Music and me: a love story

I was always drawn to music.

First, it was my way to communicate with my parents. Mom and I would turn up the volume and dance in the car. It allowed us to bond without stumbling through awkward conversation, and it kept me from asking questions she didn’t have answers to. We would jam out to Santana or Matchbox 20, and those times were always when I felt closest to her.

With dad, it became a game. I’ll give you a bag of m&ms or $10 if you can name this song and who sings it.  I always lost, but I now have a vast knowledge of the classics.

I was always the girl with music on. I still am. I pause conversations and don’t leave parking lots until I find the perfect song. I cannot stand silence. I always have to have something playing.

Sometimes I have to write in public where I am not in control of the playlist or I spend all of my valuable writing time searching for the perfect song to match whatever mood I’m in.

It isn’t that I’m picky, I’ll listen to anything someone recommends. My playlists range from country to Johnny Cash to Taylor Swift to Godsmack to Jason Isbell to 90s rock to Usher to Ed Sheeran to Augustana to Elvis to country to whatever is on the radio and so much more. I love everything, I just enjoy when the music fits my mood. I don’t understand people who stick strictly to one genre. No judgement, but I’m so all over the place with my music I couldn’t imagine narrowing my taste down.

In middle school, I had song lyrics written on paper and tacked on my walls. I wanted to be like my mom. When she was in high school, she had Aerosmith lyrics written on her wall in sharpie. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but it wasn’t worth the wrath of my step mom to copy her entirely. So instead I collaged my walls with other people’s words as I struggled to find my voice.

I would get in trouble at night because I’d sleep with the radio on just a touch too loud. My parents never wanted to hear Fall Out Boy at 2 a.m. as much as I did. I think that’s likely why they finally gave in and bought me an iPod. Then I could listen to whatever angsty shit I was into at the time, and they could sleep in peace.

I used to walk around the house with my headphones in singing along and jamming out. Happily in my own world. The same way I would read everywhere I went.

Music was an escape, a solace. In times when I was afraid to say how I felt, there was someone out there who had said it already. If I wasn’t ready to own my emotions, I could chalk it up to a song lyric I liked and deny my connection to it.

My dad had this big black CD case he kept underneath the TV full of things like Better than Ezra, Weezer and Dave Matthews. Much to his irritation (I was (am?) notoriously terrible for returning things I borrow), I borrowed it to add the music in my iTunes library.

“The Space Between” by Dave Matthews was the first song I really fell in love with. I heard it when I took the album from my dad’s CD case and played it on repeat for days. I got in a fight with my best friend and wrote the lyrics to that song on the back of a painting I did for her. I was trying to write out how I felt, but I couldn’t find it. Then there it was.

space between

That was the first song that hit me in that profound way. It was the first time I owned my connection to a song. It was the first time I realized the power of music. I’d loved it before, but that song made me realize just how much.

I eventually named my blog after it because I’m constantly feeling like I’m in spaces between things. Life, in a sense, is a series of spaces between. We just don’t realize it in the moment because it’s so easy to get caught up in how wildly important everything feels when it is staring you in the face.

That song changed my perspective on my relationship with music.

I use it to search for what I’m trying to say. Hence the constant playlist changing when I write. I realize that there are some things that others before me have said better. In most things, I’m a very visual person. I have to see things to understand them. Music takes me to a different place. Music opens the window to my mind so I can see what’s in there, what’s going on, what’s bothering me. Sometimes songs lead me to what I’m trying to say. Sometimes they say something so completely opposite of what I’m feeling that it clears up my confusion.

There have been times that I’ve tried to write about things or I’ve tried to explain things to people, and I almost want to piece together song lyrics and deliver it to them instead of working through the mud of trying to put my feelings into words. There are so many times that instead of having a conversation with someone, I just want to make them a playlist, and say “here. Listen. This is it.”

I usually have the music conversation with someone right when I first meet them. You can get to know a person pretty quickly based on what’s on their playlist.

I don’t know much about rhythm or melody. I don’t play any instruments. I can’t sing to save my life, as my daughter loves to point out. I was singing her to sleep the other night, and she said “mommy, stop it. You no sound good.” Once I was done comforting my bruised ego, I was just happy that she recognizes good music from bad music at two years old.

I may not be able to play it, but I love it. I don’t think you have to fully understand something (or someone for that matter) to love it. Or at least be entirely fascinated by it. Music moves through me. I can feel it pulsating through my body, and I can’t help but sway with it. I don’t need to see it for it to have an affect on me. It’s a force that I can’t deny. There have been countless times in my life where I’ve just blasted a favorite song and danced out all of my problems. It makes me feel something I can’t even explain.

I go see one of my best friends play every week, and it’s my favorite thing. He is wildly talented and captivates me and blows me away every time I watch him play. He has an ability to connect with people through his music, whether it’s covers or songs he’s written. I love when I can catch his eye, and he smiles, and I can see how complete he feels being up there and how much it means to him. That’s what I love about music. I love feeling connected to something or someone. I love the transparency that comes from people sharing their music with me.

I’m lucky to have such a talented friend and lucky that my always over-the-top enthusiasm hasn’t caused him to kick me out yet. (Go look him up on youtube, his name’s Zach Henderson. Or better yet: click here, I did the hard part for you.)

I love the way music  has the ability to take you to another place. I love how lost in my mind, in my daydreams, I get when I focus on the lyrics and the story of a song.

It’s the best escape and also roots me firmly to the earth. It doesn’t make sense, but if you love music or any art the way I do, you’ll understand.

Music makes me feel less alone in the world. It makes me feel close to people and close to something I cannot explain.

It’s gotten me through rough patches. It’s helped me find my own voice. It’s pulled me out of panic attacks and depressive episodes. It’s been loyal.

Music is like a time machine. I hear a song, and it takes me back to a specific moment. It takes me back to a way I felt. It takes me a while to actually write about situations I’ve gone through. Mostly because it takes time to process/let the stories unfold before I can tell them. However, as I work through things I’m always listening to songs and applying them to situations. Then when I go back and write about things, I listen to those playlists and am pulled back to that emotional place, and I can create my own words.

It’s a love I cannot deny, and that will never cease.

Hit me with your recommendations, I always need new stuff.

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Connection, bravery and storytelling

A theme in a lot of the things I’ve been reading lately is the importance of story across time and cultures. No matter how different cultures are, there has not been one that has existed without story. Most recently I read Gloria Steinem’s book My Life on the Road (5 stars, I highly recommend it), about the feminist movement and all of the amazing people she’s met throughout her life traveling and organizing.

When I first picked up the book, I was expecting it to feel more like a travel book. I was expecting to hear about places, but what I heard about was people. I realized that’s because that’s the important part of traveling and seeing new places: getting know the people who call the place home.

I also read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong recently (another winner) where she discusses the importance of owning our own stories in order to rise strong out of a painful or difficult experience. She also talks about how being vulnerable and sharing those stories with others can be a powerful form of expression and even helpful in getting through whatever it is you are trying to get through.

Somehow I find it okay to post my story on the internet for anyone to read, but I have a terrible time answering simple questions from people making a genuine effort to get to know me. It’s baffling, but the answer is is also staring me straight in the face: fear.

I don’t have to see the look on a reader’s face if he or she disagrees with what I’ve written. I don’t have to feel small or ashamed or vulnerable when someone dismisses my work by clicking the little x in the top of their web browser because I don’t have to see it.

Somehow I’ve convinced myself I’m not strong enough to handle that in real life, but lately I’ve been proving myself wrong about things I thought I wasn’t strong enough to do.

What’s the worst that happens if someone doesn’t agree with me or doesn’t like what I have to contribute? I’m not forced to continue conversation with them. At best, I learn a new perspective and what I know about the world gets challenged.

In her book, Steinem writes: “If there is one thing that these campus visits affirmed for me, it’s that the miraculous but impersonal internet is not enough…nothing can replace being in the same space.”

Steinem has a movement she’s passionate about to keep her traveling around and writing and speaking to others and making connections. I don’t have a movement or a message. Half the time I don’t know what I think or feel or believe. When I do figure anything out, it seems so painfully obvious that it’s almost embarrassing to admit I ever struggled with it. But I keep writing about things and sharing them here in the hopes that my words resonate with someone the way others’ words have resonated with me. This is the only way I know how to share my story.

I had a golden opportunity to make a connection with a stranger, to share with them a few weeks ago, but once again I opted not to.

We were on the train coming home from Munich a few weeks ago, and I had my nose in a book secretly hoping no one else would come sit in our little compartment. While I’m thinking this, I’m sitting across from my husband who is eager to talk to anyone who crosses his path. I don’t think he knows how much I admire that about him.

connection, bravery and storytelling
Munich was beautiful, by the way. We’ll definitely be back.

Anyways, eventually this woman walks in and sits down. She was wearing hiking boots and carrying a pack almost as big as she was and a brown bag full of flowers. Chris helped her with her bag and proceeded, in a very Christopher fashion, to make small talk with her. I reluctantly put down my book I was hoping to finish on the ride as to not be rude.

Chris learned that she’d been on holiday in the south of France, spent Easter weekend with her family and was now heading home. My mind started racing with all sorts of questions to ask about her trip to France, best places to go, how was the weather this time of year, things of that sort. I told Chris I wish he would’ve asked her, and he asked me why I didn’t just interject.

Good question, Christopher, good question.

Anyways, Chris told her about how we had just moved to Germany and a little bit about our adventures in Munich. Then she turned to look at me and said, “What do you do?”

Freezing up is a normal occurrence for me in almost any social situation, but I stared at the woman who was just asking an innocent question to be polite like she was a three headed alien. I gestured toward Sophie, looked frantically around the compartment like something would just pop out at me and made some sort of “muh, bluh, guh” nonsense noise.

I panicked, I was embarrassed. What do I do? I read books and day drink on trains, I guess. Chris swooped in and said “she’s a writer.”

I’d never heard him say that out loud before nor had I really defined myself as such without first qualifying it as “aspiring.” It was really nice for my efforts toward this seemingly impossible career to be validated. My husband rocks.

Anyways, what I really learned in that moment is that I hate talking to people because I’m afraid I’ll have nothing of substance to add to the conversation. I’ve settled into this role of wife and mother and this lifestyle where I’ve come to define myself by the other people in my life. I hate it. I’m not entirely comfortable being a wife and a stay at home mom. I have too much creative energy pumping through my body –it’s like an electric current this need to create and produce and write and connect. I’m working toward those things, but I still never know what to say when people ask me what I do. I’m afraid of sounding inferior to those who work or judgmental to those ho are happy to be stay at home wives and/or mothers. I am neither, but it is an interesting place to navigate.

I’ve been writing a lot and uncovering a lot of things about myself. One being that I am far too controlled by my fear of everything (I’ve got a great story about that one for another time). Another being that I have a fierce dedication to my work and an overwhelming passion for telling stories and getting words out there. A third is that I want to hear others’ stories as much as I want to tell my own.

I’ve got this insanely amazing opportunity of living abroad to meet all kinds of different people, but that’s impossible to do if I continue to allow myself to be content as a silent observer in my own life.