Music, Memory, and Productivity

When I’m writing, I generally prefer silence. At least, I say that I do. In my mind having music on a background noise is the exception to the rule, but I have a lot of exceptions. The neighbors are being loud. I need a mood elevator. Something need to focus my attention back to the here-and-now. The thing is, I can’t just listen to anything. My playlists have to be carefully curated. It comes down to the intersection of music, memory, and productivity.

My go-to work music is one of two things: jazz or classical. Nothing with lyrics. I’ve got a selection of instrumental jazz, mostly from the 50s and 60s. The mood is mellow and just slighlty upbeat, nothing too loud or jumpy. It’s coffee shop stuff, or early evening NPR from my younger days. It’s a general association with writing in cafes.

Similarly, the classical is up-tempo but not bombastic, leaning more toward light and airy solos and small ensembles than full-blow orchestral pieces. Old bookstore stuff, or afternoon NPR when I was in college. There are a few associations, but not many. It takes me back to sitting in my apartment, banging out term papers and short stories.

For no reason I can remember, last week I started listening to 80’s alternative. Elvis Costello. Blondie. Tears for Fears. Bands that I’ve never been particularly invested in. Yeah, some Talking Heads, The Clash, and such slip in there, but it’s mostly bands that would make the youth say “Who?”. Heaven 17, The Fixx, Wall of Voodoo. This mix has been working for me, but the why of it didn’t click until a few minutes prior to sitting down to write this.

Music, Memory, and Productivity

In the 1980s, I was in art school and university. I closed out the decade living in center city Philadelphia, surrounded by creative people. Even though I wouldn’t have put the 80s alternative playlist together myself, and I’m not really into most of those bands, it struck a nerve. That was the time when I was most enthusiastic about being a professional creative. It was the time period when the prospect of doing what I do now was exciting.

I was a much needed epiphany.

No matter how much I love my job, it’s still a job. I’m not creating art for art’s sake, I need to get the bills paid. What I’m doing now, in my 50s, is the sort of thing I should have been doing in my 20s and 30s. Unfortunately, I got sucked into the corporate world and lost my way. Part of me things that I should be further along in this career than I am. Another part of my thinks I should have outgrown all of this.

What I keep forgetting about is the part where this is fun. If a playlist can take me back to a time when I had too much enthusiasm, I’ll take it. Those days weren’t better; they were hard in different ways, the world will still screwed up, and a lot of people were awful. But I had a much better attitude about things then. I need to get some of that back.

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