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The music that made me

I’m not sure exactly why music is as important to me as it is. But I can say confidently that when you find those pieces of life, no matter how small or large, that impact you so greatly, the best thing to do is lean into it.

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The release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version) yesterday has got me all nostalgic and thinking about elementary school. One memory in particular that keeps bringing a smile to my face is how I was such a big fan of Taylor’s debut self-titled album. It became a bonding experience with my oldest sister and my dad who also enjoyed her music. The night Fearless originally came out I really wanted to go to Target and buy it immediately. Because you know back then I couldn’t just open my Spotify app and play whatever I wanted. And the idea of Taylor having music out in the world I didn’t own sounded terrible to my 11-year old ears.

Back then my dad used to wake me up every day for school. The morning after the album dropped, though, he snuck into my room early to put something in my CD player and wake me up to the song Fearless. To this day, the opening bars of that song take me back to that morning. He had gone out the night before and bought it for me as a surprise. And still to this day when I think about the album, I don’t think about the boys I had crushes on while I listened to it on repeat. Or the tears I shed over the years as different songs started becoming more relatable. I think about my dad knowing how much Taylor’s music has always meant to me and making that day a little extra magical for his little girl. Because regardless of what has happened over the past fifteen years since I first heard my sister singing along to Picture to Burn, Taylor Swift has been more than an artist and her music more than just love songs to me.

It’s singing in my sister’s bedroom. It’s concerts with my dad. It’s fantasies as a little girl and feelings I was still figuring out how to navigate as a teenager. It’s dancing around to You Belong with Me, memorizing the lyrics to Forever and Always, and playing All Too Well on the piano. It’s reading all about her life and her songwriting, pretending she was right there with me in the loneliest moments. I grew up with her. It seemed like she charted the waters right before I got there giving me the soundtrack I needed to every part of my life.

And even above all that, it’s why I’m a writer. Maybe not the only reason, but certainly one of them. I first started writing lyrics in my diary with her music on repeat in my head. I finished my first book with the sounds of Folklore echoing in the background. Her writing inspires mine. A lot has changed since the original album. Not only in her life, but in mine as well. But for all ten albums she has released, I can tell you how old I was and where I was when I first heard it because there is very little in my life not shaped by music.

Every Monday morning, I post a playlist because music means more to me than I could possibly explain. Listening to old songs transports me back to the time I first heard them or the memories most associated with them. I process my emotions best with headphones in my ears, as I close my eyes to let the lyrics sink in or I dance around to the instrumentals in the background. Some of my favorite songs are the 70s and 80s classics my parents used to play in the car because it gave me a glance at who they were when they were younger and who they still are in addition to being “Mom” and “Dad.”

Making playlists is like the new equivalent to making someone a mixtape, and it’s one of my favorite pastimes. You could probably pick any playlist on my Spotify right now, some of which are close to 500 songs long, and I could tell you a story about what it means to me or who it reminds me of or when I first heard it. I could tell you the exact episode and scene of a TV show where I discovered the song. Or how I was sitting in the coffee shop in my college town procrastinating from schoolwork as I perused the new music Spotify suggested.

Music is also a way I check in on my mental health. I can tell I’m avoiding feeling something when I start avoiding music. Most days while I work, I have Spotify playing in the background, but some days I’ll turn on Netflix instead. Those are days where I usually subconsciously don’t want to address my emotions or think about whatever might be on my mind. Because music is a gatekeeper for me to my emotions. It causes me to process what I am feeling. So, I’ve come to learn that if I’m struggling to turn my music on, there’s probably something my subconscious is trying to tell me. Or other times, I don’t realize I’m feeling a certain way until a song comes on and gets me emotional in any way. Not always bad emotions, sometimes I catch myself smiling and feeling unexpectedly joyful. And music acts as the marker for all those things.

I’m not sure exactly why music is as important to me as it is. But I can say confidently that when you find those pieces of life, no matter how small or large, that impact you so greatly, the best thing to do is lean into it. Growing up for me was sometimes loud or chaotic or even lonely at times the way all kids feel alone. Yet music, dancing, writing, they all kept me company and helped me relate to the changing world around me. For some people, walks through the woods are how they feel and see God. For others, the most powerful kind of rest is a day alone with a book. There can be a thousand ways to check-in on, track, and take care of our mental wellness, but what’s important is to give yourself the time and space to figure out what matters most to you.


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