Since childhood I’ve held no doubt that our awareness influences the way we build our lives.
Not our parents, our grades or some vague external influence.
If my adolescence taught me anything it’s that a thoughtfully constructed playlist has the power to change your life. No exaggeration. Just ask the prized stack of CD wallets circa 1997 collecting dust in my cupboards, my High School Spotify playlist or the birthday card filled with photocopied signatures from the Southern Sons. My musically inclined father signed me up to the fan club….when I was 6.
No idea who the Southern Sons are? Here you go.
It’s embarrassing. Don’t email me about it.
My love for music was so entrenched it stretched beyond cute sing-a-longs in the car. I read discographies, studied to the background noise of Channel V, fawned over my Dad’s vinyl record collection and completed all daily tasks with spongy headphones shoved into my ears.
True to form, my stereo was the last thing I packed into my tiny Toyota when I left home. I sat in the empty room and watched the sunlight pour in, lighting everything up
I realised that I would never sit in this room again, and instead of sadness it was relief that peeled away an invisible layer of weight that was not mine to carry.
‘So, so you think you can tell, heaven from hell, Blue skies from pain.’
~ Wish you were here, Pink Floyd
A diverse set of events shaped my childhood and adolescence:
The premature death of my mother when I was 14 months old.
Unresolved grief and its effects on our family.
An abusive stepmother and the trust and abandonment issues that followed.
Boys that were wrong for me.
Friends that were family.
Well concealed and debilitating anxiety.
My early years sound dark and heavy but they were mostly warm and joyful because I was mostly raised by two of the kindest, most generous people.
My grandmother quit her job to raise me and my grandfather picked me up from school every day. Always a half hour early to nab the prime park for his sky blue Falcon.
It would seem the universe dabbles in cosmic real estate, because the most serendipitous thing about my childhood was that both sets of my grandparents lived across the street from each other.
Afternoons were spent picking vegetables, watching my grandfathers play cards and doing homework on the kitchen table while my grandmother watched The Bold and the Beautiful.
I basked in familiar calm, until my stepmother picked me up to take me home, where it would dissipate like lightning.
Her interrogations began before we’d pulled out of the driveway, continuing through the evening in some veiled form; menacing side glances through dinner, empty threats and feigned interest in my feelings.
Writing, loud music and daydreaming were my therapeutic triad of mental escape routes.
Remnants of my carefree afternoons kept me from shutting off entirely. Those honey hued residues propelled my malleable young mind into gear.
With my headphones in and the music turned up, I began asking myself questions bigger than I could wrap my head around.
What if I stopped paying attention to what I hate?
What if I focused more on what enlivens me?
What if I keep my energy to myself?
The more I mulled them over, answers began to land.
‘For above the World, Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do ‘
~ Space Oddity, David Bowie
At the expensive of appearing outwardly indifferent and rebellious, I practiced closing out the drama of my deflating home life. Music was my main salvation, an amplifier for awareness.
Music gave me space, even for just the length of a song, to feel the way I wanted.
Led Zeppelin to explore the moody darkness. Pearl Jam to safely swirl in the soup of emotional suppression and teen angst. And Alanis Morrisette, because who can you yell to if not Alanis Morrisette?
While caught up in the music, I was privy to the inextricable bond between lyrics and emotion. The right words have a way of chasing feelings up to the surface where they pool and marinate long after the song has ended.
The more I listened, the longer they lingered and the more I deeply I reimagined my life as I wanted it.
Awareness on how much I bought in to others behaviour, and the realisation that I didn’t have to, fired me up in the best of ways. I became savvy and selective with my focus. It was hard but worth it because it brought me peace while it inflamed those who enjoyed disturbing it.
Eventually I understood that shifting my focus served as the foundation for rebuilding myself without telegraphing my moves. Like roadworks without signage, it was infuriating to those who relied on the people pleasing tendencies of my past.
I was guided by my instincts and my iPod. The more I listened the less I spoke, evoking a fresh appreciation of the idiom that silence is golden.
Back to that afternoon in my empty bedroom, the relief I felt was borne from the awareness of where I’d been, the fire I was walking through and where I was heading.
And awareness that I was the one who was paving the path.
‘I know I was born and I know that I’ll die, the in-between is mine.’ I Am Mine, Pearl Jam
Motherhood ensures that I call on my inner strength because being a motherless mother is a lonely experience. You’re a silent part of an invisible club that you’re both sad but proud to belong to.
Watching newly minted grandmothers with their daughters can be painful. There’s hot flashes of envy at what I think I missed. The paradox is that I don’t truly know what I’ve missed which gifted me the enigmatic awareness that nurturing myself while nurturing another is the lesson for me this time around.
The things that life seems to hurl at us; jealous stepparents, ugly divorce, dishonesty, loss, hurtful relationships, fickle friendships and insecurity can be delicately transformed over time. Recycled and made into something more useful.
Nothing is definitive. No outside influence can determine your potential.
You get to be the judge of that.
As an aside to everything, let me say this: Your backstory is just that, a story.
Your capacity for change waits quietly for you to light the match.
Whatever you build from the detours in your life, your instincts will serve as the best blueprint.
My only advice is: follow it. And be sure to build yourself a killer playlist.