I cry at the gym a lot lately. I don’t think I’ve ever been caught but the cleaning lady might tell you differently. She’s usually the only other person in the building when I begin my workouts so I didn’t think that dropping a couple of tears between sets would hurt anybody. The process always starts the same. I walk through the doors listening to exercise appropriate music (right now Quiet Oaks, The Presets and Biggie are in heavy rotation). I can only make it through a handful of songs before I start digging through the folder on my phone titled “Songs to Consider”. Most the tracks are just half-evolved instrumental pieces but every demo Brecken and I have created for the next Strange Familia album lives here. I listen to the songs over and over again, writing and rewriting lyrics in my head, while I run on the treadmill. There’s something about the repetitive movement that takes me into a meditative state where it’s easier to focus and remain emotionally connected to the words I’m writing. In the past this process has served as a songwriter’s creative sandbox used to explore different ideas in lyric and melody. But lately it’s also been a sandbox for crying.
I hate having to type the ten words that make up the sentence that follows this one but it’s the reason I’m writing all of this so I better get them out — my daughter was killed in a car accident last October. For reasons I’m still trying to figure out, I feel compelled to apologize for sharing that.
Frankly, for the past thirteen months I’ve felt bad most times that those outside my immediate circle have asked,”How are you holding up?”. I guess I’m doing well in that I don’t have lupus and I paid my taxes last year. So it’s not entirely dishonest to say that I’m doing okay. But I know I’m really just avoiding the question they’re really asking, to which the sincere answer is: I’m struggling. It’s difficult to be honest when you know your response to a pleasantry is heartbreaking.
The truth is that I was good when I knew why I woke up each morning. I was good when I knew why I went back to school and why I worked jobs I didn’t love. I was good when I knew why I make music. Lila was the answer to so many questions in my life and, even though I’m not entirely empty-handed, the answers I have now carry only a fraction of the significance that she did. I’ve been hesitant to open up because I didn’t want to pull people into the same muted world I’ve been living in. I didn’t want to share the pain. The truth is that I’m still lost and I’m still trying to find a new normal.
Let’s get back to the sandbox of tears.
It was only a couple of months ago when I had my first mid-cardio breakdown. I was feeling disconnected from a lot of the material we were working on at the time. Those songs we had started writing the previous year about partying and new love felt insincere when most of my thoughts were occupied with Lila and directionless heartache. Stuck, I decided to revisit an old demo that we had worked on with our friend and co-collaborator Nate Bramhall. I had written a few lines about Lila for the instrumental months before but had shelved the idea when I realized I wasn’t emotionally ready to spend the hours and days and months it would take to finish the song. It wasn’t easy that night but as I allowed myself to write what I was really feeling I finally felt a little bit of life again. Maybe it wasn’t the same high that writing gave me before but the relief of finally scribbling something honest again was overwhelming. As I finished writing the lyrics in the weeks that followed it became apparent just how important honesty and vulnerability would be in my writing but also in my recovery. Lesson learned.
A few times over the past year I’ve heard some version of the following,”I don’t know how you are getting through this. You’re so strong.” While I appreciate the obvious sentiment behind these comments I can’t help but think about all of my moments of weakness. How am I getting through this? Well, my lungs just keep pulling in air. My heart keeps pushing blood through my body and the world keeps circling the sun so I don’t know… I just keep waking up. There were days I hoped I wouldn’t. If I seem strong it’s only because my family and friends have carried me through the past thirteen months. If you’re looking for a more accurate illustration of what the past year has felt like to me, go watch Weekend at Bernies. I’m not strong. The people who love me are strong and I’m grateful and indebted to everyone who has tried to help carry me. I’m grateful to Brecken for being here for me quite literally every single day. The music we write together is healing me and damn it’s been hard but it’s pulling me through. Thank you.
So, I’m crying at the gym a lot lately. I’m realizing that if I can’t allow someone to be low with me then I may never find the hands that will pull me back up. I still don’t know when I’ll feel normal again. I still don’t have the answer but something feels different when I let myself be honest. Something feels better when I let myself be vulnerable.
I hope the cleaning lady will understand.