On Sadness…

It is the damnedest thing… Sometimes it just hits me, seemingly out of nowhere. Real, palpable sadness.

I have never dealt with true depression in the clinical sense. The kind that you can’t wiggle and twist your way out of no matter what you do. That brand of deep, lasting, and relentless sadness that just clings to your mind like unkind, cold, rain-soaked clothing to your crying skin when you’re stuck outside in a storm, locked out of your own house, banging on the front door to be let in, with no one inside to hear your desperate plea.

I have a few good friends that struggle with that kind of depression. I am very sorry that they do and very thankful that I don’t.

But sadness, we all deal with that to a greater or lesser extent.

I am quite a happy guy in general. Optimistic too, but not to the point of self-delusion.

Yet, even with my normal, sunny disposition, sadness can creep into me at times. It is usually unexpected and visits at its own leisure, no appointment having been made ahead of time.

That was the case late tonight, or rather, this very early morning, only a bit after midnight. Nothing has the ability to stir my deepest parts like music. As I was doing a bit of ebay listing after the kids went to bed, I popped my earbuds in to listen to some tunes without keeping anyone awake. I listened to a bit of this and that on YouTube: Flatbush Zombies, Yelawolf, Kid Astro, etc, etc. I list fastest when banging hip-hop and rap in my ear holes.

Then, as I was finishing up, I randomly clicked over on, “Brick,” by Ben Folds Five. That was all it took. By the time I got to Regina Spektor, not with any intention of bringing on a cathartic experience, the sadness came to visit. It really didn’t have anything to do with the songs specifically. Just a flurry of micro-memories, flickers of past moments, thoughts, anticipations, and the utter and unavoidable gravity of just existing hit me all at once. Not only that, but the fact that it all goes away some day. Much like the arrival of sadness, mortality doesn’t tend to make appointments either.

As I have been editing the second draft of my new book, “Love is the Middle,” about my relationship with my deceased father, memories of him are frequent. Tonight, the reality of my current life, part of which includes the void his death created, came to mind. The overwhelming joy of being a father to my five kids crashed right into my lament over being a fatherless son like dissonant chords. I also considered the fact that one day, my wife and the love of my life, will either leave me behind on this side of death’s veil or I will leave her. (A desirable and tidy Notebook movie ending aside). Altogether, three things hit me at once: sadness over lost people that I love, knowing what I love now will not always be, and as Christopher Hitchens once eloquently said about death,

“It will happen to all of us, that at some point you get tapped on the shoulder and told, not just that the party’s over, but slightly worse: the party’s going on — but you have to leave. And it’s going on without you.”

So, what can we do when those truths about our mortality, our love, our loss, and more losses to come show up front and center? How do we handle the times when our feelings of joy, happiness, and contentment are interrupted and invaded by sadness?

I will give you the best advice I have, right from “behind the lines” of some present sadness in real time… Embrace it. Don’t shuck it off in a premature fashion. Let it burn a while and do its work. Sadness, even the deepest sadness, is a necessary part of life. In a strange, ironic way, it is a good part of life. Not the best part by far, but a good part. Sadness is an honest friend, reminding you and I not to take time, things, and most importantly, people, for granted. Sadness says to us, “Friend- you will not have all of this forever. It is only for a while at best. So, wring your life out for every last drop, bitter or sweet. Many billions have come and gone and do not have the present privilege of treading on the lively side of the green grass on this earth. You do. Don’t waste this moment. Don’t waste this day. Love someone. And, by the way… don’t forget to start with yourself.”

Thank you, sadness, for stopping by. I didn’t expect to see you today, but it has been real.

– Luke

I’ll leave you good people with a song. Before I decided to share all of this with you kind friends and strangers, “How,” hit me right in the feels.

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My New Book “Love is the Middle”- Thoughts on Finishing Draft One

A picture my daughter, Lydia, took of me before I left to write this morning.

A picture my daughter, Lydia, took of me before I left to write this morning.

It was a very strange feeling that I had just minutes ago…

I have been working on the first draft of my new book, “Love is the Middle,” since January. It is the story of how my deceased father and I grew far apart during my teens and then restored our wanting relationship during my twenties. I also cover the few years after when we were very close, his battle with cancer before dying, and how I adjusted to life after his passing.

As my custom is for writing this book, I go to Steak ‘n Shake where Dad and I spent untold hours bullshitting over coffee after we became close again. 100% of my writing of this book has been done at various Steak ‘n Shake restaurants, spread out between two states. I have been writing the first draft since January of this year. Since I am not a full time writer, I work in writing sessions between running my own small business, being a husband, father, and singer/songwriter. The flexibility I have has lent itself well to being consistent with writing the new book over the course of the year. Other than during a much needed emotional hiatus  from writing the book for a bit over the late summer, I have worked on it between one and three times per week all year.

It may seem strange to write such a personal book in public. I chose to do so for two reasons: 1. Being in the atmosphere of a place that my father and I spent so much time together has been crucial to facilitate the mood I need to tackle this book now that my dad has been dead for over five years 2. Since I am writing so many difficult and personal things for others to read (and hopefully learn and be encouraged from), I figured that it would be appropriate to do so in the company of my fellow humans.

Writing this book in public has not been without its difficulties. Nearly every writing session, I tackle something that makes me want to cry. I can never anticipate or predict what specifically will cause that. It just happens. As my face sometimes leaks a bit and I become visibly emotional, I trust that my fellow humans around will not judge me as too much of a weirdo.

When I left the house this morning, I was fully purposed. I knew that I was within perhaps only hundreds of words left to write to complete the first draft of the book. With my Harris Tweed overcoat on to protect me from the cold, November morning weather in Indiana and my fully-charged laptop in tow, I lit out from the house for a writing session. After arriving at Steak ‘n Shake, I popped up the book file in Word and started to review a bit of the last sessions text before jumping into a fresh writing session. As I did that this morning, I had a strange realization; other than some “afterword” type stuff that I will not write until the book is completely edited and proofed, the book is finished. Well, the first draft anyway.

And then it started to sink in. The book that I anticipated writing for five years, felt that I NEEDED to write, decided to tackle this year, and have now been working on for ten months… is finished. That took a moment to absorb.

I have cooked since I was very young. I love working on a tasty dish: adding the primary ingredients, adding a pinch of this, a dash of that, and tasting for flavor development as it goes. Then, at a certain point, you realize that the dish just tastes “right.” Everything that needs to be in it is in it. Adding anything else would mess it up. It takes maturity and experience as a cook to know when your dish is at that point. All you have to do then is let it finish simmering and serve it up for all to enjoy.

After I re-read the last half of what I wrote during my previous writing session, it hit me like a brick that this book is done. The bitter-sweet recipe is complete.

Not to be “all dressed up with nowhere to go” so to speak, I just decided to write a blog about finishing the book as I sip my hot coffee with one cream and one sugar 🙂

Writing, “Love is the Middle,” has been one of the most difficult and rewarding creative tasks that I have ever engaged in. Actually, it has been THE most difficult and rewarding creative task that I have ever engaged in. Now that draft one is finished, I look forward to the editing/proofing process that comes next, as well as formatting and graphics. Self-publishing is an adventure! I truly hope that when finished and published in print and online next year, “Love is the Middle,” will “grow legs” and walk around this world a bit. That would make me very happy.

All that said, for the last time reporting from Steak ‘n Shake- Luke