Remembering Who You Are in a CD Store

On a Sunday afternoon, stuffed full of brunch food and espresso, I rediscovered the delight of clicking through CDs in a bin at a bookstore. I walked out with six, despite the voice in my head telling me it was a waste, that CDs are dead, that they’ll just take up space in the consul of my car.

I sat in the driver’s seat, windows down, chipping the corner of my nail as I tried to catch that little corner fold of the plastic, peel off the sticker on the case that never comes off in one piece. I thought to myself, I forgot what it was like to work for this, to put more effort into music than a simple search on iTunes or YouTube. I liked the heady mix of frustration and anticipation as I cracked open the plastic cases, careful not to let them break at the spines and end up in two pieces. It was a familiar dance. My fingers were clumsy, but they knew the routine.

This strange pull towards CDs began with a simple offering from a friend. She was just passing through California. We met for a quick breakfast before she disappeared again. She’s one of those friends that really lives into the mystery. Sometimes I wonder if she transforms into a bear cub or a willow tree when she leaves, becomes one with the Earth for a season before dressing in human skin, renting a car, driving to LA just to stop by and say hey, how ya been? In the parking lot of the breakfast place, she handed me Sia’s This Is Acting, and said, “I want you to have this because I just think you’ll love it.”

I’ve listened to it 8 billion times since. It became the soundtrack to my big move, thick with feeling and wailing into the face of life, like “What up, I’m still here. What do you have for me now, son?” It is an album of rebirth, of celebration. It helped me leave things behind, let me scream high notes that I don’t have in my range into the hum of the freeway. It was nice, having that album reserved solely for breakdowns in the car. My Prius our own special place. I’d click through to my two favorite tracks on the days that sucked or just let the whole thing play and listen hard.

But the other day, when the ten year-old girl I nanny asked me who my favorite artist is, I didn’t have an answer. It was as if she had asked me to describe the color blue. I couldn’t think of a single musician who felt truthful, who felt real, like they carried weight in my life in any sort of way. It was odd. When had I forgotten this language, this medium that used to mean so much to me?

In the momentum of all this change, in the opportunities I’ve had lately to mature, to grow up, I haven’t had much time to ground into what I really love. I’d forgotten the amount of healing that can happen in the back of a music store or walking the street of a farmer’s market, arms full of flowers and tamales. We spend so much energy on self-improvement, on seeking gurus and mentors to tell us what’s wrong with us and how to fix it, I think we forget to return to the roots of our being, to the simple things that make us well-up inside, that find us drumming on the steering wheel at a red light, completely unconcerned with the next moment. It’s just you and that thing: that verse, that pen, that patch of dirt in the garden.

I think it’s in that surrender, that deep yield into the truth of what we love that the real healing begins. It’s where we can feel ourselves again and think, yeah, this person. I know who this is.

And now, here I am, six CDs richer. It’s an odd collection of albums I used to pick through from my mom’s tower by the TV when I thought playing a CD meant that the band had to drop everything and play for you live, to the moody anthems of my middle school years when I grew bored of the Christian Rock we listened to at youth group, to the Avatar soundtrack that used to make me cry on trips to the gas station when I first learned to drive.

It’s eclectic, and it doesn’t make any sense. But it feels a little more like me. Not like the Aerosmith, classic rock-loving girl who emerged as an extension of her first boyfriend’s tastes, not like what’s trending on the radio because it’s what will be played at the frat party next week, not like the show tunes that are belted backstage at rehearsals that I always felt stupid or less of an artist for not knowing.

It’s my collection. My little tribe of musicians that I hunted down in a store on a Sunday afternoon. My little community of voices that have nothing in common other than the fact that they underscored some part of my life at one point. And I love them. I love them because when I lay them all out, unfold the inserts and scan through the lyrics, I see a little part of myself staring back at me.