6/12: A June Playlist

June always feels like a new beginning. One prefaced by an ending, often a large one: the last day of school before summer, the bell ringing shrilly through the halls of an elementary school as children rush out into the open, feeling freedom on their fingertips. A high school graduation, students lining up in rows, black robes swishing as they walk swiftly into their new endeavours, leaving behind the stale air that comes with false identities and forced cliques. June ushers in freckles and beach days, teaspoons of sugar poured over freshly cut strawberries, damp hair and campfires. It is made for shy smiles and pink sunsets and it makes the world feel gilded and glorious.

This year, my June was split in two. I rounded out my time in Leeds, cramming two weeks with art exhibitions and concerts and coffee shops and brunch dates. I flew home, binge-watching nearly the entire second season of Queer Eye while I pushed through an eight-hour flight. Back in Canada, I moved my bedroom around until it felt perfect, covered my walls with prints of Patti Smith and photos of Mick Jagger, started an internship at a music magazine, and attempted to reconcile my new life and my old life and the life I had in England. There was one breakdown; a good cry in the kitchen while I melodramatically proclaimed that I have no idea what I’m doing and that I’ll never be a writer and that nobody will ever want to read my poetry or ask me to sign a book. There has been a lot of baking and catching up on Fixer Upper and teaching myself how to write longer prose instead of sticking myself into a box that only includes blogposts and poems. Things have felt heavy, but they have also felt free, and a month that holds that kind of duality is not easily forgotten.

As per usual, the month’s playlist is a hodgepodge. It feels appropriate this time around, a digital representation of the mismatched cities and the polarizing emotions and the tension between new and old. I like watching how the output of my existence bends and curves to match the inside of my mind, reflecting joy and confusion and obsession and inspiration right back to me. That’s what the act of making a playlist is, and this form of documenting who I am and how I’m growing will never get old.

At the beginning of June, I watched Patti Smith play to masses of golden bodies at Victoria Park in London. Near the end she played ‘Pissing in a River’ before moving swiftly into ‘Gloria,’ and the latter has stuck out in my mind ever since. It was the first addition to the playlist, and one that snowballed into half a dozen songs pulled out of the dregs of history. These tracks –  the ones that are decades-old – are my present, my new discoveries, but for so many others they are the past, the remnants of teenage antics and endless dreams of a better future, and I like how it feels to toe the line between the history that has already been written and the history we’re shaping at this very moment.

Two weeks later, on my first day back in Toronto, a troop of us waltzed into the Air Canada Centre to see Harry Styles. My smile was massive and never seemed to falter. Abby and I carried our hand-painted flag through the crowd, twirling the pink fabric until it settled on our backs. I wore a suit, the lapels adorned with enamel pins of Basquiat and Patti Smith, and I will likely never feel cooler. I added ‘Kiwi’ to the playlist a few days in advance, listening to it on repeat to prepare myself for the last song of the encore and the inevitable hysteria unleashed by a boy who knows exactly how to get an arena of twenty-thousand people to dance and sing for him.

‘Michelle’ by The Beatles was added after it soundtracked a dreamy Gucci tailoring campaign, the video featuring Harry Styles and a chicken in a chip shop, an image that I never knew I needed in my life. ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ was a favourite in Leeds, one played in cafes and vintage clothing shops, a track that I’ve become borderline addicted to and that I often struggle to switch off. ‘Jackson’ by Johnny and June Cash is one of my all-time favourites, and something about the humidity and the unrelenting sun makes me want to sing an endless rhythm of We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.

‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ by Peter, Paul, and Mary was an accidental cliché, added a week before I left England. I saw the track mentioned online and was immediately reminded of how much I adore it, of how beautiful the lyrics are, of how I’d like to wrap myself up in the promises uttered throughout the song. ‘La vie en rose’ is a track I come back to over and over again, a song that makes me feel fancy and dramatic, one that’s perfect for summer nights when the sky seems to blush in the presence of the world. ‘Love the One You’re With’ by Crosby, Stills & Nash is on there simply because it makes me feel good, and when it comes to music, that is often enough.

There are new discoveries, too. ‘Oom Sha La La’ by Hayley Heynderickx was playing in & Other Stories while I tried on a baby blue dress that I really wish I hadn’t left in the shop. ‘Wandering Romance’ by Jorja Smith is sultry and effortless, and I love how it feels against my skin. ‘Babe’ by Sugarland and Taylor Swift and ‘Butterflies’ by Kacey Musgraves are on there because summer makes me believe that I actually like country music, a sentiment that usually wears off by the time September comes around. Regardless, I like the twang and the over-emotion and I’m happy to indulge myself for a month or two.

The final entry is perhaps the most important one. At the end of the month, Florence + the Machine released their fourth album. I listened to it on the train to Toronto, curled up in a window seat, wearing a yellow shirt that matched the sun. ‘South London Forever’ made my heart race and my mind start moving in figure-eights as I made desperate attempts to hang onto every note, every word, every chord. The song moves like magic. The best lyrics – But did I dream too big? Do I have to let it go? and Everything I ever did was just another way to scream your name – seem to be pulled out of thin air. It is a song that has already nestled itself inside my heart, and one that I’ll pull out a year or two from now when I’ve moved myself back to London and the city where my soul feels like an entity that hangs glittery and unmissable above my head.

June felt hazy and clear at once. The warm days make life feel like it’s digging itself under my skin, and at night the cool air and cloudless skies allow me to open my lungs and take a deep breath as I learn how to renew myself with each sunset. The things that are important – my writing, my relationships – are growing and expanding, thickening to mimic the lush greenery that shades the world and makes me feel safe. When I wake I make a conscious decision to lead with love, to use the hours ahead of me meaningfully. This growth isn’t easy. It stops and starts and stutters. But the songs that play through my mind and across my chest are companions, blips on the radar of someone else’s years of transformation, and I’m glad I get to weave them so tightly into the fabric of my own learning.

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4/12: An April Playlist

April was a month that felt more like a dream than like real life. The first couple weeks were spent in Barcelona and Paris and London, drinking copious amounts of coffee and waltzing through an endless string of museums and carrying my film camera and a notebook and a novel with me everywhere I went. I spent three hours on the beach in Barcelona, writing poetry and chasing the tide with my feet. Abby and I ate croissants and crepes and raspberry tarts on the side of the Seine at golden hour. I saw Monet’s Nymphéas at the Musée de l’Orangerie. I crossed Abbey Road and I finally saw The Vaccines in concert and I went back to the Tate Modern just because I could feel it calling me.

The second half of the month saw me return to Leeds after nearly a month away, and although I loved the time I spent travelling, I could not have been happier. We were graced with a few moments of summer, and that meant I spent days sitting in Hyde Park with my friends, meditating in the sun and eating full boxes of Fab lollies and drinking gin and tonics. I experienced a lot of intense growth and change, spurred on by the realization that being vulnerable and taking risks and saying what I mean is important and worthwhile. I found new writing inspiration and I got back to a frequent yoga practice and I continued covering my dorm room walls with quotes and notes to myself. And, of course, I listened to a lot of music, which is all collected here.

This month’s playlist is occupied mostly by The Vaccines, partly because I can’t stop thinking about how wonderful their concert at Alexandra Palace was, and partly because Combat Sports was released at the end of March and I refuse to stop listening to it. ‘Out on the Street’ is my favourite track on the album, its unrelenting melody and spiteful lyrics – Who put bars across your window of opportunity? – making it catchy and endlessly addictive. ‘I Can’t Quit’ is on here too, every listen bringing me back to the gig and the never-ending cascade of gold confetti that landed across the crowd while the band played it. I also added ‘Tiger Blood,’ because it’s an old favourite, and I always get a rush when I hear it. I like its anger and distaste and it reminds me to embrace the sides of me that feel deeply and loudly.

A lot of the other tracks on the playlist are influenced by The Vaccines, even if they’re not the ones who made the song. They walked onstage to ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA, and I’ve been starting each morning since then by playing it loudly while I attempt to get myself together. One of their opening acts, whenyoung, covered ‘Dreams’ by The Cranberries, and it reminded me how much I like that track. Justin and Freddie played Kendrick Lamar on a BBC Radio takeover, and it took me back to last summer and the days I spent listening to ‘LOVE.’ on repeat, so that got added, too.

Aside from The Vaccines, April also brought incredible new songs by I lot of bands I really love. Florence + the Machine returned with ‘Sky Full of Song,’ a track as magical and heartfelt as everything else she’s released. Her songs always seem to come at the perfect time, and I connected deeply to the lyrics as soon as I heard it. I managed to grab a copy of the limited edition 45 on Record Store Day, and although I have to wait another six weeks to be reunited with my turntable, I cannot wait to hear it on wax. As if that wasn’t enough, she also covered ‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John, and it may just be the most beautiful cover I’ve ever heard, so that has been a staple as well.

This month’s playlist is made complete with ‘Wake Me’ by Bleachers, ‘Take it all’ by Iceage, and ‘You Don’t Walk Away From Love’ by Peace. Bleachers has always been on my radar, but it took this track to really pull me in. It sounds and feels like love, and I like how enveloping it is. Iceage always seem to push boundaries in their music, and ‘Take it all’ is no exception. The song is dark and foreboding, an ode to destruction and surrender. Finally, Peace’s most recent single brings a shot of joy and light with a track that I can’t help but dance to.

The past month is not something that I’m going to forget anytime soon. I am hyperaware of the fact that my time in Leeds is slowly but surely coming to an end, and that means I’m spending every single day trying to create meaning and memories that I can hold onto for as long as possible. These songs are the soundtrack to all of that, and their melodies will forever be intertwined with coffee dates and plane rides and long conversations. I’ll be listening to them for years and years, every note and lyric bringing be back to days that felt like dreams.

Thirteen Steps to Finding the Right Words

There are certain things that define me as a writer. The inspiration, which I find in the colour of the sunset or a sentence picked out of a conversation or the face of a stranger I’ve passed on the street, but also comes from art and artists and the people who have done all of this before I was even brave enough to try. The motive, because writing is how I heal and how I make sense of the things in my head and how I slow my heart after something sets it racing. The writing itself, finding my voice and the right words and making something physical and inky and present out of feelings and observations that are ephemeral and often just out of reach.

The act of writing is what I wake up for and what I stand for and what I will choose over and over again, but it takes a certain form of synergy to make all the elements of my creative practice come together and form something useful. There are certain days when my body is set alight and I could scrawl something on every surface available, and there are others when it feels like death will come before I can manage to write a single string of words that makes any sort of sense.

When writing’s hard, I go back to all the things that remind me why I love it so much. I stop and think about why I spend so much time with a pen in my hand and my heart caught in my throat. I open Just Kids and I find my favourite passages, or I watch the monologue from Call Me By Your Name, or I read Bukowski or Rimbaud and I work on getting to the core of my feelings, on bringing them out in their rawest form.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that music is one of the things that makes me want to keep writing. I pick up on melodies that help me focus and chord progressions that draw the best words out of my skin. I listen to tracks on repeat because they carry some inexplicable trait that I want to find in my own art. Most importantly, though, I absorb every single word, and it’s the words that make me want to plow forward.

The most recent example of this happened a few days ago, when I put on Antisocialites by Alvvays as I was going through my nightly ritual of journaling and writing poetry and filling up my gratitude notebook. As I neared the end of the album, ‘Forget About Life’ turned into a magnetic force that drew me into its orbit, and I proceeded to listen to it on repeat for the next hour. It’s not a song that I always pay the most attention to, but it stood out at that particular moment because of its lyrics. The lines are simple, but their honesty shines through in a flash of blinding light. From When the failures of the past, they multiply to Do you want to forget about life with me tonight, inhaling this undrinkable wine, the words feel like real life and play out in a spectacular narrative, and that’s often what I’m trying to get at when it comes to my own writing.

There are lots of songs that make me feel like this. Songs with words that refuse to be shrouded by metaphors, finding beauty in being direct and truthful. Songs with lyrics that tell the most mundane of stories and yet still manage to make them sound like a fairy tale. Songs that capture emotion in physical form, turning love or sadness or defiance into neat sentences that fit inside a maze of notes and chords. These are the tracks that stick inside my heart, and the ones that I play over and over again when I need to get back to my own voice.

The songs I’ve gathered here are ones that make me believe in my writing all over again. The ones that make me strive to tell stories exactly as they happened. The ones that push me to take a feeling and lift it off my shoulders and quantify it so I can see it and unpack it and work through it. These are songs that make me feel deeply, that use words as weapons that scathe or as doves that soothe the wounds, that make me want to drown myself in poetry until I am unable to let in anything else. They weave words into electricity and passion, and they instil the same things in me.

I adore all of these tracks, and there is a long, extensive catalogue that I haven’t managed to list, but there are always certain ones that stick out. Florence Welch’s pleading, insistent voice on ‘Third Eye’ as she repeats over and over again: I’m the same I’m the same, I’m trying to change. Patti Smith interrupting a live set to spew real, raw poetry, yelling fiercely: I am an American artist and I have no guilt. The National singing about the safety and protection of love, and the comfort that comes with the words We’ll stay inside our rosy-minded fuzz for days.

There’s ‘Thirteen’ by Big Star, its simplicity making it feel like a real life conversation. There’s ‘Happy When It Rains’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain, the heart-wrenching admission of I would shed my skin for you. There’s ‘Lonely World’ by The Vaccines with its quiet, hesitant words of love. Every track is wildly different from the next, but they all put the words at the forefront, and they all remind me to do the same. That’s what I feel like I’m here for.

I don’t set out to write just like Patti Smith does, or to be as angst-ridden as The Vaccines or as wounded as MUNA. I want to write like me, even if that means gushing or spelling the same emotion out over and over until I get it write or stumbling over a single sentence until it’s perfect. These artists are models for me, a well of inspiration that I sometimes need to dive straight into. They’re not there so I can set my own feet inside their every footstep. They’re there to remind me why I do this, to heighten my feelings and mark certain moments with their sounds and highlight things that I might not be noticing. These artists are lighthouses, not guardrails. They illuminate what surrounds me, but they don’t force me to stay in a prescribed lane. I am forever grateful for their presence, and I will continue holding my body under their light whenever I feel the need to.

3/12: A March Playlist

Aside from the out of season snow storms and miserable weather, March was a good month. I saw a lot of movies, I drank a lot of coffee, I tried group meditation for the first time. I went out for brunch almost every weekend, I saw a spectacular exhibit at the Hepworth Wakefield, and I went to Berlin for three days. Leeds got sunny a couple times, and I spent those days wandering the city and soaking up every ray of light I possibly could. I feel like I’m stepping into a new skin, and these tracks have been the soundtrack to that glorious dance.

Most importantly, The Vaccines graced the world with three new singles over the course of the month.  My favourite is ‘Your Love is My Favourite Band,’ a shiny, eighties-influenced pop song. It’s glittery and danceable and I’ve taken to putting it on every morning and flouncing around my room while I get ready to face the day. ‘Surfing in the Sky’ is fast-paced and annoyed, with lyrics like How many lightbulbs does it take to change the mood? that feel like a punch to the gut. ‘Put It On a T-Shirt’ is lilting and smooth, the kind of song made for rain and fog. The trio is spectacular, and has only served to heighten my excitement for the release of Combat Sports, which is out on March 30th.

March’s new discovery comes in the form of Liza Anne, a witty and honest lyricist producing raw tracks that call out to the listener’s heart. Her latest album, Fine But Dying, feels like a tell-all or a confessional. ‘Closest to Me’ is my favourite track, and I adore its steady beat and sense of self-awareness. I’ve also been loving ‘Take Care’ by The Magic Gang, a band that should have been on my radar for the past three years but have only just made themselves known. This track in particular reminds me of Whitney, a band whose live show was so odd that I had to stop listening to them. The Magic Gang are filling that gap, and I love how this song promises support and adoration while also pushing the subject to look after themselves on their own.

Other new additions include ‘Pink Lemonade’ by James Bay and ‘Only A Moment’ by Sunflower Bean. The former is the kind of jam that sneaks up on you, one with a pounding beat and addictive chorus. The latter is one of the spectacular tracks from Sunflower Bean’s just-released second album, a reassuring song with a repetitive bridge of You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be that could instantly settle any soul. I’ve also loved Blaenavon’s cover of ‘Sign of the Times’ by Harry Styles, a rendition that makes it moody and tender.

I’ve spent a lot of the month rediscovering old favourites, from ‘Slow Show’ by The National to ‘Unzip Your Harrington’ by Drowners. ‘Slow Show’ is a glorious profession of love, a story told through heartfelt lyrics like You know I dreamed about you for twenty-nine years before I saw you. ‘Unzip Your Harrington’ is a track I listened to obsessively in high school, especially after my pre-ordered vinyl came weeks late but in a package that included a Polaroid and a handwritten note from Matt Hitt that made me weak in the knees. I love how romantic and indulgent it feels, and it’s the kind of track that rolls seamlessly into itself the longer you play it on repeat.

This month’s playlist is long and random and I’m in love with it. I listened to it on my flight to Berlin, and I’m planning on listening to it on my way to Barcelona and Paris and London. There’s something wonderful about the continuous discovery of new music, and finding new tracks to adore is a process I indulge in regularly. I like knowing that these songs will forever remind me of snowstorms and sunny days and flights and walks through parks. I make these playlists because they feel like time capsules, and I share them so I can put into words exactly how I felt at the time. It’s good to speak about our lives and the things we love and I’m going to keep doing it until it gets old, which I hope never happens.

2/12: A February Playlist

If January seemed like it was going to drag on indefinitely into eternity, February went by in the blink of an eye. My first full month in Leeds was packed full of weekend trips to Oxford and Edinburgh, lots of afternoons spent at coffee shops drinking flat whites and inhaling caramel shortbread, yet another viewing of Call Me By Your Name (whoops), and spending time with a lot of new friends who are quickly becoming some of my favourite people. The month seemed to slip between my fingers, and although I am sad to see it go, there is so much good on the horizon, and I cannot wait to step into it all.

February’s playlist took a little while to construct. With weeks dissolving quickly into nothingness, I felt like I didn’t have time to collect a well-rounded list of tracks. I spent the first half of the month listening to the same four songs on loop, occasionally switching them off in favour of The National’s Sleep Well Beast, which I can’t seem to stop playing. Eventually I got up to eleven or twelve songs, and this playlist is one of my favourite ones to date.

With so many road trips over the past four weeks, I turned to some old favourites to keep me company along the journey. ‘Soundcheck’ by Catfish and the Bottlemen is essentially my dream come true, a catchy track about a band guy trying to make a relationship work with a girl he likes. ‘All We Got’ by Chance the Rapper is a rediscovery, something I haven’t really listened to since I saw him in concert last May. The horns in the intro get me every time, and I love how smoothly it starts before going into an all-out celebration of music and life.

Aside from those two, February involved a lot of new discoveries. I’ve already written about ‘Mistake’ by Middle Kids, which is punchy and honest. Another new favourite is ‘Rough Boy,’ one of the stand out tracks from Public Access T.V.’s newest album. It reminds me a lot of The Clash, simple and to the point and fed up with the world around them. I also hopped on the Rex Orange County bandwagon, listening to ‘Loving Is Easy’ as if my life depended on it. The song is effortless and lush, the kind of thing you want to play on repeat on a cold day. Finally, I have to mention Frank Ocean’s version of ‘Moon River’. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie that makes my heart feel at home, and his cover of the film’s classic track is spectacular. It feels like magic, and I adore it.

My favourite track from this month is ‘Twentytwo’ by Sunflower Bean. I liked their last album, Human Ceremony, but this newest release is something spectacular, the model for how a band should grow from one album to the next. The track starts off like a hymn, vocals standing like pillars against the beginnings of a glittery melody, before building into verses that tell stories and an oddly placed chorus that feels like a call to arms. The repetition of ‘I do not go quietly/Into the night that calls me’ is empowering, and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the last few days.

February got me really excited about music. Not all of these songs are brand new, but the artists are relevant and the tracks hold something interesting and captivating that makes me wonder how many ears will listen to them in the years to come. These songs have the potential to carry themselves far into the future, and listening to them has reminded me that my art and my words have that power, too. Creativity is hard and I go through cycles of intense inspiration that are bordered by lags in output that make me feel defeated and unartistic. Despite those things, I keep going, because there are songs and films and books that have been monuments of our culture for decades, and we’ll never have more of them if we all hold back and refuse to give it a shot. In the coming months I hope we all embrace our artistry and have the courage to find ways to show the world our talents. I’m rooting for you.

Art Imitates Life: A Little Life

Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully. –Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Packing five months of my life into a couple suitcases was a daunting task. I spent a long time distilling who I am into my favourite band shirts and the pair of jeans that I wear as if they’re glued to my body and the notebooks that I carry around at all times. Worse than all that, though, was deciding which books to bring. I have shelves packed with novels and autobiographies, coffee table books and art history texts. I turn to them for companionship and inspiration and encouragement, and the idea of choosing only a few was a hard one to wrap my head around.

When it came down to it, I knew which ones I needed to have with me. I got the Patti Smith box checked off easily – Just Kids and Devotion and a copy of her 1978 poetry anthology titled Babel, which is something I still can’t believe I own. I piled on You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, a book that everyone who wants to live their best life needs to read. I was missing a novel, though, and although I could have brought my favourite Harry Potter book or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or The Secret History, I eventually decided on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

This is not an easy book. It’s over 700 pages long. It’s dense and heavy and it sits inside your stomach once you’ve finished it. The first time I read it, I put it down multiple times because the passages were too heartbreaking and the emotions were too strong. The author has said that she wanted to write a novel like ombré cloth, something that starts out light and is pitch black by the end, and that’s what she did.

I brought A Little Life with me because it feels human. It lives and breathes, the lives of Jude and Willem and JB and Malcom intertwining with your own. The lows are really, really low, and the highs, although somewhat mundane, shine through the darkness like jewels. It puts your own hardships into perspective while simultaneously making you realize the value of the tiny, shimmery moments, even when they’re as normal as making eye contact with your best friend across a crowded room or going out for dinner at the same place with the same group of people every week.

The world that this book lives in seems attached to so many other things, and that’s why I’m writing this. There are no other books like it – and believe me, I’ve searched – but it comes up in art pieces and movies and songs. I like when one form of art bleeds into a million other forms of art, and A Little Life does that beautifully.

Visual Art

What drew me to this book in the first place was the cover. It’s a black and white photo by Peter Hujar, and when you relate it to the novel itself, it displays so much pain, reflecting the content of the book back at the reader.  It reminds me a lot of a photography series by Maud Fernhout called What Real Men Cry Like, which is a really beautiful depiction of boys being vulnerable and transparent about their emotions. Another similar piece is Robert Tait Mackenzie’s Four Masks of Facial Expressions, which are plaster casts depicting violent effort, breathlessness, fatigue, and exhaustion. It’s another work of art that depicts emotion exceptionally, just as the cover of the book does.

Film

This connection may be because the film is fresh in my mind or because I am mildly obsessed with it, but I think Call Me By Your Name mirrors A Little Life in more ways than one. Both show the nuances and breadth of human emotion. Both are about connection and vulnerability and how hard it is to put your guard down. Both are not frivolous, but real, when it comes to describing relationships. It’s the last scene of Call Me By Your Name that reminds me of this book. Elio cries in front of the fireplace for nearly four minutes, letting the dam break and his sadness run through him. It’s glorious, and the parallels that can be drawn between he and Jude are numerous.

Music

The very first song that reminded me of A Little Life was ‘All The Sad Young Men’ by Spector. The band does a really good job of communicating both connection and disconnection, and we see a lot of that in Yanagihara’s masterpiece. I eventually added ‘St. Jude’ by Florence + the Machine to the list. In the novel, Jude is named after the patron saint of lost causes, and that is exactly what Florence sings about in the track. Another notable one is ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ by The National, as Jude spends much of the book distancing himself from others because he believes this will keep them safe. The tracks I’ve included in this playlist are overflowing and emotive and they hold nothing back, much like A Little Life.

Reading this book all over again is proving to be difficult. I pick it up each morning and feel a bit of my heart fall out of my chest and into its pages. I feel for every single character, I understand some of the hardships (though definitely not the biggest ones), and I am so drawn to the lives of these friends that I feel as though I am one of them. Although it’s painful and heart wrenching, it also feels hopeful, and a tiny glimmer of hope is really all that we can ever ask for. That’s what keeps me going.

Side note: I checked my Goodreads page, and I was reading A Little Life at exactly the same time last year as I am this year. Life is cyclical and amazing and I love that my life now is connected to my life then, even in such a small way.

All The Love: A Valentine’s Day Playlist

There are moments that stick out in my mind when I think about the love I’ve seen and heard and experienced. When I saw Patti Smith play in Central Park in September, she looked to the sky each time she played a song for her late husband, and the love and adoration she still has for him was displayed blatantly across her face. My mom and my step-mom and my sister snuck letters into my backpack or handed me cards on the day I left for Leeds, and although I cried reading each one of them, they all made me feel so full. I’m learning that loving myself is rather important, too, and I spend mornings reading and nights journaling and I often find time to fit a yoga practice somewhere in between, because tending to myself means that I can tend better to others. Love is not always romantic, and it is not always extravagant, but it exists and it’s all around and that is perhaps the most reassuring thought there is. Musicians often have the best ways of expressing love, and this playlist collects all my favourite ways that they’ve done so.

The first love song I remember adoring is ‘I Always Knew’ by The Vaccines. It’s not just my favourite love song, it’s my favourite song, period. I love how nostalgic it feels, I love how the rhythm gallops and roars, I love the lyrics and the simultaneous hesitation and urgency. That album, Come of Age, also boasts ‘Lonely World,’ a much slower track with lines like “I feel like I have always known you” that make me swoon every time I listen to it. I had to include both of them here, because I am weak in the knees for The Vaccines, but also because they paint two different portraits of love, and I like the juxtaposition.

I am one hundred percent convinced that Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place’ is the best love song to ever exist. It’s glittery and romantic, the lyrics are enough to make my heart jump out of my chest, and every time I listen to it I imagine David Byrne prancing around a stage in a ridiculous oversized suit. I could pick out a lot of lines that I love – “I come home, she lifted up her wings,” or “Sing into my mouth” or “Never for money, always for love” – but really, the whole thing is magic.

When it comes to love songs, it’s often the lyrics that get me. ‘Cars Not Leaving’ by Gabriel Bruce has the singer professing a sincere but almost comical form of love, insisting that “This car’s not leaving if you’re not in it.” On ‘Dark Side of the Gym,’ The National’s Matt Berninger croons “I’m gonna keep you in love with me for a while.” Each verse in Wintersleep’s ‘More Than’ provides beautiful imagery of infatuation, but my favourite description is “I read your letter, printed it up, crumpled up the paragraphs so I could fit it in my mouth.” I express myself through the written word, and something about hearing others do the same always feels incredible, especially when it all comes across so beautifully.

It’s difficult to pick out only a few songs to talk about. If I were to discuss all twelve, we’d be here all day, but there are a few more I want to point out. Alvvays crafts an incredible ode to partnership in ‘Forget About Life.’ Spector’s ‘Lately It’s You’ feels like a shot straight to the heart, honest and vulnerable. ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie is, at this point, required listening at any time, but especially at a time when we’re all so focused on love.

I absolutely do not have the authority to be making a Valentine’s Day playlist. I’ve never been in love and I’m not in love now, but I know how it feels to love a city before you’ve even been there, or to love a band so much it hurts, or to love the feeling of sharing space with someone, even if you’re just listening to records or reading books or driving in silence. This playlist is full of romantic love songs, just because I love them, but I think it’s important to recognize the breadth and depth of love, the forms it takes and the ways it presents itself. Love is staying in bed on a rainy Sunday, doing nothing but drinking French press coffee and watching Netflix. Love is texting someone you care about out of the blue, just because you have something to say and you need to get it out of your mouth before you stop yourself. Love is standing next to someone at a concert, saying nothing and everything in the space that exists between you and them and the person onstage. We express love in a multitude of ways, and even the tiniest moments deserve the biggest celebrations. This is my own way of celebrating it all.