The Power of Music
Unlike corporate coffee houses with their gleaming stainless and fishbowl walls of glass, my preferred writing place is dark and womb-like, a funky artistic hangout with arteries of extension cords snaking across the wood floors – lifelines for writers.
I always bring my headphones when I go there because music makes all the difference. When I’m working on my memoir, I listen to the music of the era I’m writing about. I never stop marveling at the synchronicity of this experience – the music somehow peels away the layers of the past, digging deeper and deeper, triggering my words.
Yesterday I tried something different. I was not working on my memoir with its time-dependent music, but on a blog post about remaining calm in the face of fear. As an experiment, I decided to listen to a variety of music, and the sheer surprise delighted me as it bounced here and there, from Otis Redding to Sinatra. It was an eclectic jungle – just like my mind. I became electric, lost to my surroundings.
But nothing prepared me for what came next as I wrote about my mother’s serenity when she entered a room, no matter what was waiting for her there. I had learned that Zen-like composure from her. Had I ever thanked her? My breath caught at the thought of this, and for the millionth time I reeled with the memory of her death and the things left unsaid. Had seventeen years gone by already? The agony remains, a jagged rock in my stomach. I needed to look into her face. I needed her cool hands on my skin. I needed to hear her voice just one more time.
At that exact moment, the music in my headphones switched to opera, and the exquisite voice of the soprano held me to my seat. The aria was Un bel di (One beautiful day), from Madame Butterfly and as the singer sang of hope that her husband would come home to his family, I was transported to the living room of my youth where Mom stood singing Un bel di, her right hand resting on the fading black gloss of our grand piano, her face lifted, a perfect O on her lips. I held my breath until the first velvet note was released, Mom’s body transfixed by Puccini, more ephemeral than human.
Back in the coffee house, the laptop screen swam in my vision as the aria continued and I folded forward until my forehead touched the keyboard of my laptop. Unable to control the tears but desperate not to be noticed, I blindly dug in my bag for a tissue.
That’s when a gaunt man working at the table next to me looked over from where he was writing, his arms covered in tattoos. He stared hard, eyebrows furrowed. His right hand shook as he carefully picked something up off of his table, and I watched as the emerald head of a Tibetan dragon floated across the gap from his table to mine, a clean napkin clutched in his vein-riddled hand.
His voice was reverent as he leaned toward me and whispered, “Wow, that must be some powerful shit you’re writing.”
I closed my eyes. I should have said, “Thank you.” Or at least smiled. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. The pain was still there, and I was long past pretending. In that silence I took a breath, and we both slowly turned back to our computers. Within seconds, I was writing again.
Question: When do your ghosts return?
Please share your comments or answers to the question in the “comment section” below.