I believe in the strength and power of music and written word.
I believe that all of us have that one song that got us through that awful breakup, or your parents divorce, or that leaves a bittersweet aftertaste in your mouth while listening to it because it reminds you of a memory you miss that you can never get back. All of a sudden, the beginning chords strike, and you are immediately pulled back to that moment that continues to stick in your mind when you first heard that song. You are overcome with the emotions you felt while listening to said song. You remember the landscape of where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, what people were saying. Sometimes music sets a reminder to us that the past never goes away.
I also believe a lot of us have that one book that you always go back to because sometimes you feel discouraged by people leaving so often, but then this book reminds you that it is always here and is always beckoning you to open and explore its pages once again, or that book that is your escape from reality, the place where you go whenever you feel upset, fed up, or angry--whether it be to Westeros, or Narnia, or Hogwarts, or 19th century England….it's probably really weird to say that you "connect" with a book, but for those who have had it happen to them, I'm sure you get it too. You are completely transported to that world, those characters seem like for those brief days you are leafing through its pages that they are almost real. It's kind of like you have this humongous book hangover whenever you are done reading--you're still pulled into that other world of the book, however now the pages have run out, the characters stories are over, yet here you are, still breathing, still….existing. When a book really hits home for you and changes your way of thinking, or a particular set of poems, all of these things just seem completely unfathomable to you. You're still writing your story. And it doesn't abruptly end with "and they all lived happily ever after."
Books and music have the power to transform, to change this world for the better. You think you're so disconnected from certain people, that they're way too different from you, and then you find out that they also listen to Dave Matthews Band and swoon when Stefan Lessard tears it up on bass, or have also read The Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield just also spoke to them so damn much. Literature and songs are written in so many different languages, yet emotions scream off the page as one united form of communication. I constantly find myself connecting to complete strangers because they took the risk of pouring out their feelings and publishing it into a book or putting a melody to their words and putting it out there online in the hopes that other people who have felt the same way will feel connected to the way they felt when creating those stories, and that maybe after all they won't feel so alone. I think one of my favorite days this past semester was when I walked to the Carnegie Library on a Friday afternoon when I didn't have to work, I walked in hoping to look up and read part of a biography on Margaret Thatcher, or re-read one of Gloria Naylor's works. Instead, I saw a book display on the first floor that read: "Afghan Women's Poetry." Intrigued, I walked over and started browsing through the books they had propped up for people to pick up and browse through. I picked up a book that was a collection of poems written by women in traditional Pashto, translated. All I had to do was open to the first page, and there was a short poem written by a young woman who was assaulted one day while walking home from town and how she felt deemed worthless because of her "impurity." The next 160 or so pages were filled with words of hope, depression, worry, anger, frustration, injustice….you know, the United States is not a war zone. However, it is amazing to me that it is possible to still relate to someone who is halfway around the world who was raised and continues to live in a completely different world than your own. However, our words, when translated, and our emotions unite as one.
These are just a few reasons why I get a little saddened when people tell me they hate to read. I can promise you something: you don't. I think there are a lot of correlations between music and writing besides just song lyrics, and if you don't hate music, I can assure you, you don't hate reading. You just haven't found that one book that speaks to you yet, that one author that pens sentences that seem to sum up your existence and everything you feel onto a page, which you never thought previously was possible. Just wait for it. Because it is going to be one of the most relieving, comforting things ever when you do.
You know how you're always told growing up that someday you are going to meet and marry your soulmate and everything's going to be all cupcakes and rainbows and happy times? I think a lot of people neglect to tell us when we're young that it's possible to find our soul mates through writing, through songs, through reading different books. Soul mates aren't just found in fellow human beings. Sometimes you can find fragmented parts of your soul in things other humans create, especially when they exert passion into something. Yeah, they also forgot to mention to us that everything isn't all cupcakes and rainbows and sunshine when you do meet your soulmate, but that's okay. Having a soulmate makes it all better because it means you have someone there to sit with you and love you when things aren't perfect. You find appreciation in imperfect things and love them anyways.
Great literature is waiting for you to fall in love with it. So are songs. If you don't believe me, be patient. Just like that "right" person is going to come along for you, I can guarantee you that "right" book and that "right" song will be coming along sometime soon too.
One of my most distinct memories from when I was younger was the summer eve that the sixth Harry Potter book was supposed to come out. There was going to be a huge party to celebrate the launch of the book. I had mentioned to my parents the week before that I wanted to go so badly, that I knew it was way past when 12-year-old-me was supposed to be out, especially in Miami, but I really just wanted them to make an exception this one time (on another note, what a huge effing dork I was. Yeah, I was twelve, but whatever.) They briskly told me they would "think about it," before turning away and getting back to whatever it was they were doing that day. The mood around my house was tense at this point; my parents had been fighting for weeks, my mom having came home several weekend nights at 3 am that were turning into week days. I felt like my parents were slipping away from me. I knew something was wrong, as I had snooped through my mom's phone at the wrong time and saw several explicit text messages between her and another guy, another guy that was definitely not my dad. I knew better than to say anything. I didn't realize at the time that I could try to glue back together my broken family all I wanted, but it wasn't going to stop the cracks from coming out again and continuing to fragment and decay. I thought every time my mom came home in the wee early hours, drunk, without her wedding ring on, and I would hear my parents screaming at each other, that me making them aware to the fact that I was awake by making noise and turning my bedroom light on was going to stop the fighting. It didn't. It only continued to store up the anger and hurt that they felt towards each other. My parents weren't each others soul mates, and I had a hard time accepting that….because really, isn't that all you want besides from your parents besides for them to love you and support you?
Finally one night, the cap blew off on all that pent up anger and hatred and everything was out. My dad had caught my mom in a lie and found out that she had been having an affair. The fight got so bad that I remember in blurs there being several broken kitchen appliances and tableware scattered all over our dining room and kitchen, and a police car blaring its lights outside our front door, a sheriff aggressively pounding on the wood to let himself into our broken household that was beyond repair at this point. Despite my awful track record with dating, I think love can fix everything. It's just how much you have of it that really is the determining factor of whether two people are going to get through something or not. My parents just did not love each other enough to make it work out. I was put in a car and next thing I knew I was at a friend's house for the night. An hour later, my dad showed up at my friends front door. I was sad I had missed that stupid launch party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, reiterating to my friend Sarah that I couldn't wait to read the book. In actuality, I knew that it didn't really freaking matter. I just wanted something light to keep my mind off of the mindfuckery that just happened. My dad came into Sarah's house with a small bag. He handed it over to me before kissing me on the forehead and heading out for the evening. I opened the bag and saw a brand spankin' new copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Oh my god. I finally had it! I stayed up all night and the whole next day reading it, throwing myself into the non-Muggle world, trying in every way shape and form to escape the reality that was my looming parent's divorce. Hogwarts was there to welcome me to a landscape that was completely different from all the anger I was surrounded by constantly. I always credit the support of my friends, and books and music to getting me through the first difficult period of my life.
Another memory I recall was shortly following the divorce and a prompt move up to Stuart, a small, sleepy beach town about an hour away from Miami. My dad and I were taking a drive up the coastline to Vero Beach, just the two of us. It was our "thing". You know how you probably have some distinct memory with your parents that either just your mom or just your dad do with you and you guys always bond over it? Maybe your dad runs into your room and sings along to a stupid song to cheer you up when you're sad, or your mom holds you close to her heart when you feel like the world around you is falling apart. My dad and I's thing (since I had outgrown being able to fall asleep on his chest to listen to his heartbeat every night as I did when I was a baby, apparently) besides making mix tapes is that we like to get in the car on random weekend afternoons and go for drives close to the shoreline and just talk and listen to music. One day, my dad opened up to me about things that had happened to him before him and my mom had met, my mom's past, and secrets that I had felt were kept from me for the past few years. He was an open book that day, and as we were listening to music, the acoustic version of "Times Like These" by the Foo Fighters came on one of several mix tapes we had made for each other. A line of the lyrics lines go, "It's times like these you learn to live again."
My dad turned it up right at that line, looked at me, and said, "This is our new beginning, kiddo. Listen to this whenever you feel like you're starting to slip back."
I do. I do every time, Dad.
I've never owned a garden myself, but I do know that you have to water your plants and tend to it, in other words cultivate it, for it to stay alive and to flourish. It's challenging, but with work, it grows and is more open and beautiful than ever. Gardens require weed whackers, and water, and soil and strong hands to continue for it to flourish.
Your mind is a garden too, in a sense. And it requires cultivating. Our tools to cultivate are a little different though than your standard garden. I think books and music are two of the most important. They grow us. They comfort us. They expand our minds. They remind us that we're living.
And sometimes, they might even save you a little and remind you that everything's gonna be okay.