The Rhythm Within Me: the Experience of Recording an Audiobook
by Ann Campanella
This past year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to record an audiobook. The book is Motherhood: Lost and Found, a memoir about my mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s at the same time I was trying to become a mother and struggling through a series of miscarriages. My mother was ill for 14 years, and much of that time, I leaned on my horse Crimson, who happened to be a grandson of Secretariat. His presence on the farm was a stabilizing (no pun intended) force in my life. While this period of my life often felt hopeless, it changed me as a person, and eventually I was blessed with the birth of a precious daughter. It seems like divine timing that after a year of working on various aspects of this project, the audio version is due to be released around Mother’s Day.
What was involved?
Recording the book was another transformational experience for me. I’ve always been a reader, but I hadn’t thought much about how this trait had been developed until recently. Every evening when I was a child, my mother came and sat on my bed. She would tuck me in and turn on the reading light she had asked my father to install above the headboard of my bed. She often read pages from a little green book by A. A. Milne called When We were Very Young or from A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Sometimes she let me choose a book from the stacks on my bookshelf. I could stretch out bedtime and get her to linger if I asked for one more story or one more poem…which I always did.
Now, over 50 years later, I realize that my mother’s voice has become embedded within me. The week of her memorial service at the family graveyard in Upstate New York, I wandered through the old headstones under the pines and heard her voice, “The woods are lovely dark and deep….” from Stevenson’s “Stopping by Woods On A Snowy Evening.” It suddenly struck me that my poetry, which had provided the seeds for my memoir, was based on a rhythm I had unconsciously absorbed from her. This same rhythm is woven through the prose of my memoir. It is a language of love.
How did it get there?
Along with me my mother, I credit my writing groups. They provided an audience to whom I was able to share out loud the sections of my journal that eventually became chapters in my memoir. I didn’t just read these sections once. But over and over. As I wrote and revised, I wanted every word to be right, delicately woven into the tapestry, creating living scenes where the stitches of the story were invisible. My writing group members listened as intently and lovingly as my mother would have. Their nuanced feedback helped me toward my goal.
How long did it take?
Twenty years. Gulp. No, that’s not a typo. It was a long and arduous process, but I loved every minute of it. Each revision was an opportunity to study the prism of my mother’s life, to nestle against her again and feel the refrain of her love and tenderness wash over me.
There were long breaks in the editing process because I was in the midst of caretaking both my mother and my young daughter. But I was always drawn back to the page, lured by the embrace of my mother’s words. The rolling language that she had planted deep within me was familiar and became a treasured gift as Alzheimer’s gradually took away her ability to communicate.
Towards the end of her life, I couldn’t help but be aware that I was now passing this gift of words and reading on to my daughter, the way Mom had passed it down to me, and her mother had passed it to her and so on. Like I had done with my mother, my daughter snuggled against me at bedtime, and always asked for “one more book.”
Amplifying the senses
Recording my audiobook expanded my sense of what I had written. I was now able to share my story on another sensory level. As I read the words out loud, I re-entered the experience of my book, not just the writing of it, but the living of it, moment by moment. Speaking into the microphone, I lost track of time and simply allowed the rhythm of each scene to carry me away.
I felt the warmth of my mother’s presence, her soft voice speaking under the glow of my reading lamp. I sat with her on my couch when she was agitated because she didn’t know where she was. I walked the hills of her childhood home with her, sharing stories she had long forgotten. I stroked her rice-paper skin as she lay dying.
Each sentence, paragraph and chapter was another opportunity to be with my mother, to feel her gentleness and the vibrations of a life deeply felt.