For the Sender
What if . . . Grammy-winning songwriters, singers, and engineers, with millions of records sold, took your letters and turned them into songs?
After years of chasing his dreams, singer-songwriter Alex Woodard finally had a record deal and an album to promote. He offered to write a song for anybody who preordered his self-titled release; all they had to do was send him a letter about their story, and he would write and record a song just for them at his kitchen table.
The promotion came and went—and as the year wore on and the record deal fell apart, Alex watched his best friend, a Labrador named Kona, die in his living room with her head in his lap. Her passing shone a harsh light on how far away Alex really was from his dreams, and autumn found him trying to let go of both Kona and everything he thought would have happened by now.
And then he got a letter from Emily.
Emily had finally found the love of a soul mate, a true kindred spirit and best friend, when autumn took him away. Every year since his passing, she wrote him a letter to say that she missed him and remembered the beautiful moments they had together. She usually tucked the letter away into a box, since there was nowhere to send it, but this autumn she sent the letter to Alex.
She didn't want Alex to write a song for her. She just felt like his songs were pieces of himself he gave to others, and she wanted to give him a piece of herself as her own kind of gift.
But Alex did write a song for her. And that song became two, then three, then eventually twelve as more letters came in and Alex showed them to a group of talented musicians who share "family dinners" in his San Diego neighborhood. The letters ranged from descriptions of unfathomable grief and destruction in Haiti to more intimate tales of being and belonging, which soon took on a life of their own through the songs.
He didn't know it yet, but Emily's letter had started Alex down his own path of moving through loss and reconciling broken dreams, culminating one cold December night on a small stage in suburban Atlanta. And he found out for himself that a song is like a letter, and a letter is like a prayer.
It's more for the sender.
Proceeds generated by the songs from each letter go to a cause of the sender's choice.
Watch the beautiful book trailer on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/sCmgDSrDCsg
Hardcover releasing September 18, 2012
A good book resonates with your heart. Good music resonates with your soul. So what happens when a talented songwriter pens a memoir? You’re taken one step closer to understanding life.
That may sound a little over the top, but the pure emotion that flows from Alex Woodard’s For the Sender can hardly be contained within its small size. The short book and accompanying CD tap into rich veins of creativity, sorrow, pride, despair, and most of all, love. Woodard’s songwriting background brings a richness to his writing that allows us the honor of feeling our way through the story of his life, reveling in his accomplishments and crying with his tragedies.
In fact, it only took me 14 pages into the book before I finally had to give in and get a box of Kleenex. Woodard’s life story and the letters of inspiration he used to write the book are both emotionally wrenching and life giving at the same time. The song lyrics he includes aren’t just poetic, they’re cathartic, helping move the reader through the sometimes-painful memories each song unearths.
Since the universe is always on our side, it’s easy for me to see why this particular book made its way to me at this time in my life. Within the first few pages, I was hooked into Woodard’s storyline, feeling my own life mirrored in his discontent of dreaming for a better life for himself. While I’m not an aspiring songwriter or musician, I think he adequately captures the denseness of living a life that isn’t quite fulfilling.
“These cold realities of the music business slowly begin to creep under my skin and some nights, as I lay alone in bed, I weave a make-believe coat of dreams as protection to keep me warm: dreams of ‘making it,’ dreams of having somebody to grow old with, dreams of little feet on hardwood floors. That imaginary coat of protection keeps the cold out, but it also keeps most of myself hidden from anybody else,” he writes.
That metaphor creeps in and out of the storyline as Woodard takes us back a few years so we can understand his own state of mind as he learns to let go of the life he thought he should be living and accept the life he has.
For the Sender is more than Woodard’s life story. It’s a story of how he came to accept and understand his life by reframing the stories of others through songwriting. Those stories come in the form of four letters he received over a period of several years and the 12 songs that were written from each letter’s inspiration. In all, the letters and songs connect us to Woodard’s life and our own stories, which are as natural as the world can be.
The four letters Woodard received became inspiration for Woodard and some of his musician friends, pushing their creativity to capture the feelings and emotions emanating from the letters’ authors. The letters came from four women, sharing their intensely personal stories:
• Emily, who met her soulmate only to have him pass away. She began writing letters to her lost love and she included one in her letter to Woodard. The grief, despair, hope and acceptance in that letter made a profound impact on the songwriter.
• Woodard and some friends visited a homeless shelter for teens to inspire the kids and in the process became inspired by the center’s director, Kim. The story of her troubled youth and understanding of her own unique gifts is fodder for two songs.
• Alison is a medic who was one of the first responders after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Her selfless devotion to the people of Haiti and her questioning of the will of God caused Woodard to reflect on his own faith.
• Katelyn was struggling to handle the demands of a newborn when her police officer husband was killed in the line of duty. Her resilience to move on touched Woodward and his friends as they wrote about the circle of life.
Woven throughout the storylines of each letter is Woodard’s reflection on his own life. We see his anguish over the loss of his best friend—a black Labrador named Kona—who died in his lap. His companion was a benchmark for Woodard and his dreams and her death helped clarify where his life was headed. Until he received the first letter from Emily, he had concentrated solely on writing about himself, using songwriting as a form of self-expression and emotional release.
The letters helped Woodard see life through a different filter: that of other people. He realized he could express the raw emotions of others through his songwriting and in the process, solidified his own thoughts and feelings on life and spirituality.
Woodard’s reflection on the letters and his own struggles with life help him understand the shared experiences of everyone on Earth. He understands that the letters are written more for the sender’s benefit than for the receiver. Yet the ideas, emotions, hopes and dreams of the letters are so universal that they can be appreciated by anyone.
Reading For the Sender, I felt privileged to peek into the creative process of Woodard and his friends. Like alchemists, the songwriters sifted through the words of each letter and distilled the bare essence of the sender’s souls. What remains is pure, clear insight into the human condition and a soothing tonic for understanding the world in a new way.
From a self-development perspective, I enjoyed watching Woodard’s growth through the songwriting process and ultimately his own changing consciousness. His understanding of conscious creation comes through as he breaks down his own self-defeating thought processes and begins to understand his role in creating his life.
“Under my breath I tell myself to stay out of the way and trust the process. Lately I’m finding that sometimes what I want isn’t really what I need and the right things seem to happen if I’m patient,” he writes as he begins to see the letters and subsequent songs take on a life of their own.
Ultimately, he realizes that life is best experienced when he drops expectations, when he stops trying to control every detail of his life. That’s a hard concept to process, let alone experience, but he gets there one day while surfing in the Pacific.
“These moments are what my dreams are made of now, more so than all the things I thought I wanted someday. Surfing isn’t about someday. It’s about now. I let go of someday every time I take off on a wave and become more present in the moment. Life is better then, when I’m not thinking about me.”
Who should read this book?
You don’t need to be interested in music or in self-development to find enjoyment in For the Sender. However, anyone with an interest in songwriting, creativity, spirituality or new age concepts will be pleasantly surprised by the storyline of this memoir and especially in the lingering buzz it leaves on the reader.
For the Sender does tug on the heartstrings in a most blatant manner. I attribute this to Woodard’s poetic writing style that eliminates extraneous details in order to focus on the things that matter most to him and the women who penned the letters that inspired his songs. It’s a quick and easy read but is one that is sure to stir your own deep emotions and leave you feeling hopeful for the future.
For the Sender is scheduled for hardcover release on September 18, 2012. A CD of the songs inspired by the letters is included and proceeds generated by the songs from each letter will be donated to a cause of the sender’s choice.
You can watch videos of the songs created from the letters, as well as read the letters themselves, at the book’s website at: http://www.forthesender.com/
~ Alex Woodard in For the Sender
What if we all lived from a place of shared experience? How much better would the world be if each one of us recognized our own stories in the those of others? What if, rather than pass judgment on ourselves and those around us, we embraced one another with the knowledge that though our paths may diverge, our destination remains universal? In his new book, For the Sender, Alex Woodard gives readers an intimate look at how he was able to transform his life through the lives of others. Poignant, sensitive and beautifully written, For the Sender reminds us that we are all connected- to one another and the world around us- through our shared human experience.
For the Sender is a story of transformation. It is the story of how one man was brought out of himself and into the world by the power of the love contained within 12 letters he received from others detailing their own struggles with pain, loss, loneliness, tragedy and yes, joy. Upon receiving each letter, Woodard sets out to write a song, determined to give voice and meaning to the touching stories described there-in. Through collaboration with others, he is able to co-create 12 beautiful songs whose lyrics remind us that not a single one of us is ever truly alone.
In the beginning of the book Woodard describes his tendency to hide from the world under his “make-believe coat of dreams.” An imaginary coat he wears in order to protect himself from the outside world. However, by the end he has stepped out into the world of dreams realized. He discovers by letting others into his life- exposing the fear and celebrating the triumphs- that he has finally begun living.
For the Sender is a story of loss, heartache and the redemptive power of the love that connects us all. At certain times the words are wrought with emotion and raw in their sensitivity. At others they are beautiful and touching, laced with the imagery and reflection reserved only for those who have lived through desperate times and emerged on the other side to share their stories. Regardless of their tone, the intention of Woodard’s words- those in the letters written to him, those in the lyrics of his songs, and those contained within the pages of his book- remains the same. They remind us that we are all connected, that the love that is there for one of us is there for all. We simply have to open our hearts and dance to the beat of our Universal drum, while letting our own unique voices be heard.
For the Sender will be available September 18, 2012.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from Hay House Publishers for review purposes. The opinions contained here-in reflect my honest judgment of this product.
The first letter is from Emily, who writes in response to Alex’s request for letters to inspire songs for his upcoming album. She doesn’t want a song, she just wants to thank him for his music, and tell him how it has helped her cope with the death of her great love. Alex decides he does want to write a song for her, and he shares it with other musicians who meet at regular “family dinners” in the neighborhood. Inspired, they begin to help him create and share his gift for Emily.
This is only the beginning. More letters appear, more songs are inspired, and Alex connects with more musicians and songwriters. They help him unravel and express the emotional connections he has with the stories of the letter writers. He notices that their questions, struggles, and revelations parallel his own. In the end there are 12 songs, many new friends, and a calming peace and acceptance for Alex.
My thoughts about For the Sender:
I can’t say that I have ever had a reading experience quite like the one I had with For the Sender. This book was a quiet and peaceful read. Its profound philosophies just melted into me, I never had to stop and think hard, or struggle to understand them. Through descriptive prose, honestly expressed emotions, and poetic lyrics it felt more like the book was being sung to me, like a gentle lullaby.
There are so many spiritual books about self-discovery that encourage you to focus on yourself first and foremost, without discussing the importance of reaching out to others. Alex’s truths are revealed through his active connection with the letter writers and his fellow musicians, his willingness to share his talents with them unconditionally, and receive their love and talents in return.
His community supports him, challenges him, and enlightens him in a way he never would have experienced going solo. His writing delicately highlights the magic of these connections - the planets aligning /right place at the right time miracles that never fail to leave me awestruck. As I read about Alex’s chance meeting with Jack Tempchin, writer of the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and how Jack quickly agreed to collaborate on a song with Alex, I get goosebumps.
We have all had the thrill of experiencing the perfect-ness of a creative collaboration at least once in our lives. But I have rarely seen it written about the way that Alex Woodard presents it in For the Sender. He takes us step by step through the practical motions of each song project, while sharing the deep life lessons revealed in the process. After sharing this journey with him, we are able to listen to several of the final song recordings on a CD that accompanies the book, and feel the same sense of joy and completeness that the music brought to others.
For the Sender is a book about the amazing healing and transformational power of togetherness. It gifts us with deep lessons about our natural state of being - we are always at our best when connected with others. In its beauty and simplicity, it presents a path for growth and understanding that is familiar and intuitive – something we once knew, but somehow forgot.
My favorite quotes from For the Sender:
“Under my breath I tell myself to stay out of the way, to trust the process. Lately I’m finding that sometimes what I want isn’t really what I need and the right things seem to happen if I’m patient.”
“All these songs I’ve had a hand in, about someone else’s story and rarely sung in my voice, and I’m happier than ever. It’s my same dream of making a moment in someone’s life better with a song, but it looks different now. I laugh as I realize I call myself a songwriter, but I haven’t written a song about myself in months.”