sara bareilles
Credit: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Welcome to Formative Jukebox, a column exploring the personal relationships people have with music. This is the last Formative Jukebox essay.

Here in these deep city lights
Girl could get lost tonight
I’m finding every reason to be gone
Nothing here to hold on to
Could I hold you?

I’m listening to the song while I stand on the train platform shivering. It’s not raining enough to pull my umbrella out of my tote, but just enough that I wish I had a hood. That true -n between weather in New York. Too cold for a jacket but not cold enough for the down coat that’s survived a Snowpocalypse or two. “City” by Sara Bareilles continues to play while I peer down the tracks, hoping my train is coming soon.

Lately, when I have this down time, I think about the dwindling of days left until the job I’ve worked at for the past several years comes to an end. A job that whisked me out of the corporate environment into the entertainment industry and gave me glimpses into a world I’ve always loved but never thought I’d get to know. A place I very much want to stay, but do I still geographically belong in my city — New York — or is it time to go somewhere else? A fat solitary raindrop hits me square in the face as if to succinctly say “Nope!” Or maybe “Yes!” I’m not sure. And I laugh to myself at how Sara Bareilles always seems to write songs that are the soundtrack to my preponderances and she manages to gut punch me in all the right ways exactly when I need it.

I first realized this when a guy I loved deeply had the audacity to like me back — not love me — resulting in my broken heart and him wanting me to accept friendship. I knew we wanted different things and he didn’t see me the way I wanted, making it for the best, but for a long time I was still a profusion of emotionally distraught pieces. Lying in bed one day under the covers with my Pandora set to the Sarah McLachlan channel (another songstress capable of evoking pensive melancholy), the Bareilles song “Gravity” began to play. It made me sit up straight in bed, especially at this part:

I live here on my knees
As I try to make you see
That you’re everything I think I need here on the ground.

But you’re neither friend nor foe
Though I can’t seem to let you go.
The one thing that I still know is that you’re keeping me down.”

What is this witchcraft, how does Sara know how I’m feeling? How does she put it into words when my thoughts aren’t even coherent. Just a jumbled mass of stabbing pain, aching sadness, and ripples of anger. Does she read my journals while I sleep?

I listened to “Gravity” on repeat for a full month. I still think of it when this guy reaches out to me: “Something always brings me back to you” is the lyric that lingers and haunts me when I see his number pop up on my phone or listen to his voicemails. There’s something about Bareilles’s music that hits me at certain low points in my life, or confusing ones and yet reminds me that I can put myself back together. That I WANT to put myself back together. And I will. Like she sings in “She Used To Be Mine”:

“‘Til it finally reminds her
To fight just a little
To bring back the fire in her eyes
That’s been gone but it used to be mine.”

The movie Waitress has been constructed into a musical, coming soon to Broadway with original music by Bareilles. It’s a story of a woman learning to embrace her strength and start over. Six years ago before I began at this job, I intimately knew all those feelings. Fear of the unfamiliar, yearning for something safe and predictable, but desperately needing a new beginning.

My current job became that place for me. I fully realized what would make me happy in my professional life. My confidence grew; I tasted success as a writer, fulfilling a childhood dream, and I continued to set higher goals knowing that one day this temporary place of employment would cease to exist and I should learn everything I possibly could while it was available. And now here I am again. Saying good-bye to a place that has given me so much, while I wonder what I should do next.

So in anticipation of the big unknown, I listen to Sara while I make some plans. Accept that I’m scared of taking a new leap somewhere and I might fall on my face as I attempt to figure out which direction to jump. But that I know better than I did before, and wherever I need to be is where I will find myself. As Bareilles sings, “Compare where you are to where you want to be and you’ll get nowhere.” And I want to be somewhere. I also know while it unfolds, I’ll be following my heart, doing what I love, pursuing forever loftier aspirations while listening to “Uncharted”:

“Jump start my kaleidoscope heart,
Love to watch the colors fade,
They may not make sense,
But they sure as hell made me.

I won’t go as a passenger, no
Waiting for the road to be laid
Though I may be going down,
I’m taking flame over burning out.”

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