It’s the Fall of 2011, I lived in Gainesville and attended UF. I was in the 3rd year of my aerospace engineering degree. Anyone who’s ever been in an engineering program will tell you that the difficulty spike between the 2nd and 3rd year is pretty intense and hard to wrap your head around. And so, I was being crushed by coursework in pursuit of a degree I still had no true attachment to. To add to this, I spent the majority of my free time working at a deli/cafe to help with bills. I was habitually fatigued mentally and emotionally.
I only picked up my guitar on rare occasions now. I lived with 3 roommates and didn’t feel comfortable playing or singing around them. Further, I never “had the time for it” because the time I wasn’t at school, at work, or at the library doing homework I was usually trying to have a social life. But the need to express my struggles and outlet my emotions was still very much present, now more than ever. To cope I wrote poetry and various (still unfinished) short stories on the bus ride to/from campus almost daily. I looked forward to the bus rides, they were the most cathartic part of my day. Because of all the time spent writing poetry, I truly fell in love with creative writing. It felt empowering to find creative, symbolic ways to express banal sentiments like “life is hard sometimes” and “I think that girl is cute”. I started to feel like I had finally gotten a grasp on that emotional expression I so desperately needed in life.
In November, three and a half months into this already trying time, I lost my mother quite unexpectedly. As you’d expect, it was extremely difficult for me and added to the mental and emotional fatigue. Several weeks into the grieving process I was still inconsolable. Everyone wanted to know “how I was doing” and “if I was okay”. The truth was I couldn’t put into words, in person or in a poem, how I felt because I was experiencing an onslaught of different, complicated emotions every day. Grief had robbed me of my emotional expression. All writing came to a halt.
A few months later, no longer able to distract myself with video games and movies, I grabbed my guitar, shut my room door, and played a sad chord progression to fit my mood. I stared at the wall and did this for what was probably an unnatural amount of time. After strumming the chords over and over (G-Em-C-Em), I began to tear up, feeling my emotions swell with the somber music I was playing. And then, like before, I started to ad-lib sing how I felt:
There was a time when everything seemed to be right
Like my stars had aligned
There were those days when I had nothing, and nothing to say
But I had someone to call on
Well things have changed
And I have no change of my own
Like my pocketbook, my heart is broke
Where does a man run, when he has no one
How does he go on, when sorrow greets him at the break of dawn
How many blows, can he take before he finally breaks
There is someone out there under the moon
And I’m hoping they’ll save me, and get here real soon
… Pocketbook (2011,2019)
Unlike the first time, I didn’t manage to write a complete draft of the song (it was later finished in 2019), but I had enough of it to know I captured and expressed “how I was doing”. There was again an emotional relief in singing my song and such a freedom in baring my soul musically. I still didn’t have a handle on how to write a song on command, but after a few days of singing this song to myself I knew for certain that there was a part of me that needed music in my life. My passion for guitar and singing was revitalized.