My friend Grace was the first person to ever make me a playlist. She sent me a painstakingly crafted 16 track ensemble full of SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Outkast, Amy Winehouse and Ariana Grande among others. It took her days to complete, and I still continue to listen to in its entirety years later. What truly makes receiving a playlist like Grace’s such an honor is that whoever makes it for you assembles every song with bits and pieces of your very being in mind. Like the fact that you prefer Cherry Cola over any other fountain drink, or that you bunny ear your shoelaces when tying them, or that cilantro on your tongue tastes like soap, or that you wholeheartedly believe that The Atlantic is significantly better than The New Yorker when it comes to the rat race that is the literary magazine industry. But more so, music is an extension of the soul, it’s every dream, ambition and fear and by that virtue sharing music comes to present itself as the most sacred form of friendship. In the midst of a pandemic and an age in which everything has increasingly gone virtual, the sharing of music has asserted itself as an even more profound way of initiating and maintaining friendships. 


For the first few weeks of the semester, I had become accustomed to the sweaty palms, heart thumping, heavy stomach sort of sickly feeling that comes with the introduction of the dreaded breakout room. And while there are many things I have come to hate about them, more than anything else, I hate the lack of human and personal connection, the black screens, the large swaths of awkward silence punctuated by sighs and wait-what-are-we-supposed-to-dos. In a breakout room I was unable to read a person’s body language, unable to see how they grip their pencil or whether they tilt their chins up or down, and to observe the tiniest of details that ultimately allowed me to tailor our communication into a meaningful one, and most importantly served for efficient and streamlined group work. With the advent of online interpersonal communication, I found that my social skills had reduced to that of, dare I say, my middle school self. My jokes flopped, either followed by forced laughs or none at all. Failed attempts at relatability with my peers left me questioning whether I was really that unlikeable. After a lengthy process of trial and error, I learned that the greatest weapon of all, in the battleground of discomfort that is the modern day breakout room, was meaningful conversation. Much more deeply, conversation that didn’t surround intended majors or future plans or hometowns, but rather, music. I found that people loved to talk about themselves, particularly the more nuanced parts. In a virtual setting that has only exacerbated the need to satisfy every facet of the human condition and more inherently, the essential need to be perceived and understood, opening the floor to dialogue about something as intimate as the music one listens to, became the ultimate antidote to breakout room dysphoria. Perhaps the most gratifying victory of all besides completing our assigned class work, was coaxing a peer out of black-screen-name-display-only-mic-off anonymity as they raved about the hidden genius of Kanye West, or even watching their thumbnail sized zoom box swell with sort of prideful acknowledgement as I furiously scribbled down the songs they told me I absolutely had to listen to. And I listened to every single one, some of which I’ve played on repeat until their novelty wore off into absolute sickening oblivion. 


More so, my short time at The Michigan Daily has been particularly gratifying. I am unaccustomed to being a part of something bigger than myself, and yet I find it pleasantly enjoyable. I appreciate the literary liberation afforded to me here and for the very first time in a long time, I feel as if the words I write have been bestowed a special sort of weight. Regardless, not being physically present in the newsroom, or personally meeting my editors and fellow columnists presents a disorienting challenge. In particular, though my editors engage in the extremely inward and intimate process of reading my work, I’ve realized that I know next to nothing about them. With the emergence of a shared Michigan in Color playlist amongst the staff, I found it was more of an opportunity to learn about them all as human beings that lead very complex lives. I could glean bits and pieces of their temperaments and characters from the songs they chose to add, like how my editor Devak had the most varied and out of bounds music taste of all, or that while Maya had only contributed three songs, they were tear wrenching and mighty in their own right. And most importantly, the beautiful and delightful realization that my music taste was shared with some of the most eclectic and dynamic people I had ever had the privilege of meeting. It should be noted that they have excellent music tastes by the way.