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An Isolation Soundtrack

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Writing by Jessie Irvin Rose. Illustration by Polly Burnay.

‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ – Audre Lorde

And now we are floating again. It is quieter, and deeper, and unexpected. We reach out our arms and grab onto the closest sense of security and consistency, and we can’t mistake inconvenience for oppression, but we can acknowledge that a lot of us are mourning normality. We wake up and wash our grief down with a schedule. We move through days that trickle into each other like watercolour, and we deprive ourselves of stillness. Capitalism has shaped us to value productivity, but who is this for?

We’ve been socialised to bring the values of a working environment into our personal lives – monetise your passion, sleep less, eat less, feel less. There is a shame that comes with ‘wasting’ a day. But if your body needs to be still, you will be still. How can you keep conjuring up energy when every news notification is out to exhaust you? For so many people, lockdown and isolation has brought a decline in mental wellbeing, and the pressure to keep moving, to make the best of a bad situation, means that at the end of a day where the most you’ve been able to do is move yourself out of bed, there is guilt.

As the evenings descend on us and the cold forces us inside, we can’t be expected to emulate any other year. Whilst some people used their time in isolation to create something, you are reacting in such a valid way if all you can do is microwave soup and stay in your pyjamas. That’s okay. You don’t need to stay busy, or use this time in a way that anyone could deem worthy – it is a radical act to acknowledge your stresses and needs, to flow with the days that move in and out of surreal and daunting, to remove your brave face mask and let yourself feel everything deeply. Bask in it. Listen to yourself and what your mind needs from you. There is so much strength there. We need to unlearn the idea that the vulnerability or succumbing to emotion is weakness. It is rooted in a patriarchal ideal, and it has always been redundant. Especially now, in a moment of history that is defined by our chasms, our separation from each other, and a tidal wave of feelings with nowhere to go – there is power in connecting. To dismantle normative positivity, to open up with authenticity, to find the place we can rebuild from. Sharing ourselves will be the act that changes the world.

So you can construct a shelf, or run 5K, or learn to crochet, or bake banana bread and then eat it all, or you can sing in the shower, or dance in the kitchen, or shout out the window, or you can finish a season of The Crown in a day, or recreate your house on Sims, and know that you don’t need to prove anything when someone calls and asks how today has been. You can’t be expected to hold the anxieties of this global crisis and function like nothing has changed. The motivation and the passion will come back to you, but today doesn’t have to be the day.

A good way, I find, to let yourself sink into the feeling is a soundtrack.

I chose songs that are a mixture of new and classic – something you recognise and something you can discover. Some songs are relevant to isolation – ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, ‘Déjà vu’ – whilst some warm a room – ‘River’, ‘Verses’. Music has always been what I can give to people. The care and intimacy of a personalised playlist is unmatched. Sometimes you want to be uplifted and sometimes you just want to be heard, and whilst I can’t accommodate for the influx of emotions that come with isolation, I can try to uplift you when you want to be dancing, bathe you in gold light when things feel gentler, and when you can’t quite get there, I can let you sit in the greyness.

Because that is all you need to do to fight the system that wants you to have something to show for your time. You owe it nothing. You owe yourself all the kindness in the world.

For the dancing moments

I Think We’re Alone Now – Tiffany

Déjà vu – Beyoncé, Jay Z

Plage – Crystal Fighters

Do it – Chloe x Halle

Make Me Feel – Janelle Monáe

You Don’t Get to Call Me – estef

Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing – Stevie Wonder

Kick it to Me – Sammy Rae


I’m Still Standing – Elton John

Fuck You – Lily Allen

For the grey moments

Lilac Wine – Nina Simone

run – Lewis Watson

Strange – Celeste

Baby Hallelujah – Konradsen

River – Leon Bridges

Blue – Joni Mitchell

Persephone – Tamino

Warped Window – Anna Mieke

Come Back To Earth – Mac Miller

For the gentle golden moments

She Dances – Billie Marten

Let’s Stay Together – Al Green

One More Time – Bedouine

My Skin My Logo – Solange

Verses – Tamino

Plastic – Moses Sumney

Atoll – Nai Palm

Sunrise – Norah Jones

Águas De Março – Elis Regina, Antônio Carlos Jobim

Little Green – Joni Mitchell

You’ve Got a Friend in Me – Randy Newman

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