It had been only a few weeks since we had returned from our family first trip to Chile. The trip was monumental for many reasons. On this trip my brother and I met our extended family for the first time, and more importantly, it was the first time in over 10 years that my mother had seen her family since she left. Before then she only communicated with her family via letters and the odd phone call. It was the year 2000. A time before video calls were invented and international phone calls were expensive and rare.
During this post-trip period, it became common place for me to catch my mother listening to burnt mix CDs that her family had made for her as a parting gift. She’d sneak into my bedroom when she thought I wasn’t watching, lay on my bed, play the mixes on my CD player and listen to them at max volume on headphones. Although it seemed she was trying to keep her actions discreet, she always gave it away by passionately singing loudly, and badly, while tears ran down her face.
When I peeped through my bedroom door to check if she was ok, what I saw was pure catharsis; intense emotions of love, sadness and longing being released from her body. This act was her way of processing and releasing the feelings she had about missing her family and not knowing when she would see them again. My mother found solace in music, especially music that was handpicked and gifted to her in form of a mix CD by people she loved. Music was the therapeutic external source that enabled her to feel her feelings authentically and connect with her family and her country.
Just like my mother, I have always used music as a gateway to feeling and connecting. I first started listening to music to learn English, and my hobby soon turned into an obsession when I was struggling to make friends at school and longed for human connection. If I had a bad day at school I’d listen to my Mariah’s greatest hits CD when I got home and it made me feel a little less lonely.
Soon enough I started collecting tapes and CDs, and mastering the skill of taping songs from the radio to create personalised mix tapes. For me, playlists have always been the deepest declaration of love. Music is an emotive art form and creating a carefully curated playlist for someone is a subtle yet openly honest way of expressing how you feel about them. Sometimes when you don’t have the words to tell someone how you feel, music is there to say it for you.
I’ve made a million playlists for my brother, friends, colleagues and romantic partners over the years and I never get sick of the joy I experience when someone appreciates the effort I’ve put into carefully selecting the right songs for them. It’s only been recently that I started making playlists for myself to aid me in feeling my feelings. In early 2020 I started a journey of self-healing after an intense break up with my long-term partner, the person I thought was my forever person, right before Melbourne’s first COVID-19 lockdown. This break up was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I felt an overwhelming mix of emotions that I left me feeling numb and avoiding the uncomfortable pain that comes with moving on. I decided to make a playlist devoted to the relationship as a way of processing my feelings. The playlist included songs that reminded me of my ex, songs from in-jokes we had, songs from bands and musicians we both loved, songs from gigs we went to together, songs from trips and all the songs that shaped our 6-year long relationship. These were the songs that connected us and brought colour to our experiences. These songs were the soundtrack to the life we shared; the soundtrack to the highlight of my life so far.
The playlist was originally intended to be a parting gift from me to him. Then one night, when we were broken up but were still living together, we listened to it together. We laughed, we cried, we talked, we sang, we reminisced. In this moment we both acknowledged the deep, real love, we had for each other that kept us together for so long, and that we both will always have love for the other.
As I lay there next to the love of my life while we both cried uncontrollably, I felt like all the trapped uncomfortable emotions in my body were released at once, and in that moment I remembered my mother, and how my cathartic experience mirrored hers.
Music was always the external source that connected us, so it’s only right that music, in a form of a playlist, was part of our ending. I am incredibly fortunate to experience a love so profound with another person, and now, for the first time in my life I’m ready to feel that type of love for myself. Since that experience I’ve continued the ritual of making playlists for myself to feel my feelings. I still consider playlists to be the deepest declaration of love. Except now, for me, my playlists are a form of self-love.