best laid plans · positive thoughts as I fill out grant applications · saving my sanity

Tuned in

Last week I optimistically told you that I am aiming for 2012 to be a year of quality: quality of life, of work, of attention, and of efforts. Guess what? I’m a few weeks in and finding it pretty difficult to put my idealism into practice. It is possible that writing a grant application may have something to do with my strained mood… Lately, in an effort to at least gesture towards my goal of a quality-filled year, I have been listening to music while I work.

Music and work have a long history in my life. Do you remember when everyone claimed that Mozart would enhance your brainpower? I sure do. It was 1995 and I was not excelling in math. I know, cliched, huh? In addition to trying tutors and study sessions I clung to the belief that listening to classical music would help me through my math tests. It didn’t, but I did develop a genuine love of listening to music while I worked. When I was in high school it was Tori Amos, Tom Waits, and PJ Harvey. I would sit in my room working on my model United Nations project or writing a term paper and imagine Life Beyond High School. While I was in university I worked at the campus radio station and began to develop a love of jazz and blues: Freddie Hubbard, Etta James, Nina Simone, Archie Shepp, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Sun Ra. You name it, I devoured it. I still recall the first English paper I wrote in university every time I listen to Alice Coltrane’s Ptah, the El Daoud. God, I love jazz harp!

A funny thing happened when I began my Masters, however. Suddenly, I couldn’t listen to music while I wrote anymore. It was as though my mind was too full, trying to wrap itself around new concepts, new routines, new modes of being, and, let’s be frank, new presentations of self. I have worked in relative silence for the last number of years, until very recently. Just as suddenly, I have returned to my voracious listening/working ways. I have even taken to playing music quietly in my office at school, which always seems to take visitors by surprise. This week, I think I will return to one of my favorites: the great, and now late Etta James.

So what about you readers? In the spirit of quality, will you share your playlists with me (work or otherwise)?

7 thoughts on “Tuned in

  1. I wrote my entire dissertation listening to Matthew Good Band. One cd per chapter on constant repeat until the chapter was finished through each and every chapter. Obviously, I mostly tuned out the lyrics, which I now know by heart, but putting on the same familiar music each day allowed my mind to get back and stay in the same mental space. It was very good for making my brain pick up where it had left off the day before.


  2. Great post, Erin!

    In high school, I used to do all my homework in the middle of the night in our basement rec room, on the card table. I would listen a lot of U2. That's a pretty strong memory. U2 and writing papers on Edward Albee. Also, listening to the Smiths, or Red Hot Chilli Peppers, or the Cure. All on cassette.

    During my BA, it was always music: Dead Can Dance, more Smiths, Daniel Ash, a lot of mopey shoe gazer music, and a lot of mopey goth music. Some classical.

    My PhD: coursework year it was all Chopin nocturnes all the time. I still can't play that album without instinctively reaching for a highlighter and mentally returning to that basement apartment, reading on the floor because I had no couch, in front of the space heater.

    Dissertation writing: I had a couple of bad all-nighter's with Yazoo and Morrissey, so somehow I switched over to jazz.

    Right now I”m listening to CBC Radio 2 Jazz online. But I've also hauled out all my Beth Orton albums, and Feist, and also, yikes, MC Yogi.


  3. Oh, how I would love to be able to say I listen to something sophisticated, erudite, or hip. Which would then suggest that *I* am all of those things. (At least, a little. At least, by virtue of proximity.) But no, I can't work to any music. Which suggests that I am equally – blank.


  4. I don't listen to singing of any kind when I work, because I will sing or hum along and lose my work train of thought.

    I have an all-classical station available so it's usually whatever's on. If I'm dealing with a long, difficult problem/paper/process, Eric Satie's music is calming.


  5. At this very moment: Beethoven Piano Sonatas (played by Brendel, of course) and the Mozart Mass in C Minor when I'm seeking a little more melodrama and godliness in my life. When I need a pick me up Talking Heads is good, although I generally spend a pretty fair amount of my reading time with some variety of Stars, The Shins, Destroyer, Oh Bijou and Metric tooting in the background.


  6. I like warm electronica/IDM (Kiln, Eno), post-rock (particularly Do Make Say Think), and Gregorian chant. I mostly can't handle words, unless it's Gregorian as I don't understand Latin anymore and I can just tune it out. I haven't been listening to music while I work for quite awhile, but I like the idea of having a mental bookmark. I do that with space and routine already, so maybe sound would be a useful addition.


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