What's the soundtrack to your life?
I used to love making resolutions. I’d write them down, in glitter letters on fancy paper. But 365 days is a long time, and I seldom made it past January. I eventually got tired of failure. And the ensuing guilt. So, I stopped making them.
But a new year warrants some kind of ritual or tradition don’t you think? Something sparkly. Musical, maybe.
Life seems to demand that we be continually planning. Looking forward. No rearview mirror living. But Maya Angelou once said, “If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going.”
This is only one of the reasons I write. Writing necessitates looking back. Swimming around in nostalgia. It’s also the reason that I ask all my students and clients – at some point during our time together – to enter an imaginary movie theatre.
“Choose your seat. In the VIP section. Sink into the cushions. Have popcorn if you want.” I invite them to close their eyes. Take a deep, relaxing breath. “Now watch your life as it rolls across the screen. In slow motion.”
They stay there, in the dark, with their life flickering across the screen. Looking back. Watching the twists and turns. Without judgement. Just noticing. The points after which their lives were never the same. And then I ask, quietly: “What is the soundtrack to this movie of your life?”
Music is never just music, is it? It’s heartache, joy, disappointment. And it accompanies so many rituals. Celebrations. Beginnings. Endings.
A few years ago, Spotify Wrapped arrived with a bang. It provided each subscriber with a roundup of their top five musicians that year, and their most listened-to songs. It was thrilling! My year in song! Finally – a year-end tradition with no resolutions (or cooking) required.
Since then, I have waited, with bated breath, every December, for my Spotify Wrapped list, trying to guess my most-listened-to artist. I got it right this year. And last year. And the year before. All the same – George Michael.
I have always loved George. Even during his Wham! days. He is associated with so many of my firsts. Surprises. Mistakes. Joys. And love. Of course.
George and I shared a birth year. And for some reason, this gave me hope as I aged. As I watched his transformation.
On Christmas Day, 2016, I arrived at Budapest International Airport, after visiting my mother and sister in South Africa.
I flagged down a cab. I was going to spend the next ten days with my son, who was living in a small Hungarian town. “Last Christmas” was playing on the radio as I slid into the back seat.
I wished the driver a Merry Christmas. He responded with, “He is dead.” It took me a few minutes before I understood. George Michael had died. He was just 53.
I cried all the way to the hotel.
All the way back to 1988.
I was 24, alone in Amsterdam with my backpack, travellers’ cheques, and tarot cards. It was the first time I’d left home – South Africa – and I decided a Contiki tour would be a good way to get acquainted with Europe.
I boarded a bus, along with 30 other exuberant twenty-somethings from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S. I remember this: bites from giant mosquitoes in our campsite in Barcelona; buying a sombrero somewhere in Spain that I had to cart around with me for the next four months; vomiting on a rowboat in the Blue Grotto; being blinded by snow in Lauterbrunnen.
I don’t remember much else about that trip. Except for George.
We spent many hours every day on the bus. And during those hours, we listened to music. Loudly. Through surround-sound speakers. I’m sure we must have listened to many different artists, but it’s George I remember. His debut solo album, Faith, had hit the world with unprecedented force just months earlier. I think we all memorised the entire album during those three weeks of border crossings and cold pizza. Our soundtrack of 1988.
Thirty-five years later, it’s still George.
What's the soundtrack to your life? I'd love to hear. Please let me know in the comments section below.
And if you'd like to join me "in real life" for a writing adventure in 2023, here are a few options:
#1 January 2023 (4 Wednesdays from 6:30-8:30pm) at Har El in West Vancouver, Canada
#2 Sat, Feb 11, 2023, from 10am-5pm at Manifest Yoga Studio in Umhlanga, South Africa
#3 Sat, Feb 25, 2023, from 9am-4pm in Simon's Town, South Africa.
If you prefer a virtual location, online Guided Autobiography Workshops continue throughout 2023.
And last, but by no means least, if you are reading this, it means you have either subscribed to my website, or we have worked together at some point. So, thank you. Your support means the world to me. I wish you love, laughter, and more happiness than you can imagine in 2023.
This story appears in the January 2023 edition of The Beacon Newspaper.