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Jackson Simmer https://unsplash.com/photos/iACz8TaDWsI

Playing with Playlists

It is a never-ending, ever-changing contradiction that flows through my ears like a river.
It will both define me more clearly and complicate me more completely.

If I had a nickel for every playlist I’ve made in my life, I would just go ahead and buy Spotify, and Apple Music too while I’m at it. See, I’ve been doing it for quite a while, and I have a playlist for practically everything: times of day, moods, events, places, even just seemingly random mash-ups of what I felt like listening to at the time.

Ethan Hoover  https://unsplash.com/photos/RhZ-Tl0QVqo

I have a playlist for playing pickleball with my mother after school under a cloud-smeared sky. I have a playlist for riding to the beach in my cousin’s sand-coated jeep, smiling openly and swallowing sunbeams. I have a playlist for when I feel so defeated that my bones seem to melt and I can barely go to class without crying. I even have a playlist for staring out the window on a lonely train ride, even though I’ve never been on a train in my life.

But creating that playlist makes me feel like I’m ready for it when it happens, some unknown day hovering in the future. The act of playlist creation makes me feel ready for things: ready for change and for newness, ready for next steps and next leaps, ready for falling or flying. My playlists turn uncertainties into certainties, silence into music, life into a musical. My playlists are magical. 

The first one I made is simply called “Stuff.” Despite the rather unimpressive name, I have to admit that it is pretty impressive: it’s a twenty-eight hour (and still growing) musical buffet ranging from punk to jazz, indie to pop, spanning across decades from the sixties to just yesterday. It’s made of a smorgasbord of artists: Queen, Lana Del Rey, Cage the Elephant, Amy Winehouse, Imagine Dragons, ABBA, Green Day, you name it. It is a never-ending, ever-changing contradiction that flows through my ears like a river, shifting from quiet stream to rushing torrents in a matter of seconds. The only thing that binds it together, the only thing loosely anchoring its existence to reality and preventing it from flying apart into oblivion, is me.

My own eclectic taste has weaved it together over the course of four years now, pruning it like a prized garden, adding fresh sounds and removing the old, dead ones as I please. It is my masterpiece in all the colors of a sunlit prism, my instant-classic novel encompassing every genre, my crazy theory of the universe that only makes sense to me (and even I don’t completely understand it sometimes).

I’ve reached a total of ninety-nine playlists so far. That’s ninety-nine situations into which I can inject a little extra life; ninety-nine moments of clarity, rain, celebration, moodiness, frustration, sunshine, expectation, beauty; ninety-nine works of art, displayed in the gallery that is my phone screen, open to the public via my speakers. All music is freeing, but there’s something about the sense of ownership that comes from playlists that makes me feel like I could never be anything other than free.

So who knows what Playlist Number One Hundred will be called? I don’t, at least not yet. But when I do, I know it will both define me more clearly and complicate me more completely, just like every other act of creation. And I can’t wait for that to happen.

Sarah Walker Avatar