I write quite a bit of sad songs, sad love songs in particular which is not news to anyone that knows my music. However I realized recently that I can’t write a reflectively sad song when I’m in the thick of it. I now see that I have to be somewhat emotionally detached from a subject in order to be able to write about it. I am beginning to understand that when I write (songs exclusively this hasn’t been the case with poetry or prose) I do so with “an outsiders perspective” be it literally or even when I am the subject, in the sense that enough time has passed for me to be able to approach the writing process objectively.
I had an inkling that this was the case in 2010 when I realized I had not written a song about a really bad breakup I had years earlier. In this case I hadn’t even written a poem about it. I recall a conversation with my mom about how I thought I could now see the full picture enough to actually write the song. When I finally wrote it, I had this feeling of satisfaction, like it was everything I had to say and it didn’t even make me tear up. A few months later however I was surprisingly able to write a song when my grandfather died, I cried on every line and blurred lots of ink but I completed it in time for his funeral. I didn’t realize it then and honestly I didn’t realize it until a few days ago, but I wrote the song not about how much I’d miss him nor about my feelings but from the perspective of my mother and grandmother. I know now the only reason I was able to write that song was because I did it from “an outsiders perspective”, though done in the moments of experiencing the loss myself.
About four months ago my grandmother died. I’d say it was sudden, but in hindsight I guess there were signs. Signs that you don’t realize are signs unless you’ve watched someone die slowly right before your eyes. We were close, I’d like to think if you’d asked her she would have said I was her best friend, because she was definitely one of mine. My mother asked me to write a poem for the obituary, I was actually already in the process of trying to write a song when she asked, and I was finding it to be too lofty a feat. I would get at least two calls everyday from my mom asking me if the poem was done and everyday I would tell her, “I can’t work like this, what I do doesn’t work like that. It will be done, don’t worry.” Then I’d get off the phone, sit and cry, write two sentences and then scratch them. There was no way I could have written a song and even writing the poem was a struggle. I cussed and cried and shuffled verses and felt it wasn’t good enough until was.
At the time the guy I was seeing was really supportive but I remember having a conversation one night about a month after, where he told me I still wasn’t myself, and that he wished I could get to a place where I “could watch the sunset without crying”. He told me I should write a beautiful song about her and use my art to help me heal. He mentioned how he had done the same thing using a bad breakup as inspiration to create his art. Usually I would have taken his advice but this time I couldn’t. Honestly I think at times when you draw from the wounds created by the tragedies of personal experience too soon you wind up picking at scabs and painting your masterpiece in blood until you’re drained and too weak to heal on your own. I have never said any of this out loud or really even given it much thought until typing it now. Something about it just feels like the truth and you have just become the friend witnessing my epiphany. I think subconsciously I have known this and used it as a defense mechanism against trying to artificially speed up the recovery or grieving process.
I think about an athlete recovering from a sports injury. They never just jump right back into the game when they are still injured and “try” to play as hard and at the same level without giving themselves time to heal first. If they did they would only prolong the injury or aggravate it to a point where the damage is permanent and beyond repair. Songwriting as well as many other art mediums like film for instance are usually based on some form of character study, whether the writer is drawing from the world around them or their own personal experience. Being such when trying to heal from a pain be it loss or a broken heart it doesn’t seem to be the healthiest thing to throw yourself into reinterpreting and reliving it. That to me seems awfully masochistic. Back to the athlete model for recovery, it makes much more sense to give yourself time to heal and strengthen before throwing yourself back into the very thing that caused your pain in the first place.
We should try at all cost avoid a false sense of contentment. If we were to throw ourselves into reinterpreting our grief into our art before we’re ready it can have the opposite effect desired. We think this is helping us confront our feelings but when our wounds are still open how can we expect them to heal if we are poking and prodding at them for artistic material. Shoving our pain inspired passion into them isn’t gauze it’s more like salt. And still we keep telling everyone one around us, “I’m good” “You know, I’m over it”, and the only person we’re really fooling is ourselves. Until one day 7 months later we get hit in the face with the realization that we are so far from “over it”, so far from “good”. We’ve lied and tried to convince ourselves by saying we could face it saying it was our outlet and really all we did was wallow in it. So I stand by the need for healing time, I think now that I’m actually conscious of it, the process might even become more fluid. So here’s to the next sad love song 7 months in the making.