You may have noticed that I’m quite the fan of Taylor Swift.
You may have noticed that I include one of her songs on every playlist I publish. That when I’m excited about something Swiftie-related, I post on Instagram first, and explain the relevance to my work later, in half-apology. Well, I’m not sorry anymore, and I’ll tell you why.
I believe that there is meaning in everything we enjoy for fun. Listening to Taylor Swift, reading Harry Potter, and watching Gossip Girl bring joy and also wisdom into my world. Taylor seems to agree; just look at how she talks about cats.
We also agree on a philosophy: of reading our lives like storybooks.
‘I always look at albums as chapters in my life,’ Taylor said, making me want to write albums too. I envy the neatness of her art, each song perfected and presented as part of an era. We can line up the jewel cases, and select an old Taylor to visit today. Each collection of songs is not just an album but its own aesthetic, outfits included. Over the years, I’ve longed for an equivalent to this – my own personal boxed set of artful, curated archives.
Taylor announced recently that she’s publishing pages from her literal diaries.
When she panned the camera across the stacks of her journals, I was a little relieved: the physical volumes are as mismatched as my own. I’ve been keeping a journal since age 11. The notebooks from my younger years are especially random, selected one by one at Barnes and Noble. Some are spiral-bound and sparkly, others a classic composition in black marble.
In a Gossip Girl episode, we get a glimpse of Blair’s diaries. They fit precisely in a fabulous trunk, identical leather-bounds in Tiffany’s blue. When I saw this I wished my journals could live up to this display, designed by props master.
I imagined a row of Taylor Swift’s diaries would look as Gossip Girl-worthy – as impossibly prim as her 2014 post-workout style. Taylor’s differing journals remind me that she is in fact human. The completed version of what she creates is stylised and edited, but behind it is raw material that doesn’t obey a particular colour palette.
In a magazine interview I was asked who or what inspires me. Without thinking, I blurted out ‘Taylor Swift!’.
I had a hard time narrowing it down to why. I scrambled for cohesion, wishing I’d said something that wove into my professional narrative with more ease. Why Taylor? There are so many reasons, but perhaps the most relevant to my writing is how seriously she takes her own craft. She’s a good writer, and beyond that, she is a good narrator.
A Taylor Swift song is like a portable experience we share. It carries emotion and assertiveness, telling the story of how something happened, and what we can take away from it. This process is hardly unique, but she gives importance to it, hinting at hidden meanings, and publishing original voice memos that evolved into full songs. She leaves the cabinet door open, inviting us into her Pensieve of assorted memories.
In my own work, I’m just as excited about my coffee-stained drafts as I am about my finished works.
Taylor said, ‘I need to write songs or write something to process life’. So do I. Writing helps me figure things out, to make meaning in the vastness of my world. All this time, I’ve wished to write songs, but I already do, in a less literal way. My essays make their own sort of music. Like polaroids captioned in permanent marker, they preserve a particular moment. In essays, I choose which parts of my experience I wish to keep.
The same themes crop up in my words like choruses.
In repetition, they stay alive, move forward, adapt new meaning as I move forward too. Like ‘Love Story’ appearing on every tour, the same core messages return to my writing, reimagined and dressed up, remixed, or acoustic. If you’ve heard it before, you can sing along with me when it comes up next time.
In the Forward to 1989, Taylor writes, in her own handwriting, ‘These songs were once about my life. They are now about yours’. Dear Reader, my wish is that my essays bring you the same familiarity and understanding that Taylor’s songs bring me.
I’m even more excited about the next chapter,
P.S. Something even more like an album is coming soon. Subscribe to be the first to hear.
P.P.S. I would love to hear your response, and what your favourite Taylor Swift song is. Please continue the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, or Email.