6 songs that helped me through a winter without legs

In every culture, music has the power to connect people in spite of their differences. Music encourages the spirit, stimulates the imagination and inspires emotions of all sorts. My life has been enriched by music and I could not imagine living without it. Over the past few months I have been accompanied by music through the rain and cold to making a new life with wheels, instead of legs. These are a few of the songs that gave me strength and joy and motivation.

1) Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding

This has to be one of the most hope-inspiring songs I have ever heard. When the chorus bursts out, like sunshine through the clouds, you really can believe that the future is bright with endless possibilities.

Favourite lyrics:

After the war we said we’d fight together
I guess we thought that’s just what humans do
Letting darkness grow
As if we need its palette and we need its colour
But now I’ve seen it through
And now I know the truth:
That anything could happen…

Music for a winter without legs

Album: Halcyon Days (Deluxe edition)

Other good songs: My Blood (after my suicide attempt went so gruesomely wrong, I can relate quite grotesquely to the line “blood on the rocks”), the earworm Only You, the buoyant JOY, Dead In The Water (especially the opening lines), Lights, You My Everything, Hearts Without Chains, and lastly the cover of Alt-J’s Tessellate (featuring a jazzy saxophone solo quite different to Ellie’s other music).

2) Se A Vida É (That’s The Way Life Is) – Pet Shop Boys

This is such a feelgood song; a celebration of life with the sound of a Caribbean carnival.

Favourite lyrics:

Although we see the world through different eyes
We share the same idea of paradise
So don’t search in the stars for signs of love
Look around your life you’ll find enough

Album: Bilingual

Other good songs: The whole Bilingual album has a Latin American flavour, with exotic rhythms and instruments carrying PSB’s trademark wistful, satirical and political lyrics in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Before and A Red Letter Day are excellent songs, and Metamorphosis features a rare rap. I also recommend all PSB’s other albums, but especially Release, Very, Introspective and Actually.

3) Heart and Soul by Joy Division

On the eve of Joy Division’s first US tour, their singer and lyricist Ian Curtis committed suicide. His lyrics are some of the most articulate and poetic expressions of the overwhelming powerlessness, despair and loneliness that comes with depression. You might think it would be depressing to listen to songs like this, but in fact it is encouraging to hear someone put words to my feelings and to know that I am not alone in these feelings.

Favourite lyrics:

Existence well what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can.
The past is now part of my future,
The present is well out of hand.

Album: The Best of Joy Division

Other good songs: Isolation, Disorder, Love Will Tear Us Apart, Twenty Four Hours.

4) Go the Distance by Roger Bart

"Go The Distance" from Disney's Hercules

No song list would be complete without a number from a musical, and this winter I have been drawing inspiration from Disney musicals. One song in particular struck a chord with me: Go The Distance from Disney’s Hercules (this is the film cast version of the song of course, not the yucky Michael Bolton single version). This song beautifully articulates my desire to fit in and find my own sense of purpose.

Favourite lyrics:

I will find my way, I can go the distance
I’ll be there someday – If I can be strong
I know every mile will be worth my while
I would go most anywhere to feel like I belong.

Album: The Magic of Disney

Disney's Hercules - Go The Distance

Other good songs: There are so many, but these are my favourites – Circle Of Life (from The Lion King), Someday (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Best Of Friends (from The Fox and the Hound), I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) (also from Hercules), If I Didn’t Have You (from Monsters, Inc.)

5) Part Of Me by Katy Perry

Katy Perry has written so many empowering songs of self-acceptance, but the defiant Part Of Me strikes a particular chord with me. Perhaps it is because with the loss of my legs I felt that not only a physical, but also a psychological part of me had been taken away, i.e. the part of me that did all those things requiring legs – dancing, exploring, skipping and Pilates. There is so much of me left over, though, and I am rediscovering the impulses that motivated all those actions and learning new ways of expressing them.

Favourite lyrics:

Throw your sticks and stones,
Throw your bombs and your blows,
But you’re not gonna break my soul.
This is the part of me
That you’re never gonna ever take away from me.

Album: Teenage Dream – The Complete Confection

Other good songs: The whole record-setting Teenage Dream album is fantastic, but particularly the singles, as well as Hummingbird Heartbeat and Peacock. I also highly recommend her new album, Prism. I find KP’s music grows with her, so although the themes she deals with on all of her albums are much the same, each album has a more mature and sophisticated delivery.

6) Hero by Mariah Carey

Okay, I know this is super corny, with an extra side of cheese, but this song helped me achieve one of the most important revelations of my life: Over the past year I have realised that I need to be my own hero. Friends and family are vital, but if I am to survive those moments when I have to make a decision or face a challenge alone, I must be able to fight for myself. A similar song is Proud by M People, which is a great motto to live by and always reminds me of Sarah Hadland from Miranda holding Heather Small’s head on a stick (…lulz for days!). To me it is not about being a holier-than-thou do-gooder, but about nurturing a sense of self-worth and accountability. You have to live with yourself every day, so are you proud of the person you are?

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Favourite lyrics:

When you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

Album: This is a song I bought online, but it was first released on Mariah’s 1993 album, Music Box, and can also be found on all her compilation albums.

Other good songs: Mariah Carey gets a lot of flak, but I am impressed by her songwriting skills. She has written some of the most perfect pop songs ever, including All I Want For Christmas, Fantasy, Emotions and Dreamlover.

Now it’s your turn

Which songs have you had on repeat over the past few months? Let me know in the comments.

8 things I learnt about success from my boss’s crazy hobby

About two years ago my boss (now ex-boss 😦 ) shocked us all by announcing that he was going to start violin lessons. We all thought he was crazy, because the violin is a notoriously difficult instrument to play and most master violinists were taught from a very young age. My boss was in his thirties at the time, so we were all a bit worried that he was going through an early midlife crisis. Despite our fears, he has stuck with it (though fortunately for us he has never made us listen to him playing).

Over the past few months I have spent more time with him and I have learnt a lot about achieving one’s goals, simply from seeing his attitude to playing the violin. This is what I learnt from my boss’s crazy hobby:

1) Keep your aim in sight

Staying motivated can be difficult if you get bogged down in the mundane day-to-day tasks it takes to get to your goal, but it is much easier if you keep your eye on the prize. If the only violin music my boss heard was his own practice sessions I think he would have quit long ago. Every day in his office, or in the car on his way to work, my boss listens to the masters playing renowned, complex, beautiful violin pieces. This reminds him why he loves the instrument and why he wanted to learn it in the first place, helping him to stay focused on what he is working towards.

2) Do your research

It helps to know what is involved in acquiring a specific skill or status before you get started. Being a lawyer might seem glamorous (especially if you’re a fan of Suits), but are you willing to put up with all the paperwork, processes, rules and long hours it takes to get there (let alone all of the above involved in the simple day-to-day of the job)?

Image courtesy of Iamnee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Iamnee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My boss didn’t simply go out and buy a violin the day he decided to start playing. Okay, actually I think it did go something like that at first. But now that he has been playing for a while and got the basics right, he is planning to upgrade to a proper antique violin (literally a super-old violin), because they apparently produce a richer sound. That is, they do if they were high quality instruments to begin with. As it is a serious investment in an instrument that my boss will likely be playing for the rest of his life (let’s not start on the intimate relationships musicians have with their instruments), he is investigating the different options and brands of violins, the different types of bow, the different string materials and all sorts of violin accessories. Make sure you know what you want to achieve and how to get there before you start something, or you just might realise halfway through that you don’t want to finish it.

3) Immerse yourself in it

My boss doesn’t just practise every day, attend lessons twice a week and occasionally listen to a recorded piece of violin music. He also follows all the latest violin news, goes to live violin concerts and participates in violin communities and forums. I have seen my boss fangirling over celebrity violinists and making plans to fly halfway across the world just to watch a particular violinist perform with a particular orchestra. You will never learn to swim if you don’t get into the water. If you want to attain a certain goal, you should live and breathe it.

4) The obvious way isn’t necessarily the best way

A phenomenon I found fascinating when my boss mentioned it to me is that the same piece of music sounds completely different when performed by different musicians. The notes are the same, the instruments are the same and the tempo is the same, but somehow one master violinist makes it sound more emotive or stirring than another master violinist. They both perform the piece brilliantly from a technical point of view, but something is different.

Image courtesy of amenic181 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of amenic181 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To me, the obvious comparison is a song sung by one person that sounds completely different when sung by another. One of the only reasons I still watch Glee is that often their cover versions of songs are better than the original versions! You must discover your own way of playing your metaphorical violin. What works for someone else might not work as well for you.

5) Be disciplined and persevere

I suspect my boss’s violin teacher also thought he was going through a crisis phase and would give up the violin lessons after a few months, because the time to register for music exams came and went without the teacher making any mention of it. He only realised how serious my boss was about becoming a violin maestro when my boss made it very clear that he was working hard and expected to be challenged, make progress and write exams.

I used to play the saxophone as a teenager and I hated practising. It is awful playing scales over and over every day, especially at the beginning when you suck at it. When you are learning a piece of music and there is one specific part of it that you find particularly difficult, you have to practise that one part over and over and over again, so that your hands and your ears can develop a memory for it. It is the absolute worst to practise anything so repetitively, but when you get it right, the sense of accomplishment is worth it – and the skill you learn is usually transferrable to other similar tasks, activities or processes.

6) Be your own champion

Sometimes nobody cares about what you’re doing except you. If you really want something go and get it. Don’t worry if your friends and family (and employees) think you’re crazy. They don’t have to live with you or your dreams 24/7. At the end of the day you answer to yourself.

7) When you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, look back at how far you’ve come

A few weeks ago my boss pulled out some pieces of music that he had learnt several months before. He found that he could now easily sight-read the same pieces that he had previously practised and struggled with for weeks!

Progress Definition Magnifier

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is always best to start with the smallest, simplest form of anything new you are trying to learn. For example, if you want to learn a new language, you start with the sounds of the letters in the alphabet and the common sentence components, e.g. the subject, verb and object. As you get better at it, you move on to more complicated matter, like the past and future tenses, idioms and figures of speech. If you are doing this in isolation it can be quite disheartening, because you always feel like you are struggling and going around in circles. But when you stop and review what you have learnt since you started, you often realise that you have made good progress and are leagues ahead of where you were.

8) Try

Maybe you won’t become a grand master violinist. Or maybe you will. Maybe you will realise halfway through that you actually don’t want to live with a crooked neck and one shoulder that is bigger than the other. But if you don’t try, you will never know.

To my (ex)boss, if he reads this: Thank you for your leadership, guidance, inspiration, support, generosity, advice, insight and all the many lessons you taught me (including those I will never blog about, like why not to drink tequila shots while playing 30 Seconds with my colleagues near a swimming pool). I will miss our chats en route to the office and your presence there. All the best for your next big adventure. If you approach it like you do your violin-playing, I know it will be a magnificent success. With great love and respect, D

UPDATE: Minutes after this post went live my boss performed two violin pieces in front of us for the first time. He is pretty good. 🙂