And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

A couple years ago, when I bought my new car, I was really disappointed to see that it didn’t have a CD player. I played CDs constantly in the car – the car is really about the only time I listen to music, and my kids will tell you that I get “stuck” on CDs, playing the same one over and over and over again, and also likely hitting replay on certain special songs. With the purchase of this car, I suddenly had no place to put my music. My daughter Olivia encouraged me to subscribe to Spotify, and so I have, though it irks me to no end that I have to pay monthly to listen to music that I already own.

But this week, Spotify made me laugh. They put out a “your year in music” compilation, telling me what groups I listened to the most, what songs I played the most, what months I listened to the most music, what my longest streak of listening was (167 minutes!). There was even a recorded message from the group Coldplay, which was my most listened-to group, thanking me for being in the top 2% of their fans. The song I listened to most was “Clocks”, by Coldplay. I played it 64 times.

And absolutely none of it was a surprise to me.

I have always loved music, and as the years went by, music and writing became very intimately intwined. I don’t listen to music while I write, but I listen to it immediately before I write, and the songs are carefully chosen…and sometimes, the songs choose me.

Soon after being married for the first time, I began having children, and I had three in four years. This rocked my world in every way, but in particular, in writing. My daytimes were immersed in motherhood. But at 8:00, when the kids were in bed, I went down to my basement office and I tried to recapture who I was as a writer. It was hard – there were all these lists in my head over what I still had to do that day, in order to be the best possible mother I could be. But then I heard, for the first time, the song “Music of the Night” from Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. And these lines leaped out at me:

Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world

Leave all thoughts of the life you knew before

Let your soul take you where you long to be

Only then can you belong to me

And to me, this meant my mind was to go into the world of what I was writing, I had to leave behind my daytime life and go where I most wanted to be, and only then could I belong to my very own self.

Playing this song became a nightly ritual, and it helped me separate my mom-self from my writer-self and fall back into my story that much more quickly.

Years later, when I began to write my first novel, The Home For Wayward Clocks, I was in my (ick) minivan when a song came on the radio. It immediately grabbed me and I had to pull over to the side of the road to listen, and then to wait for the DJ to tell me what it was.

“Clocks” by Coldplay.

For the next three years, I played it every time I sat down to work on that book.

And so it became a ritual. With almost every one of my books (collections are excluded because I wrote those stories, poems, and essays individually, and then melded them into a book), there was a song. Readers and students have asked me over the years what they are. Here’s the list, and if applicable, the lines that grabbed me and pushed me forward.

  • Writing in general: “Music of the Night”, lines above.
  • The Home For Wayward Clocks: “Clocks” by Coldplay
  • Enlarged Hearts: “Robot Boy” by Linkin Park, “Hold on, the weight of the world will give you the strength to go.”
  • Learning To Tell (A Life)Time: “Sweetness Follows” by REM, “But sweetness follows.”
  • Rise From The River: “The Scientist” by Coldplay, “I was just guessing at numbers and figures, pulling the puzzles apart. Questions of science, science and progress, could not speak as loud as my heart.”
  • In Grace’s Time: “One More Night” by Phil Collins.
  • If You Tame Me: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, “Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
  • All Told: Because there were many stories going on inside of All Told, there were several songs that I switched between. “Warning Sign” by Coldplay, “A Thousand Years” by Christi Perri, and “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins. The final chapter in that book required its own song, “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane and sung by the incomparable Grace Slick. The lines, “When logic and proportion Have fallen sloppy dead,” were exactly what was going on in that chapter.
  • Hope Always Rises: “Shallow” by Lady Gaga. “I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in, I’ll never meet the ground.”
  • Don’t Let Me Keep You: the current book in progress, due out on October 3, 2024. “When I’m With You” by Sheriff. The whole damn song.

And every one of these songs was on my most played list for 2023. Why? Because when I’m in my car, going somewhere away from my desk, doing something away from my desk, I play this playlist to remind me, as I did so many years ago in a basement office, of who I am.

So two things brought me my moment of happiness this week, in the middle of listening to Spotify tell me what my most played songs were. First, when it comes to being a music-listener, they identified me as a “Vampire.” A vampire? But they went on to define this as, “When it comes to your listening, you like to embrace a little…darkness. You listen to emotional atmospheric music more than most.”

That made my jaw drop for a second, but then that turned into a “Well, of course.” My music is attached to my writing. And what do I write?

But then I got into my car, no longer a minivan, to drive home from a visit to my chiropractor. I was tired, still sick with acute bronchitis, still fighting out-of-control asthma, and all I wanted to do was sleep. I started the car, and my car connected to my cell phone, which connected to Spotify, and suddenly…

“Clocks” by Coldplay.

And I belonged to myself again. Who I am.

I drove home, sat down at my desk, and wrote.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My vampire label on Spotify.
All the books. #15 is on the way.
At my desk. Writing. Who I am.

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