Music has always taken me places. When I was teaching or working over Zoom full-time in the first couple of years of the pandemic, I had to start with a playlist. Los Angeles Azules & Natalia Lafourcade’s “Nada es suficiente” helped me connect with students and colleagues as we were forced to be together apart. When I lectured to a room of 250+ students for the first time, I played Diego Torres & Julieta Venegas’ Unplugged version of “Sueños” and I went to a place of calm and confidence. When I listen to Emmanuel– anything from the 80s but especially “Todo se derrumbó dentro de mí”--I can smell my mom’s Estee Lauder perfume and feel her all the way from Texas. And I Lemonaded on my long drive to my most important (and successful) job interview and played “Formation” over and over in that now-demolished school parking lot and every time I hear it, I remember how I told myself I’m a star! I time travel with music (and food) all the time. 


I time traveled again this morning, driving to an appointment, listening to Beyoncé’s new music. I had already heard the new songs on Super Bowl Sunday, then the following morning on my way to work, later in the day when I was cooking, and this morning on the treadmill–but there was something about that 10-minute drive. I know others will write with more knowledge and authority (and have already) about the importance of this new music and upcoming album, but here is what I do know: “16 Carriages” took me to the back of a taxi cab on my 12th birthday, heading away from my hometown of Monterrey, Mexico and eventually, to a lot of uncertainty in Houston, Texas. “Had to leave my home at an early age” – the song lyrics helped me see El Paso’s “Star on a Mountain” and feel her warmth soon after I crossed the border from Ciudad Juárez. 


I’m then transported to that first summer I spent in the U.S. without traveling back home because mom was afraid I’d lose any of the English I had already learned. It took me to the loneliness I felt in that house and the cul-de-sac it was in. To a phone call when my grandmother updated me on my school and neighborhood friends’ lives, and I realized life had gone on without me even though I kept trying to hold on to it. That was when I knew what it might be like to be a ghost.

“It’s been umpteenth summers, and I’m not in my bed

On the back of a bus and a bunk with the band

Goin’ so hard, gotta choose myself”

As the song progresses, I am getting more of those English-only headaches at Wunderlich Intermediate, coming home crying, telling my mom I would never be fluent. And my mom, in her infinite wisdom, basically quoted Socrates by way of Plato and told me it only felt I knew so little because I was so aware of how much there was to know. This 10-minute drive doesn’t feel 10- minutes long anymore, because now I’m in my guidance counselor’s office begging him to let me into a Math Honors class. Next I move in to my first dorm room, I feel that 4.0 semester when I had a financial aid audit and had no money for months, until I feel the ache of living apart from my husband when I leave for California for a doctorate just when we had gotten over a rough patch.


These moments play like those “I saw my life flash before my eyes” scenes in shows and movies, and the tears are coming. I can feel that August in 2010 when I almost quit my doctoral program, when I asked a mentor for help and they basically told me I was not committed enough and maybe I should “just be a stay-at-home mom.” I remember how hard those tears fell, how just that morning I had looked at my phone’s photos and I did not have a single picture of my baby boy because I was rarely home with him…because I was trying so hard to focus on school. I saw myself finally walking across that stage, and taking a picture in front of a beloved mural, wearing that cap and gown and holding my kids tight. 

I can now feel those first few years of the tenure process, when my daily commute was 3 hours long, and I left home before my kids woke up and sometimes came home when they had already gone to sleep. I feel the last few years of teaching, of how tired they’ve made me. Of how good it feels when I connect with my students, even as the last few years have made it so difficult.

“Ain’t got time to waste, I got art to make

I got love to create on this holy night

They won’t dim my light, all these years I fight

It’s been 38 summers, and I’m not in my bed

On the back of the bus and a bunk with the band

Going so hard, now I miss my kids

Overworked and overwhelmed

I might cook, clean, but still won’t fold”


That last line made me laugh through my tears because I feel it in both the literal and figurative sense. Let's just say I am the world’s messiest cook and that I have not done most of my laundry since my dissertation writing days (thank you, honey!). I (and we) have been through so much. Sometimes I don’t know how I did not give up. And now that I am doing the math I realize…in just a couple of weeks I’m coming up on the 30 year anniversary of when I left my home… “on a long back road, all the tears I fight”. 

Beyoncé, what are you doing to me?!

It’s the afternoon. My husband and I pick up the kids from school. They’re getting so big. We break the tradition of boba Fridays and get our treat on a Tuesday. We get some good news after a tough few months, and we feel like celebrating. We get groceries and the kids help a bit, but as soon as our backs are turned, they take to their rooms and their phones. I ask him what he thinks of the new songs, and he tells me right now he’s really into “Texas Hold ‘Em.” I play it for us. He grabs my waist and I know what we are about to do: we two-step in the middle of our kitchen to the whole song while a beagle begs to be fed. He spins me a few times and I can feel the wooden dance floor of a beloved college bar in Texas. 


For another 4 minutes, I time travel again.