.
I will also be donating several books to the Adam Brown Legacy Foundation as per Kelley Brown’s (Adam’s wife) request:
“So many of you have asked us, “What can I do to help you, your kids, your family, financially or otherwise?” Well, what we really want to do is continue to share Adam’s story across the nation and around the world. We want to be sure we get a copy of FEARLESS into the hands of everybody who might need some help getting out of their own dark place, just like Adam did once upon a time. We know his story will inspire them to never give up, to keep getting up when they’re knocked down, and to live fearlessly. Nothing can convey that message better than the book itself.”
If you’re familiar with Adam Brown’s story, or simply wish to reach out and help the family of a man who died in service to this nation, I encourage you to donate a copy of the book, too. Kelley’s letter gives lots of details how you can do just that.