I spent a while yesterday putting together a new playlist for my indoor rowing class. A couple years back, I started thinking about the time when my son, Rader, would begin driving himself to school. How after chauffeuring him for fourteen years (beginning when he was in two-year-old preschool a couple days a week), I would suddenly not be responsible for taking anyone anywhere in the mornings—and what was I going to do with myself? That's when the idea of becoming certified as an indoor rowing instructor took root.
As it turned out, the reason I didn't drive him to school last year, when he would have been 16, is because he took his own life right before his birthday. Rowing was one of the ways I coped with early grief. I showed up at my regular rowing class just a few days after Rader died. And as I stuck with it, thoughts of becoming an instructor came back into focus. Shortly before the one-year anniversary of Rader's death, I completed the first half of my certification process, and the week of that anniversary, I taught my first class.
I love it. Teaching indoor rowing is even more fun and fulfilling than I hoped it would be. I am getting to know new people. I used to attend only evening classes, and now I'm teaching mostly morning classes, so it's a different crowd. I'm developing my own teaching style. It's interesting to figure out who I am up there in front of the class, where I have to be louder and more gregarious, a "bigger" version of myself. But the most unexpected pleasure of my new line of work turns out to be creating the music playlists.
Years ago when I discovered podcasts, I basically stopped listening to music. I loved hearing stories, and began devoting all my listening time to This American Life and The Moth and Welcome to Night Vale, to Radiolab and 99% Invisible, to Serial and Reveal. Rader and I listened to some of these together, on those car rides to school: mostly Snap Judgment and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.
But when I started teaching classes in June, I found I wanted to be more hands-on with the music selection than just choosing a CD from the stack at the gym. I put together my first playlist on Amazon Music, basically all my favorite songs I could think of that were upbeat enough for a good workout. I included "Beyond the Sea" from the Finding Nemo soundtrack, because I love Nemo, and that song got good feedback, so I thought maybe I should use it as a jumping-off point for another playlist, kind of a crooner (Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé)/swing/big band theme. In that list, I included Michael Bublé singing "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," which is most familiar to me from the 1980 Queen version, written as a tribute to Elvis Presley. So then I made an 'Elvis and covers of Elvis songs' playlist.
I had no idea that in teaching rowing, I would rediscover my love for music. So many of these songs just make me happy when I hear them. It makes me happy to think of a song that's perfect for one of my playlists. And these days, I'll take my happiness wherever I can get it.
My latest playlist, the one I worked on yesterday, has a summer vacation travel theme. I call it Beaches and Boats. I'm debuting it in my class tomorrow morning, and I can't wait to see how well it sets the mood for a good, hard row.
On a related note, this past April for National Poetry Month, I wrote a poem every day as part of my grief writing work. Here with its explanation is my rowing poem from April 23.