can’t keep a journal so I track my mood thru monthly playlists
When I want to remember where I was during a certain point in time in my life, I go to Spotify and listen to the playlist I created that month. A habit I can’t break, I’ve made monthly playlists since 2016 when I was sitting in a friend’s smoke-filled apartment listening to Berhana and realized I had no idea who this majestic soul was, had no idea what the last song I listened to was and maybe that my music taste ended with the Jesse McCartney concert I went to when I was 12 at Six Flags. Tragic start for a music taste now that endeavors on a full blown personality.
I’m giving away the key to my soul here but these monthly playlists verge on emotional decrees on the state of my being. Better than the journals I could never keep or the emotional voice notes sent to friends post-break up or friend turmoil or career crisis or just every crisis (they come often & all at once) that hit too deep to listen closely. More articulate on how high the joy was than I could ever form into words in the moment.
A friend once told me that when she wanted to see how her friend was doing, she would go to her Tumblr page. It wasn’t a page her friends really knew about but it wasn’t one they didn’t either. She didn’t hide it but it wasn’t the headline of her life. My friend would check-in daily, seeing what type of content she would post. When the content got a little too dark, she would make sure to call her that night. I found the practice invasive and impersonal at the same time: this wasn’t a long distance friendship. They saw each other almost everyday and yet asking her how she was directly felt like peeking too deep into a corner she didn’t want eyes on, too vulnerable for both of them to know the other had eyes on the soft spots of their souls; perhaps too much weight for the friendship to carry. And yet, the Tumblr page verged on a personal diary just for the anonymous public of the internet. In theory, that would mean her friends too but part of me thinks also in practice, not for them at all. A world developed to echo into the void of those who get it, cradled away from those who live it too closely. Part of me thinks the friend always knew a confident was tracking her emotional vibe. The friendship crumbled years later in perhaps the same way it developed: without words. My friend still crawls her Tumblr page in a therapeutic way of honoring two simultaneous truths: a friendship no longer lives but you still care. Part of me thinks the friend knows she still does.
In a lot of ways, these monthly playlists have become a different habit than the one I thought I was cultivating. They draw me back to the very feeling and state when I was listening to the song. When I curate these playlists, subconsciously I craft them to hit every node of my soul; so decadent that when I listen to the music years later, they sometimes make my throat go tight and remind me of where I was and perhaps where I no longer want to be.
Of all the playlists, I play “July Cry 2019” the most. At the end of a windy spiral through the grime of Stormzy, the catchy jazzy throaty ballads of GoldLink, and the drip of Ali Gatie (specifically “its you”), you hit the gem of Kokoroko’s Abusey Junction. It’s seven minutes and each time I have to play the whole thing-the only song I ever grace the honor to. The song is wrapped in a melancholic outline, lulling you in at first listen with lightly picked guitar, interwoven harmonic brass changes and deep percussion for four minutes sending you to your former and future self at the same time. It reminds you of all the places you’ve been with the hopes, realized dreams and disappointments. The song goades you behind the eyes, it lulls you into a deep nostalgia. The kind of song that you think will play lightly in the background un-distractingly until you can’t stop listening intentionally as it traps you in a meditative trance of nostalgia personified. At minute six, hope is breathed into the song with the band’s all-female horn, guiding your nostalgia and past dreams deferred into future optimism. And before you know it, the song is over. Perhaps reminding us once we’ve clung to the realized, it manifests before we have had the time to savor hopes sweet arrival.
The first time I heard that song was in a flat near midnight before a flight to leave the city I’d called home for two years. I still can’t quite remember who the owner was or how I got there. But as I sat on a counter surrounded by intimate strangers cradled by soft lighting, conversations that lingered about dreams of writing novels on magic realism and the taste of the stillness of the night, knowing that I needed to savor the flavor of the moment before I no longer lived here, the song came on and it caught the atmosphere.
I assume people who have chased after too many dreams that don’t give you what you want get how that song taps into that thing you know is somewhere over there if you just keep pushing. For those who don’t know what “that” and “there” is but can’t help holding onto the fact that life can’t be just this.
Nostalgia seems to come like a smug thief to wave the scent of past joy in front of you in the moments you’re most unclear on what’s ahead, as if to say you had a taste of something you may not taste again. It’s not the memory that kills; it’s the context and certainty. Knowing the run up and how it ends in ways that life obviously does not give you in the moment. It’s the reason why people chase horoscopes, psychics, signs and god, asking for the certain.
It’s the romance of flirting with a past experience knowing that it can’t be taken away and you can continue smoking romantic waves into the memory till it’s so large you forget what the original looked like.
For me, nostalgia hits the most when I think about Istanbul. It was my come to Mecca moment: the molding of a being who lacked the words and vocab to make sense of “before” into something dynamic, with bite and awareness. When I think hard enough though, I was an anxious mess making sense of it all. I still am. The truest growth comes under pressure, out of your comfort zone. The process ain’t pretty-no matter how much nostalgia sugar coats it.
Alice Walker says “Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before.” So much of nostalgia is resistance-of growth, of uncertainty, of discomfort. Not just the discomfort but wanting to skip the hard stuff because most people do but you know deep down when you skip the hard stuff, you give up the upfront investment for your future self. Plenty of people skip the hard stuff-they walk among us; society embraces it but when you dig deep into those people, you realize their back is to the wall when you get too close and they shy away when the air gets heavy or your soul too deep. Or they’re privileged af and tbh the hard stuff never really came or will come and they just don’t do it bc they don’t have to. To them, I salute.
I got a text from a friend a few months back asking how I could have been so happy in November last year and so sad in March. I was confused, mostly because of the specificity and how she had hit so close on the head. She heard my playlists and she knew-the beat changed, the air shifted and she knew. I never knew any of the people I knew listened to my playlists that deeply but it reminded me a lot of my friend tracking her friend’s Tumblr page. So invasive it was almost too bright for me to look at but part of me in the back of my mind felt peace. Nostalgia hits deep; growth is messy, chaotic not meant for those reaching for the map of where to go next but somewhere in the world someone gets it too and when they do, that’s the optimism Abussey Junction reaches at the end of its jazzy tune
Sherin Nassar is figuring it out IRL. Born to parents from Cairo, raised in the outskirts of Philly but somehow a two year stint in London claims her heart. She loves Korean fried chicken, making google food maps, building out @book.sh3lf and her monthly playlists.