Sweet Music

When it comes to work–my job, chores, writing, etc.–I’m better and more focused when there’s a TV on in the background. Yes, I am an over-stimulated, easily distracted, child of television. Silence drives me crazy, but the drone of an open floor office–the mish-mash of typing, too loud conversations, kitchen clanging, phones ringing, printers going, etc., drives me more crazy. What to do?

Music. The first and most obvious solution: music and head phones. Unfortunately, I’m working in an office where our internet usage is strictly monitored. So strict that I checked The Weather Channel two days in a row, and on the third day, it was blocked. With Youtube, Pandora, and Spotify definitely out of the question, and since I don’t want to eat up data on my phone, I was left wondering what I’d do for entertainment. Just anything to make the time go faster. Because anyone who’s worked in an office knows that the minutes drag by like hours when you don’t have something to keep you occupied, and office work isn’t always the most captivating. And that’s when I remembered I packed my ancient iPod with me.

It hadn’t been played or updated since 2007, and I’m not sure why I brought it with me. I hadn’t intended on using it, and I wasn’t even sure it would work. The ravages of time had taken their toll: the screen was almost entirely blacked out, and it struggled to stay on. But, after charging for 24 hours, it finally started to play. And it was like opening a time capsule.

I grew up in a very music friendly house. My mom sang and toured with her church choir, and my dad was a piano prodigy. All my siblings and I sang or played instruments, and we all had our own stereos before we had our own TVs. There was always music playing in our house and in our cars. And when I was a teenager, music became my life. I loved movies more, but music got me. After all, when you’re a teenager, no one understands you — except drug addicted rock stars. Naturally.

Music was always a great comforter, helping me gain perspective on whatever was making me sad that week. It was also a great social binder. I’m pretty sure that 90% of the friendships and relationships I’ve made have started off with shared music interests. I also love the history that music creates. My mom has mix tapes from when she was young, and when we listened to them on car trips, she would tell us the stories behind each song and why it was important to her. I remember snooping through the crawl space in my grand parent’s house and finding crates of “devil music” like Led Zeppelin and The Doors that my uncles had hidden away. I like hearing about how couples find “their” song. I was always thrilled to get a mix as a present, because it was like a little story made just for me. And conversely, I loved to make mixes for other people, and I took the task very serious. Yes, I loved High Fidelity. Nick Hornby is the man.

As I got older, though, music started to carry too much baggage. Lyrics, albums, mix CDs, everything had significant backgrounds and associations with people and places that, eventually, I was trying to move on from. The music that used to give me comfort and commiseration became a landslide of memories and too many feelings. And I felt all of it, all at once, all the time. It began to cut me to my core. Even an inspirational song could turn me into a mess. Shit. I can’t count how many times a song reduced me to tears, giving me goose bumps and heart palpitations. It was exhausting, and really counter to what I was struggling to do in my 20’s, which was “be happy.” So, a few years ago, I gave up on music. I liked a song here and there, but I stopped searching for it, and I stopped investing my energy in it. I downloaded all my old music to iTunes and gave away my CDs. I used my iPod for TV shows and movies, until someone broke into my car and stole it out of the glove box–savages.

So I was half excited, half dreading to open this little Nano and listen to all its treasures. It was definitely like opening a time capsule. The first song that played launched me back to 2001, and then year after year, until I was engulfed. There I was, driving home from college in New York, crying to A Perfect Circle. Singing Tool at the top of my lungs with Leah. Driving around in the rain with Holly, listening to The Killers. Writing a story against a deadline and getting stopped dead in my tracks by Modest Mouse’s Spitting Venom. The Whiskey pool party to the tune of Journey’s Greatest Hits. Every sad or weird moment in my life was documented. Since the screen was blacked out, I couldn’t see what song was playing. Every new track was like Time Warp Music Roulette, and I was hooked. I had my ear buds in from the moment I left our building until the moment I got home from work.

As silly as it sounds, putting music away was one of the few times in my life where I’ve felt actual closure. Compartmentalizing is definitely not something I’m good at, whereas re-hashing and beating the dead horse that is my feelings is something I excel at. So at first, I couldn’t get enough of the time warp. I remembered all the good associations, all the fun and happiness that happened with the music. I liked thinking of those memories, and I re-living the feelings that came with them was like riding the sweetest wave of nostalgia.

A week or so into my music mania, I started feeling sad. It was that indeterminate sad that doesn’t leave, isn’t triggered by anything, and makes your days shitty and worthless. I chalked it up to the crazy homesickness that came with the approaching holidays, and tried to move on, thinking it would be better once the summer was over. But the holidays passed, and it just got worse. I was stuck, dwelling on the past and shit that doesn’t even matter, but becomes all consuming when you’re sad. Everything I wanted to do was coated in layers of apathy, especially the small things I normally do to cheer myself up. Even my exciting rekindling with music was more of drag. I was worried that my depression might be coming back — which was a suuuuper exciting prospect.

I was at work, over-thinking things as usual, when I figured it out. It was a Monday, and I surprisingly woke up that morning feeling a bit more ok than I had been waking up. And I noticed that I had gotten progressively more sad after I started my iPod. And I thought back and realized I would be better at home after work, and over the weekends, but I was worse at work. And it dawned on me. That sweet wave of nostalgia I was riding had crashed and drowned me: music is making me sad. I had gone from a happy nostalgia to a sad nostalgia without even realizing it. It all made sense when I put the two and two together.

So I put the iPod away. That night, I talked to Joel about what was going on, charged my Kindle Fire, and downloaded all the TV shows and movies from our cloud. And that’s how I get through my days at work now, with the Kindle face down, and me listening to it. I’ve seen a drastic improvement to my moods. And my productivity!

Thinking in depressive patterns is a really hard habit to break. I became so accustomed to it, that it felt like normal. Depression is stealthy, and will use any avenue it can to sneak back into your life. I have to work at my perspective and reactions everyday to stay on top of it. I thought I was just feeling homesick for the holidays. But I was actually getting mired in the shittiest parts of my past, thanks to daily reminders coming out of my iPod. I might have missed my family and friends, but I was more focused on hating myself for reasons beyond my control. The music itself isn’t to blame for my sadness, it’s me and the associations I have with it, and how I have a hard time handling those associations. Music still carries the same baggage. And even though I’m in a completely different place in life than I was years ago, some of that baggage is still hard to handle. And that’s okay. It won’t get better with time alone. It’ll get better with the hard work that I put into myself. And that’s also okay.

I’ll be better with music one day. Until then, I have my kindle.

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