The weight of iTunes

I am cer­tain­ly not alone in the world of writ­ers — both good and less so — who do not write in silence. I do not wish to in any way den­i­grate the val­ue of qui­et for search­ing the soul and hear­ing the prompt­ings, cre­ative and oth­er­wise, that we need to take heed of in life. But when I write, I do not choose to do so in a silent (or even sub­dued) envi­ron­ment. In a word, I rock. One of my favourite lit­tle mem­o­ries of my last year of col­lege is of sit­ting out­side one of the build­ings before my “Writer in Nature” class work­ing on my reac­tion jour­nal entry (I think we were read­ing Krakauer’s Into the Wild at the time). I had on my head­phones as I worked out my (to me) sur­pris­ing­ly-pas­sion­ate thoughts on life and mean­ing and a life squan­dered alone in the woods when one of the more but­toned-up of my fel­low sem­i­nar­i­ans strolled by and was sur­prised when he saw what I was up to. “You’re writ­ing and lis­ten­ing to music at the same time?” he asked with sin­cere increduli­ty. “It must be pret­ty mel­low music.” I just smiled at him polite­ly and kept work­ing; if I had told him that the sooth­ing sounds of Zack de la Rocha and Rage Against the Machine were exhort­ing me to take the pow­er back while I formed my thoughts on life, he prob­a­bly would not have understood.

When I got my brand new lap­top a few years lat­er, I was intro­duced to the won­der of iTunes. Sud­den­ly I could leave my bulky cd case and portable cd play­er at home, car­ry­ing my pow­er­ful new writ­ing tool and an impos­si­bly-large juke­box all in one sleek sexy device. I was set.

And at first it was just per­fect. But then I start­ed to fuss with the music choic­es. I began to think that there was some per­fect mix of music to accom­pa­ny my writ­ing, and fell to spend­ing long days feed­ing cd after cd into the com­put­er, and sit­ting up late into the night try­ing to clas­si­fy each song to suit me own tastes and moods. I had the notion that if I only put a lit­tle time into this project, then I could auto­mate my music lis­ten­ing; that I could sim­ply select a pre-planned playlist to suit my cur­rent activ­i­ty or emo­tion­al state, and the music would just pick itself, leav­ing me to focus on my work. A love­ly idea, to which I now say “Bol­locks!” quite bitterly.

Inevitably, this ‘lit­tle project’ became the project, and things went down­hill from there pret­ty fast. One of the prob­lems with mis­guid­ed and unat­tain­able goals is that they tend to become fix­a­tions with almost no delay. An insa­tiable com­pletist by nature, I quick­ly filled my hard dri­ve to over­flow­ing with all the music I had to hand. (The com­plete Nine Inch Nails cat­a­logue takes up a dis­cour­ag­ing amount of space. But who would dare leave home with­out it?) And while I was doing all this, guess how much writ­ing I was doing? Or how much read­ing, for that mat­ter, or talk­ing, or exer­cis­ing, or any­thing else that might, in ret­ro­spect, be said to have been a wis­er expen­di­ture of my time? That’s right, just about bug­ger all.

So now I strug­gle to reclaim both my com­put­er and my cre­ative soul from my music col­lec­tion. I have pared down the amount of music in my iTunes library (although 4.9 days’ worth still strikes me as exces­sive if I real­ly think about it). I am relearn­ing a skill I nev­er knew was a skill: sim­ply putting on an album and let­ting it play from begin­ning to end. And of course, I keep catch­ing myself fid­dling with the playlists or the rat­ings, and each time I have to patient­ly but firm­ly remind myself what I am try­ing to do. I am try­ing to write my own words, and if all the music I love is going to keep me from doing so, well, I might just have to learn to write in silence after all.


  1. Yes, we’ve been gorg­ing our­selves on British tele­vi­sion pro­grams from the library. Does it show?

  2. The fam­i­ly ate at an Old Chica­go the oth­er day. My first time. I thought of you and your many beers. I noticed they have a kids root beer pro­gram, too.

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