From Music to Writing, This Is How You Move On
Sayre Quevedo had reached the end of a five-month affair with a married man when, in the middle of a snowstorm in the winter of 2017, he received a text from his former lover, asking to see him one last time.
This particular whirlwind of a relationship, which they decided together could no longer continue, was very intimate and intense.
“I was like, you know what? OK, fine,” Mr. Quevedo, a 30-year-old documentary artist in Brooklyn, recalled in a recent interview. “And he came over and again, I work in documentaries and I record instinctively as part of my practice, and I just remember thinking, like, Oh, I would really like to remember this conversation. I would really like to remember this moment.”
To Mr. Quevedo’s relief, the man agreed to the unusual request. After not touching the recording for a long time (“I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it”), Mr. Quevedo created “Espera,” a simple, one-shot documentary backed by audio of their final conversation as a couple, unspooling in real time.
He said he was fascinated by the “intangible parts” of a relationship that are “both permanent and temporary” — elements that he uses the documentary format to highlight and preserve.
“I think documentary can be a really beautiful way of sort of giving us access to those things,” he said, “that disappear so much more quickly than we probably realize, especially as we get older.”
So, how to channel romantic heartbreak into your art? Well, there are many ways. Frida Kahlo, after a tumultuous relationship with her husband, the artist Diego Rivera, painted canvas after canvas alluding to their love and complex connection. In the ballad “Song Cry,” Jay-Z raps about being unable to show his emotions because of pride. Instead he unpacking his regret and pain over a bad breakup in this song.
Deesha Philyaw, the John and Renée Grisham writer in residence at the University of Mississippi, had resisted writing directly about her own heartbreak for much of her career. But within the last five years, she has begun writing about her second marriage, which ended in divorce.
The end of that marriage was tied to the emotionally fraught relationship she had with her father, she explained.
“I started to see the parallels and I started to write about it in essays, both my relationship with my father and my relationship with my own ex-husband,” Ms. Philyaw said in a phone interview. Exploring those similarities helped her come to terms with things, she said.
In her debut short story collection, “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,” the Black women in her pieces are grappling with love, loneliness and longing.
“It showed up in my fiction much earlier because it was just subconscious,” Ms. Philyaw said. “Women who are longing, women who are afraid, women who are seeking reciprocity: I have been all those women, those characters.”
Last year, Alkebuluan Merriweather, a 25-year-old mixed media artist in Chicago, created the collage “You wanna be outside, I wanna be in a relationship,” after a romantic partner decided to have a “hot queer summer.”
“It was out of frustration toward the trend of many of the queer relationships I’ve been in did not last in summertime Chicago because everybody’s trying to be outside,” Mx. Merriweather said, using a colloquial sense of “outside” to mean actively dating around.
The collage features images sourced from archival databases, old magazines and other places online, including one of the actress Reagan Gomez wearing a black halter top, suggesting a warm day. There’s also an image of a Cadillac, something the artist grew up seeing all over the South Side of Chicago, and Black elders playing dominoes juxtaposed with a couple kissing in the corner.
“It felt like a breath of fresh air, but of course I was still in my feelings,” said Mx. Merriweather, who posted the piece on Instagram on Valentine’s Day.
Pouring feelings from a breakup into art is a tried-and-true practice. It can be a great form of emotional release or healing, and it might even lead to success. (Or as Ariana Grande put it, “God forbid something happens, least this song is a smash.”)
According to Mr. Quevedo, documenting these moments allows him to examine the ways he has grown from a relationship. It’s not as simple as “one of us or both us being bad people,” he said. “There’s so many more dimensions.” It also allows him to share with others who might relate, he said.
For Dante Acuña, a 31-year-old songwriter and musician who performs as Té, music gave him an outlet to express his feelings when spaces to do so felt limited.
“When I’m talking to other people, when I’m dealing with life, when I’m at work, when I’m with friends and stuff, I’m not sulking most of the time,” said Mr. Acuña, who lives in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. “It’s just not my nature. If I’m sad, I don’t have any place to put that.”
Mr. Acuña’s music is a mix of hip-hop, neo soul and alternative R&B. He had what he described as his biggest heartbreak in 2012, after the end of a college relationship. He wasn’t making much music at the time, he recalled, so he didn’t really know how to process what he was feeling.
It wasn’t until he started writing and making music seriously, in 2015, that he began facing his emotions. “It just kind of lingered, until honestly when I started making music,” he said. “That’s when it started healing.”
All he writes now are love songs, whether it’s romantic love, love for community, lack of love and more. It’s a process of getting all the feelings out so that he can move forward.
“I always want to come back to a place of harmony, love, connection, and music can help do that,” he said.
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