by Esther J. Santiago
I can’t remember the last time I sat at a café with a croissant and a white chocolate mocha next to my laptop, just listening to soft tunes as I wrote for hours. Whether it was for work, school, or simply writing for myself, letting time pass away at a café or the campus library was the highlight of my day during pre-COVID times. On a rainy day like today, I would put on my headphones, and let the Animal Crossing soundtrack stream away, specifically the one with the rain sounds that soothe your soul. It began as a method to calm myself from the stress of studying and help me focus but soon, it shifted into a new reading and writing experience. Last year, I wrote a short fairytale story on Snow White after she awakens from “true love’s kiss,” and rediscovers herself in a second life. While crafting the story, I was influenced by Chinese legends like The Butterfly Lovers and Legend of the White Snake, which I had read recently for a literature class.
I listened to “Unsullied” by Mao Buyi and “Grief and Sorrow” by Toshiro Masuda (here’s a cover by Kevin Won), and tried to evoke what I felt through the music on the pages. Did I almost cry as I shaped Snow White’s tragedies? Yes, and that was my goal. As I reread my story, I could feel colors, hear the faces of the characters I was bringing to life, and taste the letters escaping their imaginary mouths. A particular line from “Unsullied” resonated exactly with how I imagined Snow White felt in this second life, in which Prince Charming is not-so charming but actually evil: “心中的花枯萎 时光它去不回. The flower in my heart withers, time never returns” (my translation). However, I didn’t need to seek lyrics that paralleled my purpose in writing. Instrumental music tells stories just as well. As I listened to “Grief and Sorrow,” I painted the landscape grey. From this experience, I learned more about myself as a writer and translating emotions from music into words.
A similar dynamic occurred to me as I listened to what I call “café music” (soft lofi-beats with elements of jazz, R&B, rap, indie, and bolero) while reading. I encountered new meanings and colors in some of my old favorite poems. For example, one of those poems is “How to Triumph Like a Girl” from Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things.
Although the musicality in this powerful poem is fascinating on its own, I experimented reading this poem aloud while listening to “Withu” by Blvk. It was interesting to connect these two works of art, even though they were not meant to accompany each other. The song first transported me to my favorite coffee shop, and I felt coziness and nostalgia. Then, I could feel Limón’s voice electrifying my senses.
Eventually, I added more songs to the playlist I originally titled, “studying playlist,” which has now been reborn into the aurora journal reading playlist. The aurora journal reading playlist features Lo-Fi beats, Korean R&B, Jazz, 80s J-Pop, Spanish indie, bolero, and of course, more Animal Crossing soundtrack (I can’t help it. I’m in love with this game). Here’s a little preview of the playlist, including a few of my favorites:
Aurora by brillion., Tom Doolie, Monma (I was really excited when I came across this one because of its title, but no, I didn’t title our journal after this song.)
Our playlist is available on Spotify for anybody to listen. It is currently three hours and forty four minutes long (over 70 tunes), and I am still adding more.
Maybe I’m not at a café right now, but I’m sitting on Abuela’s couch. The laundry machine is on, the news broadcast is blasting on the TV, and Abuela is watching attentively. The neighbor’s dog barks at the man selling bread from his van. He says repeatedly, “Aquí llegó el pan calientito.” I open my book for the day. Put on my headphones. A little bit of static. Press play. An encounter of stimulations.
Take some time today to listen to our playlist as you enjoy your cafecito, and experiment reading or writing a poem or story. See what you find, and then share it with us.