August 7, 2017

my musical time capsule

The new series I'm writing has been on my mind for about five years. It's changed and evolved and changed again while it simmered on the back burner that is my brain. As I've mentioned in previous posts, creating a playlist on Spotify for each of my stories is a big part of my development process. Like the characters and plot, it develops over time as I made additions and subtractions, culling it till it's nearly perfect in my mind.

(Okay, until it's good enough. I'm not going to pretend I'm a perfectionist with every detail even though I really wish I was. That's what happens when you're a Type A-minus. Concessions are made.)

With 80 songs on it, my playlist for this series has grown at a slow, steady pace since its inception. Like the series, it was always on the back of my mind, but I never gave it much serious thought while other books and playlists were front and center.

This spring, with Playing House launched and a first draft of Smyth Saves the Date done, I was a free agent for the first time in a while and could work on whatever I wanted. I was also completely independent at this point, which gave me the freedom to try something different. That's where this new series enters the picture. After attending a retreat with the Romance Authors of the Heartland, I learned more about creating a series bible, and I wanted to give it a shop. Excited to develop character sketches and possible plot lines, I opened the playlist to listen for the first time.

It stunned me. It wasn't just the sheer number of songs--though, yikes! It was the songs themselves. Some were longstanding favorites from some of my go-to artists story after story. (I'm looking at you Beyonce, Elton John, Ben Folds, and Jon McLaughlin.)

But there are also the songs I once loved or obsessed over, but haven't heard in years. Maybe not since I put them on the list. Hearing these again after so much time, it was like opening up a time capsule. It transformed me back in time, evoking feelings and memories.

"Carry On" by Fun. reminded me of how seriously I once considered quitting my job and moving to Los Angeles to study improv and screenwriting while seeking my fortune.

"My Own Sinking Ship" by Good Old War reminded me of my habit of taking long, rambling walks through my neighborhoods on Saturday mornings several years ago. It also made me realize that's a habit I should probably bring back.

"Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve reminded me of Cruel Intentions. And how once upon a time in youthful determination to be, I don't know, deep, I once thought it would make a unique and beautiful "Wedding March" substitute if I ever married.

"Big Jet Plane" by Angus & Julia Stone reminded me of a good friend, who I promptly texted to catch up.

"Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show reminded me of the bar I was sitting in when this song came on the jukebox and the series popped into my head.

And so on. Probably the biggest reaction happened when I had the playlist going one day on my way to the office. I was nearly there when "Yellow" by Coldplay came on. Like most of my contemporaries who went to high school and college in the 2000s, Coldplay was a constant of sorts. This particular song was the first I remember knowing, and the song I most associate with my high school/college boyfriend. It wasn't our song. We never really had one. But it's a song that came to mind when I realized I loved him. As such, I haven't listened to it much since high school--just when it pops on the radio once every few years.

The opening guitar strums played through the car's speakers and I felt the familiar tug in my chest. Not painful, but that warm, beautiful squeeze that seems to hold onto your heart when you love someone. Before Chris Martin sang a word, I remembered how fiercely I'd once loved that boy I dated many, many years ago.

Oh, God. Was I still in love with him? Had it been a mistake to break up nearly a decade before? What should I do? I obviously couldn't call him. He's married. I'm not a homewrecker. But was this why I'm still single? Had I let my one shot at love slip away?

The warmness in my chest turned into a tightness. My heart pounded, my breaths grew shallow, and I became more and more convinced that I'd made a horrible mistake long ago and that I'd regret it for the rest of my life.

Then the song ended and another one came on. Almost as quickly, the spell broke. The panic evaporated, and I remembered why we'd broken up and that while we'd once had a wonderful, sweet relationship--one I'll always treasure--it had run its course. I most definitely had no interest in rekindling anything and have no regrets about it coming to an end. That moment of clarity came at the perfect time. I'd arrived at work, which is hardly a place to have an existential crisis and meltdown.

I could laugh at the whole experience moments later, but what a trip.

Working my way through each song over the week gave me a series of thrills and memories I hadn't anticipated. And it gave me something I'm not sure I can explain. It's kind of that feeling you have when you watch an old family video and see how young you all used to be or those grandparents you miss. There's a little sadness to it, but mostly there's this happiness and gratitude you ever lived those moments.

This playlist gave me an unexpected gift I wouldn't trade. Even the phantom love pangs. And it was an experience I'm lucky to have had.

Does music do this to any of you? Do you get any other sensory reminders that bring back memories so vividly, it's like you're there again? Have you ever thought you might still be in love with an ex only to come to your senses? Please share your stories in the comments if you have them.

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