The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Remember, Forget, Imagine, Hope

As we approach the end of the year and the end of this guest post series, I feel reflective and overwhelmed at the talented people who surround my life. Sarah is one of those people (as you’re about to see if you don’t already know her). We are co-workers and friends; she leads me in worship regularly, and she inspires me in so many ways. Today’s post is vulnerable and lovely and reminds me to create wherever, whenever, and from whatever situation lies before me.

Create Challenge #38: Sarah D. Williams

Sometimes I create to remember. Sometimes I create to forget. Sometimes I create to imagine what could be—creating from a place of hope, as if offering a prayer to the Creator through my written words or painted canvas, potted plant or redesigned room, chord progressions or dance steps.

In 2013, high atop Machu Picchu, gazing out over the valley of wondrous Incan ruins, I created to imagine what could be. What could be just a little bit better. More. Not that there was anything saliently wrong. But that’s the beauty of creating: Sometimes we don’t even know what we long for until it is unearthed through the creative process. And sometimes it takes a breath-catching backdrop to poke deeply enough, to prod our souls, to till and dig and do the unearthing.

I broke my foot 3 days before I was scheduled to fly to Peru and lead a team of 13 adults and students heading high up in the Andes Mountains to spend a week working at a children’s home in Andahuaylas.

I broke my foot while packing and organizing the 50-lb donation bags we would carry 2-per from SFO to LIM, LIM to ANS. My doctor put me on her own no-fly list, but (thankfully, and with much begging) she greenlighted me to fly 8 days later. So my husband and I set off to join our team, me booted up and him carrying all 200 pounds of our donations plus our carry-ons. (He made a lovely Sherpa.) We arrived just in time to head to Machu Picchu, all while creating our own version of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles.swilliams-mp

If the cobblestones of the streets of Cusco don’t kill you, the steep drop-to-your-death cliffs of Machu Picchu, sans guardrails, will. Therefore, after deciding perhaps touring MP was a bit too dangerous to do in a boot-as-cast that left me balance-challenged, the group headed into the park without me.

At the top of MP—after taking the van and train and bus it takes to get there from Cusco—you find one snack bar. There, at this overpriced and un-vegan-friendly (as one would expect) eatery, as I sipped hot tea (served in an extra-large, wax-coated soda cup that melted as quickly as it brewed), I opened my journal. And I began to create.swilliams-journal

My husband and I have taken the road less traveled in our marriage. After being friends for 9 years, we transitioned to dating and then married quickly (6 months later). And 4 very challenging years in, we separated (again for 6 months). He moved back to Kansas (We are both native Jayhawks), and I stayed in our little home in Pleasant Hill. We had no plans to reconcile once the move was made; we were divorcing and getting our legal and financial ducks in a row (as they say in Indiana—our home before moving to the Bay Area, one year into marriage).

I won’t delve into the details here, though I am happy to do so over tea or wine. The point is, marriage for us has been a challenge. And that may be putting it mildly. Our current union, and past reconciliation, is a story of grace and redemption, forgiveness and re-creating. I often say that the old relationship had to first die (a painful death) before we could try again, start rebuilding, from the ground up. An example of creating in hope—a reimagining of what it could be.

We have always been good at outward-facing intimacy: intimacy built when facing away from one another, focused together on a common goal or project. We have not been so good at inward-facing intimacy: when it’s just the 2 of us, looking at each other, focused only on one another. We lead worship together, and we have since high school; this intimate act we can do easily, even when married life is hard and messy. This is outward-facing intimacy. We song write together, and we have in fits and spurts since high school as well; this intimate act we do with much kicking and screaming (mostly screaming), especially when married life is hard and messy. We have actually spent time in couple’s therapy (which we both highly recommend) working on our co-writing process, as it mirrors our intimacy struggles in other areas as well.

But let’s head back to Machu Picchu, shall we? To me, with journal open, drinking waxy tea, reflecting and praying and creating. My jumping off point for the song below was (a slight derivation of) the last line of a Pablo Neruda poem (Every Day You Play), though I was not cognizant of that at the moment. (At some point, it seems, that line had deeply embedded itself in my soul).

From here, I created to imagine what could be: what could be for us in our most intimate expression of inward-facing intimacy. How we could be free and playful while embracing the messy and the unknown. How we could dare to explore the dance of sexual intimacy with effort and energy that we may feel drawn to spend elsewhere. How we could, with authenticity and respect, communicate needs and desires and then seek to meet those needs and desires in ways that perhaps challenged each of us to be more vulnerable, more present, more…creative.

I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry tree
Gently sway and blanket you in life and blossom wild
I want the juice to run down my chin get on my hands
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what frost does to the windowpane
Close enough to etch myself right into your skin
I want to trace the lines left by my love for you
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what bunnies do, what bunnies do
Without a care, a cost, a thought—let nature have its way
I want the fur to fly, then rest up on the bed we made
I want, I want you
I want, I want you

We create to remember. We create to forget. We create—in hope, and with trembling sometimes—to imagine what could be.

Most importantly, we create.

swilliamsSarah lives in the East Bay with her partner Michael and 2 dogs, Bristow and Jed Bartlet (and formerly Bob Dylan, RIP). Creating is her jam, both for work and for leisure–from music and stories and scripts to succulent arrangements and visual art and interior design (and blog posts). She spends most of her time outside (Yea for California weather!) and can usually be found in her adorable (read: tiny) backyard with her dogs and a laptop, blogging, doing prep work for an upcoming Bad Rap event event, designing vocal parts for Sunday services at MVPC, or emailing a sales lead for Retzlaff Vineyards & Winery. She imperfectly strives to live an authentic, Christ-centered life and desires for all people to be given a voice and treated with dignity and respect…and love, because ALWAYS love wins. One day she hopes to try her hand at stand-up comedy: Have you heard the one about the vegan who used to live in Kansas?