Guest Blogger: Susan Spangler, Author of The Year of the Bird
Frank and funny, honest and hopeful, The Year of the Bird takes you on a journey from grief to healing. It’s about our family—but it could be about any family.
It’s is the true story of some very tough times that we went through—coping with our young son-in-law's death and my mother-in-law's final years, both of which took place around the time of 9/11.
It’s about parents, grandparents and little children. Laughing one moment, crying the next.
Most of all, though, it’s about life. And that means that it’s about people, the members of our family, and how we coped with each other through it all—for better and for worse.
One day about a year after our daughter Jenny’s husband died, she came upon a bird in a bush, at a playground where she’d taken her three little kids. Never one to abandon a lost critter, she brought it home. My husband, George, ever the animal lover, took to it right away.
For me, on the other hand, in the midst of caring for three generations of family, while also trying to keep up with my job, the thought of one more living thing to feed, listen to, and clean up after? Well, that was just one thing too much.
My husband felt one way. I felt another. So what happens next? You’ll get the answer on your first guess. We had an argument. A big argument. A whopper.
The Forest and the Trees
Surprise: the argument got us nowhere. So I did what came naturally: I started writing. Writing became my lifeline. Writing helped me to think things through and find my way. To see the forest through the trees.
The forest, of course, was all the tension, stress and tragedy of the past few years. Once I realized that, I could see that the bird was no more than a small yellow speck tweeting on one of the branches.
So even though, when I first sat down, I was planning to write a story about a bird, in the end the story was really about everything else plus the bird. The title became The Year of the Bird. And story by story, the bird turned into a book.
True Stories in Pictures & Words
The Year of the Bird is a rare bird: an illustrated book for grown-ups.
I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I've worked as an illustrator my whole adult life. Including pictures is just the natural way for me to tell a story. So much so, that it almost feels incomplete without them.
Once I’d finished writing, I painted the pictures in a bright, colorful, realistic style. Something like snapshots of the moments when the stories were actually happening. Or like the vivid flashes of memory that you have when you’re thinking about something that’s really important to you.
Everyone’s Amazing Stories
One thing I’ve learned from life that everyone’s life is filled with amazing stories. And I think that listening to each other’s stories can teach us a lot about life.
That’s one of the reasons that I collected our family’s stories and found a publisher to bring them to life as a book: to share our stories with other people.
To help people who are going through their own hard times to find the words they need to say—to themselves and to each other. To reassure them that they’re not alone. To remind them that laughter and love really are the best medicines, especially in the face of life’s never-ending surprises.
And to let them know that, with a little help from our friends—and their stories—we can go on from here, a little wiser and a little stronger, into whatever comes next.
Susan Spangler is an artist, writer, and homeschool teacher. Her new book, The Year of the Bird, is a frank and inspiring memoir of an ordinary family faced with extraordinary events, told with heart, humor and love. Susan’s blog about homeschooling will launch in July. Info about her blog plus many examples of her vibrant artwork can be found on her website, www.susanspangler.com, as well as her facebook page, www.facebook.com/susanspangler.pixwords.