I don’t blog nearly as much as I should or want to. Maybe it’s because I write the way that I speak so when I see myself ending a sentence with “to” I cringe a little and wonder “what the hell am I doing” when I’m ending sentences with prepositions, especially when it’s the first sentence. I’m also guilty of run on sentences, too. But today, insecurities aside, I’ll push through because I want to write about heartbreak and heartbreak don't give a shit about correct grammar. ;)
To begin, I’m not talking about big, life will never same, time dividing heartbreak. I’m thinking about small, casual, sometimes you forget to notice, daily heartbreak. Heartbreak that you barely acknowledge until years later or only remember as something you used to think about a lot. The kind that you hold down by making a phone call to hear someone’s voice or having a glass (or 3) of wine…augmented with some online shopping. But, what if that person doesn’t answer the call and what if the booze runs dry. What do you do then?
I’ve never thought about it before - little heartbreaks that live in the grey areas of our lives or a backup plan to keep them satisfied. Specifically, my daily heartbreak comes in the form of homesickness. It usually begins with a tiny twinge in my chest, thoughts about a simpler time in my life and then the need to push it down, immediately.
When she was alive, I used to talk to my grandmother on a near daily basis. These conversations were my quick fixes to feeling nebulous. If I could hear her voice, get some unsolicited life advice and talk about what was for supper, everything was really okay. It really was. I would hang up the phone, relieved and somehow believing that the life I used to have was still there, waiting until the next time I came to visit. Whether it was true or untrue wasn’t important. The only thing that mattered was the way it made me feel. It’s not something I could or needed to articulate before now. I don’t know why but I recently looked through my phone records to see how long we would speak and I was astonished. Each conversation lasted a minute on average but certainly no longer than five. It’s hard to quantify the epic impact of these brief interactions about nothing. But again, it’s about the way it makes you feel.
You might be wondering why am I going on and on about my family and little aches? Well, this is one of those places where life and art intersect in the way they always do for me. I’ve been starving for those daily fixes to my homesickness so I talk to my parents, brother, uncle and friends often, I think about the things that make me happy, plans trips home and my husband, along with the life we’ve built, is a constant source of joy and comfort. I don’t even know what I would be without those things and people. But still…it breaks, a little.
So, I deal with voids, loss and heartbreak the way I always tend to which is by attempting to create something that wasn’t there before. A project of expression, I guess. Sometimes it’s painting a wall or contemplating the satisfaction of knocking one down. Other times it’s driving my hands in the dirt to plant some seeds. Often, it’s being cast in a show to take on a new character. But this time, I started writing again. Writing it all down like I used to in journals or poems. Putting down the memories, the feelings behind the memories, painting little pictures of what it looks like and those words started to become songs. It was something I always wanted to do but didn’t know I could. It also wasn’t so urgent before now.
My grandmother had this thing she would do that a lot of old folks do. She would tell stories. Usually she would tell these stories at the dinner table after a big supper and they would be about some person she wanted you to know: Aunt Bertha, someone named Sadie or Aca Ray, someone with long auburn hair that went to live up north, trips to Birmingham, her daddy, her grandmother who she called “two mamas”, her mother, her sister. I realize that she wasn’t trying to talk about something safe or bore you to death. She was passing down the aural history of our people. I so appreciate that she did that and I think it’s the thing that I miss the most.
I like to think of writing songs as an extension of that idea. Telling stories about your life and your people. The parts of your life that you like, the parts you don’t. The people in your life that you like, the ones you don’t. Using it as a tool to preserve time and to learn something new about yourself or someone else.
For instance, I never knew my husband played guitar. I thought I knew everything about him but it just never came up, I guess. When I asked him if he knew a guitar player that might like to work on some songs, he said, “I play guitar” and unearthed one from our basement. We’ve moved this thing from apartment to apartment 3 times. How did I never know? In truth, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised. That fool is one of the most talented people I've ever met but still... And he sings, so sweetly. Maybe he didn’t even know about that one. Now we play music in our living room. Working out chords, finding harmonies, talking about how to match music to lyrics. He elevates my music the way he elevates my life, making it pulse.
No one has to give you an opportunity to sing or create. You can do that all on your own…if you really want to. If you have something to say then you have something to sing.
And what do I write about? I write about my hometown, my family, joy, heartbreak, my people and a time in my life that I once discounted as unimpressive. It’s so surprising to me because, like all young people I suppose, I lived those years in anticipation of them being over. I spent nights fanaticizing about what it would be like to make my own choices, pave my own way and figure out how to communicate what I wanted to say about this life. Turns out, those were some of the most important, formative years of my life and the storylines of that time remain essential to my core.
I think about my grandmother all the time. How she always knew better, how pissed off she was when I went away to college 25 minutes from our home town, how she would call me when I first moved to Boston and express her amazement EVERY TIME about how “clearly she could hear my voice” on the phone from so far away, how she taught me to live simply and to love little things, how she was my first singing partner.
Your people are a gift. They will give you everything while they are here and they’ll keep adding to your life even after they’ve gone. They are the ones that gave you a job that paid for the bus ticket to get out of town. The ones that let you sleep on their couch while you “figured it out”. The ones that put money in your jar or brought you home or made it possible for you keeping chasing your dreams. The ones that changed their life so you could exist.
We all owe each other a great deal and I guess those are some of the things that I want to sing about.
How does one deal with heartbreak? There are so many ways but I’m finding one of the best ways is by making something that will outlast you about the things that matter most.