Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, Library Edition

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9781504630269: Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, Library Edition
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New York Times bestselling poet and multiplatinum singer-songwriter Jewel explores her unconventional upbringing and extraordinary life in an inspirational memoir that covers her childhood to fame, marriage, and motherhood.When Jewel's first album, Pieces of You, topped the charts in 1995, her emotional voice and vulnerable performance were groundbreaking. In the tradition of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell (she has been compared to both), a singer-songwriter of her kind had not emerged in decades. Now, with over thirty million albums sold worldwide, Jewel tells the story of her life and the lessons learned from her experience and her music.Living on a homestead in Alaska, Jewel learned to yodel at age three and joined her parents' act, working in hotels, honkytonks, and biker bars. Behind a strong-willed and independent family life, with an emphasis on music and artistic talent, was also instability, abuse, and trauma. At age fifteen Jewel was accepted to the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where she began writing her own songs as a means of expression. She was eighteen, homeless, and living out of her car in San Diego when a radio DJ aired a bootleg version of her song, and it was requested into the top-ten countdown, something unheard of for an unsigned artist. By age twenty-one, her debut album went multiplatinum.There is so much more to Jewel's story, one complicated by family and financial woes, by crippling fear and insecurity, by parents who forced a child to grow up far too quickly, and by the extraordinary circumstances in which she become a world-famous singer and songwriter. Here Jewel reflects on how she survived and how writing songs, poetry, and prose has saved her life many times over. She writes beautifully about the natural wonders of Alaska, about pain and childhood trauma, and about discovering her own identity years after the entire world had discovered the beauty of her songs.

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About the Author:

Jewel is an American singer, songwriter, poet, actress, philanthropist, and mother. She has received four Grammy Award nominations and has sold more than thirty million albums worldwide. She is the founder of Project Clean Water, and author of the New York Times bestseller A Night Without Armor: Poems as well as two books for children. Raised in Homer, Alaska, Jewel currently lives in Tennessee and Colorado with her son.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


also by jewel

title page






one | pioneer spirit

two | broken harmonies

three | you don’t outrun pain

four | emotional english

five | a breadcrumb trail

six | hard wood grows slowly

seven | calm within chaos

eight | an invisible thread

nine | my own ladder

ten | a sea change

eleven | turn toward the pain

twelve | who will save your soul

thirteen | internal permission

fourteen | the wisdom of silence


fifteen | the servants of our thoughts

sixteen | safety in vulnerability

seventeen | imperfect, full of mistakes—but honest

eighteen | will she fix her teeth?

nineteen | arriving

twenty | the long shot

twenty-one | every day angels

twenty-two | let your light shine

twenty-three | so. she can ride.

twenty-four | do you love me like i love you

twenty-five | truth over fantasy


twenty-six | brilliant resilience

twenty-seven | life as a country song

twenty-eight | a child of my own


twenty-nine | family tree


thirty | i choose love







about the author



40 years old

when did this happen


but gray sneaks in

I’m sure

though I would never know

because I lose myself in

the (hair color) bottle

I am fit enough

maybe more fit

than when I was 20

I have less hair

thanks to an underactive


stress induced they say

. . .

I use Latisse to make

my eyelashes grow

I text 50 times a day

I have a scar

above my pubic bone

from a C-section

when they lifted my

sweet boy

from my abdomen

I am newly separated

from my husband


would have lost the ranch

on that bet

. . .

actually, I did . . .


I am a blank canvas

well not blank maybe—

an unwritten chapter

is perhaps the better metaphor

sure I have a history

a hell of one, actually

I am dinged-up

and weary and my heart

is sore

but really

in the most essential way

I am as new as I ever have been

the best is not behind me


it’s ahead of me

for the first time

I never stood a chance before


I was a slave to what I could not see

a puppet to past patterns

but I have taken a knife

and carved myself free

it cost me dearly

but what I gained is myself

the truest treasure is

a soul who believes

in its own existence—

and I believe!

I am here!

I am showing up!

I have to go slowly

so I don’t skip by

what this moment is









this is the best

worst time

of my life

it is a death

a tragedy

a sad and fiery end

to a dream I desperately wanted

the loss of innocence for my son

and God how this breaks my heart

. . .

but it is also a second chance

and I can’t let sorrow

or self-loathing

or reproach

rob me

of the gift

from fire comes

a stark silence

as flame drives

what is most essential

deep inside

all else burned away

I let all else leave me

I keep only what is most truly me

thank God

for this fire

bless this fire

bless this new shape

I am sexual

I am spiritual

I am mother

I am playful child

I am














it took me

40 years

but I’m here


it has been


and you can bet

I’m not giving it up

for anyone

no more submissive posture

no more tentative shape

no more body

bent like a question mark

. . .

I know what’s best for me

above all others


I reserve the sacred right

to redefine myself at will

I can stand in my own power

and not make myself small

for anyone

to make them feel safe

I will shrink myself

no longer

to make

any human feel


I spent a lifetime being small

for those closest to me

but this is not the woman

my son will know

my son will see my new shape

my intuition speaking loudly

he will see a woman integrated

a businesswoman

an artist

a nerd

an intellect

a heart

for I am all things

I am woman














I should probably not be here today. I should probably not even be alive. Being alive, I should have become an addict, knocked up as a teenager, or stuck romantically in a cycle of abuse. If you look at my life at any stage you might’ve said, This girl will never make it, and you probably would’ve been right. What I had going for me, however, was that at a fairly young age I figured out what I wanted. Happiness. You have to know what you want to ever be able to have it.

Here are the broad strokes: My two brothers and I were raised by a musical family, and I spent my early childhood performing with my parents in Anchorage for tourists. When I was eight, my mother left and my dad moved us to the family homestead in rural Alaska, a log cabin with creek water to drink, no plumbing or most modern conveniences. My dad did the best he could, but handled the stress of being a single parent by drinking and perpetuating the only parenting style he knew—the one he was raised with—which was creative at its best, and abusive at its worst.

At age fifteen I was finally fed up, depressed, and worried that if I didn’t make a break for it I would lose myself entirely. I decided to move out. Aware that by doing so, the probability of me becoming just another statistic was high. Kids like me end up doing the same thing we saw while being raised . . . there are rarely happy endings. I wanted to beat those odds, and I knew that to do so I would have to use all my logic, heart, wit, and talent to end up differently. To be different, I had to act different. Which left me with a problem: how do you act differently than the way you are taught? This question set me on a journey to learn a new way of being, so I could create a life with a different outcome, rather than just feel fated to repeat the cycles and patterns I was familiar with. I vowed to study myself and my life like a scientist, to see what did and didn’t work—how to get what I lacked and so desperately wanted: happiness.

So at fifteen I moved out on my own and paid my own rent on a one-room cabin by working several jobs. I got a scholarship to a private school at sixteen. I put myself through high school and graduated. I became homeless later that year. I was discovered by record labels at nineteen. I became a worldwide phenomenon at twenty-one, traveling the globe nonstop. I fell in love at twenty-five. At thirty, I found out that not only was all my money gone, but I was several million dollars in debt. The same year I came to feel that my mom, who was also my manager, was not the person I believed she was. And here I am today. Forty years old, newly divorced. I earned back a fortune, I’m discovering new ways to do business. Finally, there is my greatest success: I am lucky enough to be a mother. And I’m still continuing the journey, relearning how to be truly safe in the world, and it isn’t what I thought. It’s not by avoiding pain in life—that’s impossible—it’s by knowing that safety is in vulnerability, not in armor. It sounds counterintuitive but it’s true. Life takes each of us to the anvil, shapes us with fire and hammer, and some of us break while some of us become stronger, more able to face the day. Even happy.

The great myth is that you need money, time, love, education, expensive therapy, a house, a fill-in-the-blank to get the happiness you want. I am here to tell you, you need nothing other than what is in your heart. How much do you believe that you deserve something, and how willing are you to do whatever it takes to achieve it? Personal growth, fulfillment, success, and even happiness—be it personal or professional—are not for the lazy, for the faint of heart, for the victim, for the one who passes the buck. Change is for the warrior. If you look in the mirror and say, I am willing to be the one who is accountable and take responsibility for my own happiness and the shape of my own life, then I welcome you as a friend on this journey. I believe in you. I believe we are whole, intact, and capable of claiming the quality of life we all deserve. This I know: our essential self cannot be erased no matter what we endure.

The truth is that no one can keep you captive. No one can keep you unhappy. No one can keep you abused. Our lives rise to the level we accept. I do believe we can rise from the screaming blood of our losses, of extreme pain, physically debilitating emotion, psychological neglect, and apathy, and not merely survive, but thrive. We do not need to let our histories or our losses define us except in the way we choose. We can use them as fuel to create real depth, beauty, connectedness, and compassion in our lives. Our stories can make us exceptional people, not damaged ones. If we choose to be truthful with ourselves. And if we choose to digest and release the pain rather than try to avoid it. This is how pain accumulates and creates more pain, leading to neurosis, pathology, and brittleness of spirit.

We cannot always control or avoid what happens to us, but we can control what it does to our spirit. And the quality of our spirit becomes the filter through which we see life. And as the philosophers say, reality is our perception of it. I believe those words. Our reality is what we believe it to be. What we believe informs our thoughts. Our thoughts inform our actions. Our actions build our lives.

My own life has been an exercise in challenging my beliefs so that I could reimagine my future. So that I could avoid becoming the statistic and instead become the architect who tried to consciously draw the lines of her own life, free of the heartbreak that birthed me.

When I first left home, I got a few jobs, singing locally and giving horse rides to tourists, and at night I would get out my notepad and pen to write. I called my journal “the happiness project,” and I had no idea that it would lead me not only on a journey of deep personal discovery, but would also lead me from the fishing village of Homer, Alaska, to songwriting, to the White House, to the Vatican, to the cover of Time magazine, and beyond. Most important, the exercise of writing and looking inward led me to myself, and to discovering my own definition of happiness. It is a journey I am still on today. But I get ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.


pioneer spirit

My name is Jewel Kilcher and I am an Alaskan. My grandparents on both sides helped to settle the state in the late 1940s, when it was a territory still. When my grandparents settled in Homer, it was a frontier town, a small fishing village with very few modern conveniences. It might as well have been the 1840s. My dad rode in a horse and wagon to town when the tide was low enough to give passage below the steep cliffs of Kachemak Bay. Living was hard, and those who were drawn to Alaska in these early days, before its statehood, were self-sufficient and idealistic, wanting to carve out a new existence in an untamed land. The women were incredibly strong, often raising kids and also running homesteads while the men were out hunting and on adventures. This meant killing and canning food, keeping livestock, shoeing horses, felling trees, hauling water, making jams, fishing, drying salmon, and keeping the precious sourdough starter alive and well in an icebox. Beheading and boiling chickens, preserving cooking fat in lard cans . . . the list goes on.

I have heard stories of the larger city of Anchorage during this time, when women and young girls and boys were not allowed on the streets after 9 p.m. for fear of rape. The streets were mud, and citizens carried firearms openly. It felt as lawless as the much older Wild West depicted in the movies. The people were spirited, with flint in their eyes and dreams in their hearts, looking for gold claims or just an escape from the rest of the world to live the way they wanted to live.

I owe much of my success to the pioneer women of Alaska. Today they are still strong and self-sufficient, not wilting flowers waiting for a man to help. They shoe their own horses and peel logs and build homes and get anything done that needs doing. They are feminine and wild as a mountain meadow. I owe a tremendous debt to the women I was raised amid. My paternal grandmother, Ruth, was a supreme example, and she and her husband, Yule, taught each of their eight children everything that was necessary to survive. While women in Alaska certainly knew they were physically weaker than most men, it never meant they weren’t clever enough to find a way to get the job done. My aunts used chain saws and axes like an artist’s chisel to build furniture and cut lumber. They operate their own businesses, travel the world, run cattle, and are Marine Corps colonels and chefs. I was so lucky to be raised believing in some part of myself—believing that if I put my mind to something, I should be able to figure it out. My parents did not coddle me, and I was allowed to explore my mind. I read books by great authors and never assumed my mind had a sex, much less a weaker one. It wasn’t until years later, as I traveled the rest of the world, that I realized this was something unique. This is not a message many young girls hear during their childhood, and we do them a great disservice. I was not a child who had a lot of self-esteem, and had little else working in my favor. Often I felt broken and insecure, ugly and odd, but this one core belief was a tremendous blessing that gave me the courage to face my life and take it on my own terms. The fabric of my very being would become so threadbare, but when push came to shove, this belief was enough at times to pull me through. It is at the core of my character, and something I can take no credit for.

I also owe much of my adventurous spirit to the spirit of Alaska. It is a big, untamed country that has much to offer for those willing to fight for it. The land provided for us, but it was never a simple give. The rivers are cold and strong, full of glacial silt that will fill your boots and drown you. The bay is full of fish, but the ...

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