Power of Music - Vanya Erickson

Power of Music

Power of Music

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.


  1. Quinne Salameh on September 14, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    Such a mixture of pain and reverence of the process of remembering. I love the image of the well meaning “writing buddy” and how
    He could obviously read and be touched by the powerful moment that was happening . Love it.

  2. Marnissa on September 14, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    What an amazing timely article.. My mother’s Birthday would have been yesterday just 2 days after mine, and now after 23 years have pasted since her dearh and I am once again grieving for her.

    Music speaks to my inner heart.. Thank you for expressing that process.

  3. Margery Eriksson on September 14, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Vanya, this is such powerful waiting…you just blow me away! My ghosts return when I see hippos, see a black baby grand, or hear opera, always reminding me of Mom. Such a beautiful and complex lady, who we lost way too early.

  4. Peter Schaper on September 14, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    I always like your writings when I see them on FB! To answer the question: I am just now (at the age of 88) experiencing remembering words IO wished I had said to my mother. I am reading letters she wrote to my aunt, her sister in law, in the 1950s expressing her feelings about me. Unfortunately there isn’t any music like Puccini, but it is very quiet in or house!

  5. Julie Miller on September 14, 2016 at 11:09 pm

    I feel like I am right there when I read your work. Love your descriptions. Love the Tatoo Man! So glad I get to read your writings on a regular basis.

  6. Janet on September 14, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    I agree with the tattoo guy: You write some powerful shit!

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