The Playlist to My Life

You all probably have over 500 songs on your iPod or your iTunes. Hundreds upon hundreds, even. But do you ever stop and think about why you choose to have those hundreds of songs on your list? Do you listen to all of them, or do you listen to some particular songs? What is it about these songs that draws you into them? Is it the beat, the tune, the melody, the words? Does it describe you in some way? Has it had some kind of impact on your life? Do you just like listening to it for fun, or during more serious times? Do you listen to different songs depending on what kind of mood you’re in? I guess what I’m trying to ask you is, what does your music say about you?

So I want you to pick ten songs. Just ten. Out of your hundreds. Perhaps your favorites. And I want you to listen to them over and over again, and I want you to tell me why you like them. Maybe some remind you of a certain situation or a certain experience or a certain time in your life. Maybe there’s one song that just make you feel good, and you listen to it when you’re feeling up and riding high. Maybe there’s that one song that you go to when you’re feelings down, not wanting to be uplifted but wanting someone to be down with you, and that’s the song. Maybe there’s one song that describes you–your thoughts, your beliefs, your values, your morals. Your personality.

So after you choose your songs, keep listening to them. Listen to them with an ear like you’ve never had before. And after a while, begin to write. Write about why you chose those songs. Write about why those songs have meaning to you. Write about what these songs say about you. Write about why you want to share them. Write about you…

I was a sophomore in high school when I first heard this song. I remember sitting on the couch after my parents called a “family meeting” to tell my three brothers and me that my oldest brother’s inoperable brain tumor was incurable. After the news broke, everyone pretty much left the living room in silence and went their different ways to digest what they had just heard. It was my oldest brother and me left. He knew I was angry at a lot of things–angry at what life had dealt him and the rest of my family, angry at him because he was sick, even though I knew it wasn’t his fault, but most of all, angry at God. It had been a year since he had been diagnosed, and the pain surrounding the situation was becoming too much for me to handle.

My brother came down and sat next to me on the couch and told me everything was going to be fine, even though I knew he knew it wasn’t going to be. He tried hardly to put on a brave face for me. I knew he was scared. And so was I. But I stopped thinking of myself for a minute and asked how he gets by day to day without wanting to break down and just give up. He told me to listen to this song.

He told me he saw a lot of himself in the song. It was his struggle, it was his thoughts, it was his feelings. His life was falling apart, and there was nothing he could do but sit there and watch. He had no control. So after a while, he realized he had to take it day by day and let go of problems he had no control over. Hence, “let your troubles roll by.”

Hearing the song now brings back a lot of those painful memories, but I’ll always have a connection to it. It helps me remind myself to let go of the petty problems I have and let them roll off my back.

Perhaps my favorite line of the song is, “you’ve come far, and though you’re far from the end, you don’t mind where you are ’cause you know where you’ve been.” It’s how I feel about anything life hands me now. Nothing can be as bad as that time in my life.

My mom used to tell me that my poppop used to sing this song all the time. I never got to meet him, but I’ve heard that I got his voice. He loved to sing. He wanted to be a professional opera singer, but never made it that far. It was his lifelong dream.

He had a hard time fulfilling his dream. My mom said he used to get mad when he’d hear about singers with no talent and no training making it big. He was classically trained. He had talent. But he did things his way, and he said that’s why he never made it to the top. But when all was said and done, he said he would rather do it his way. At the end of the day, he stuck to his guns and didn’t compromise himself or what he believed to be important to him–integrity, honesty, pride, dignity. He didn’t cheat his way through life just to get to where he wanted to be.

I want to be like my poppop in that regard. Of course, I have dreams. I have goals. I want to get somewhere in my life, and I want it to have meaning. But success, I think, is measured in different ways. Some people see success in careers, like my poppop, even though I think he realized in the end that his family was more important. I measure success by counting the people whom I love in my life. If I’ve had an impact on someone, in some way, I think that’s success.

Ultimately, I want to be successful in the world. I want to leave my mark. I don’t think I can do that if I don’t possess a strong sense of self. The world today is cold and becoming colder. To get ahead today, in any regard, a person has to be strong willed. A person has to have a backbone, and he can’t be afraid to fall. And that’s hard sometimes, for anyone. It’s hard for me. Sometimes I lose my way and get sidetracked and forget where it is I’m going or who it is I’m supposed to be or what it is I stand for. Through the words of this song, I feel strength.

For me, this song possesses strong qualities that I want for myself. It’s about being happy with myself at the end of the day, and not regretting anything I’ve done or any choices I’ve made. It’s about having pride, having character, and having dignity. And people can’t take that away from me, unless I, myself, let them. Sometimes that’s hard to remember.

When I hear this song, I picture a man saying his last goodbye to everyone around him–his last goodbye to the world. And he’s happy with the life he lived because he didn’t compromise himself in spite of struggles and hardships. By the end of my life, I hope I can do the same, and this song inspires me to do so.

This song is about living with decisions I’ve made and not regretting them. At one time it was what I wanted, even if I got slack for them. I didn’t succumb to something I didn’t believe in, even if it wasn’t the right decision, because I value my sense of character more than anything in the world. I think character is how you measure a person. Character is how I wish other people would measure me, though that’s naive. But regardless, I’ve lived the life that I wanted to and a life that I’m proud of, and I’ve made mistakes and I’ve fallen, but I’ve picked myself up and learned from my experiences and kept going.

I first heard the Dixie Chicks back in high school. My friend Maria and I used to drive around for hours in her car going nowhere in particular. We just liked the freedom, liked the trip, liked the exploring.

I remember the first car ride she had this CD. She turned this song on and said it was about her life. She was a senior then, and I was only a sophomore. But she was having struggles with college and where she wanted to go, what she wanted to do with her life. She told me she wasn’t like everyone else. She couldn’t go close to home. She wanted to get out of our small town in New Jersey and explore. She had that itch to break away by herself and experience new things. She said she was taking the long way around because she wasn’t taking the path everyone else seemed to be taking.

Looking back on it now, I realize that it pertains to my life too. The song is about trying new things and making my own decisions even if they go against the mainstream crowd. It’s about just living for myself even if other people don’t understand. Maybe eventually I’ll settle down someday, but I’m taking the long way to get there. And I’ll get there sooner or later, but on my own terms.

I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad things that I want to take “the long way around.” Despite many assumptions, I’ve never been a mainstream sort of girl. I’ve always been a little different, and I’m okay with that. I think that is part of who I am, and I’ve learned to like who I am. So, I don’t think figuring out who I am, even if it takes a little longer, is bad by any means. Sometimes it takes people their whole lifetimes to figure that out. I think finding a sense of self is an underlying theme in the song.

The singer talks about how the top of the world comes crashing down. Sometimes people are your best friends when things are going well and they like the kind of person you are. But as soon as you step away or voice an opinion that goes against popular belief, you can feel separated and worse, isolated. My favorite few lines are, “It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself. Guess I could have made it easier on myself, but I, I could never follow.”

Those lines hold a lot of power for me. Like I said before, I don’t want to be a weak person. My dignity and character mean everything to me, and this song helps me realize that there are others out there who believe in the same things. I can relate to her words through this song, and even more, her emotions.

This is a picture of Maria and I.

This song is about leaving home, or a comfortable place, to find a dream and a life of your own. It’s uncertain where you’re going or what’s going to happen, or if it’s even the right decision for you. But you do it anyway because you need to experience life on your own, or you just simply need a change.

I can relate to this song because it’s about independence. My parents have raised me to be an independent person. They have always supported me and my dreams and my goals, my decisions. Anything I’ve ever wanted to set out to do, they’ve backed me. So when it was time for me to set out into the world beyond the likings of my little island town at the tip of New Jersey, they let me go. They let me explore and find my way.

The lines that mean the most to me in the song are, “she needs wide open spaces, room to make big mistakes. She needs new faces. She knows the high stakes.” The lines have meaning for me because I think I’ve always been a pretty independent person. I like going and doing things on my own. I want room to grow for myself. I want to make my own mistakes and learn from them, but I need room in order to make them. I want to discover who I am through my choices. I’m the kind of person where, if I don’t get my own space, I feel smothered. I need wide open spaces in order to show my full potential for something.

I think I would have held it against my parents if they didn’t let me have wide open spaces, and I think that’s why the song means something to me. I value the fact that they gave me the opportunity to go out and experience living on my own, somewhat. I value the fact that they respect me enough to let me have that space, and I value the fact that they trust me enough to give that space to me.

The best atmosphere for me to listen to this song is when I’m running outside. Most days, I go for long runs around the developments in Greenville, or when I’m home, I run along the beach. Obviously, I like to run because it keeps me in shape. But I also like to run because I can escape into my own world for a little bit and think about things. It’s the perfect time for me to clear my head and reevaluate some decisions.

“Till I Collapse” is number one on my workout playlist. It has a loud, high-energy beat, and Eminem screams the words when he raps. This high energy makes me want to run faster without stopping.

I like the words to this song because Eminem says he basically isn’t giving up until he collapses. No matter the circumstances. No matter who hates him. And he’ll never give up because he’ll never collapse. And he’ll never collapse because he’s strong. But he doesn’t just say it like that–he screams it…and he means it. I can feel his emotion coming through when he raps, and that’s a main reason why I feel a connection with the song. I’m a very emotional person, and I’m not scared to show those emotions.

That fact, coupled with the fact that I want to be a strong person, make me relate to the song. I don’t want to give up or collapse because something is hard, or because someone tells me I can’t do something. In the song, Eminem says that he doesn’t care what other people think, he’s not going anywhere. Their negative energy is his motivation. That motivates me to be the kind of person Eminem is. I try to be that person, so in a way I’m similar to Eminem.

The first time I listened to this song I was in my friend Jill’s car. I was having a bad day, and coincidentally, she was too. I don’t remember what happened to either of us that day that had us so shook, but I do remember what Jill did in order to make the day better. She put this song on and cranked up the volume.

I fell in love with the song after that. We jammed out to it the whole way home for winter break–a seven hour car ride.

The song is about feeling weak. You feel like you’re about to be pushed over the edge. You feel like you’ve lost your fight. But then something happens. You finally realize that you’ve had enough of whatever is pushing you around, and you find the strength to fight back.

My favorite few lines are, “When push comes to shove, you taste what you’re made of. You might bend till you break ’cause it’s all you can take. On your knees, you look up, decide you’ve had enough. You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off, then you stand.”

This is the kind of person I am. I usually am easy-going. I like to go with the flow. Not many trivial things get to me because I’ve experienced bigger problems, life or death problems, and I can determine the importance of the problem at hand. But sometimes I get a little weak. Sometimes I let things bother me, and I have no control over how I feel or why I let stupid things bug me.

But I can only take so much. I can only take so much until I start to stand up for myself and fight back. It takes a lot to get myself to that point, but I can do it. And I will do it if I need to.

This is a picture of Jill and I.

Okay, so I didn’t get to ten songs. I chose six songs to describe myself. And I only picked six songs because I realized something after the last song I chose–they all have pretty much the same message. A message that carries a particular theme, a particular characteristic that, perhaps, I never knew I so strongly desired for myself. This characteristic is strength. Strength can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For me, strength means a lot of different things for a lot of different aspects of my life. It doesn’t have one definitive definition.

When I take the word “strength,” I think about certain instances in my life that I needed it. And I’ve needed it a lot in my life, with small, trivial things and with bigger problems and situations.

Before tragedy struck my family with my cousin and brother being diagnosed with terminal cancer, I needed strength to get me through the little, day-to-day activities of being a kid, whether it was passing a test, or making a new friend, or just trying not to get bullied around in the school yard. Those kinds of things are important to children because it’s the center of their lives. It’s not right to call it trivial, I know, because to them it is important. It is everything to them because they have to find a way to be around the situation and find a way to cope and work through it. I fell into this category, as I think everyone does. Now I wish I could go back to the days where my biggest problem was picking out an outfit for school or deciding if I wanted pizza or french fries for lunch. Everything seemed, not necessarily easier, but simpler, if that makes sense. That “center” of my world changed when I was a sophomore in high school.

When my cousin and my brother were diagnosed, my family completely changed. Three-hundred-sixty degrees. I’m talking about concrete ways, like scheduling, working, spending, driving from hospital to hospital. But as these concrete things changed, so did the more abstract, like our feelings towards each other and the situation, our bonds and relationships with each other, our bonds and relationships with God, because my family is religious. And when my world got turned upside down, I had to find a way to deal with the situation. Suddenly my little problems became a lot more trivial when I was faced with the bigger picture, in this case, life or death. My thoughts suddenly went from outfits and pizza and french fries to treatment and chemotherapy and surgery.

There was nothing I could do to help the situation. There was nothing anyone could do. It was out of our hands, and whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I was powerless, and that’s a terrible feeling. You know that feeling you get in your stomach when you don’t want to do something, but have to anyway? Those knots that seem to just endlessly tie, like all your intestines are wrapped in bows. That nervousness. That’s how I felt all the time. I felt like my world was slipping away, and I was standing there watching. So I had to find a way to cope and get through, and that’s where my strength came into play.

I don’t look back on either of these scenarios and wish they never happened because I think both helped me shape what kind of person I am today, and they helped me possess a strong sense of strength more fully. I had to be strong in different ways. I had to be physically strong. I had to be mentally and emotionally strong. I had to be spiritually strong. If I didn’t find a way to possess this quality, I probably wouldn’t have overcome the situations. That’s why strength is so important to me.

I’ve always known this, but I never realized that I needed and wanted strength in different ways until I picked my songs. “Let Your Troubles Roll By” by Carbon Leaf is an obvious choice because it reminds me directly of the situation. Obviously, I have to be strong when dealt with a certain situation. But when I picked “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, I noticed that this kind of strength was a little different. This kind of strength was more like a self strength. It’s about believing in myself, not compromising on account of others, and being happy with my decision. It’s more about emotion strength. “Taking the Long Way Around” and “Wide Open Spaces” are more self strengths for me as well. It’s about exploring my options and being comfortable enough with myself to take risks and chances. “Till I Collapse” by Eminem relates more to my physical strength. The song makes me want to be active and work on making my body stronger, because if I make my body stronger, I’ll make my mentality stronger. “Stand” gives me mental strength when dealing with other people who try to bring me down. It’s just another way for me to look at things and people and show them who I am and what I stand for without them being able sway myself and my decisions.

Ultimately, I think strength comes from within a person–from within the heart. It’s a feeling. It’s a person’s want or will to fight and not give up with anything, no matter what the circumstance. It’s about perseverance, it’s about testing limits–seeing how far you can go without breaking. You find it within yourself. And it’s always there, but I think it’s just a matter of when it comes out, why it comes out, and how it comes out, although at some times it may appear unexpectedly. You can find strength in anything, from anywhere, but it’s really a matter of striking a chord with something within yourself where you feel you need it. Strength determines your character. And it may surprise you, sometimes. You might find limits of strength you’ve never known you had, until you’re forced to find your way with something. And that’s the most rewarding experience when you do. Your strength can grow limitlessly.

This playlist project taught me something about myself. I think that was the whole point of it–that’s what it was supposed to accomplish. I never had to pry that deep into myself until I was made to for this project. But I’m happy I did. It was sort of like a little journey of self discovery. And maybe, just maybe, by listening to my songs and reading my stories, you’ll be able to discover yourself in some way too.

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