Selina Mahmood’s Playlist for Her Essay Collection “A Pandemic in Residence”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Selina Mahmood’s essay collection A Pandemic in Residence is much more than a neurology resident’s experiences in a Detroit hospital during the Covid-19 epidemic. Mahmood’s incisive writing explores themes of identity, the mind, and how we experience life itself adroitly and lyrically.

In her words, here is Selina Mahmood’s Book Notes music playlist for her essay collection A Pandemic in Residence:

“Pandemic” has become such an all-consuming reality that the only way to establish a sense of authenticity would be to write away from it—directly addressing a matter is often a trap into becoming a platitude. I started off writing mostly away from what was going on around me only to come back to it. The title of the collection was initially taken from my essay “The Case of the Missing Feather,” but the obtuseness made it unapproachable and also failed to bring it together as a collection, so it was changed to what it will be released as in a month: “A Pandemic in Residence: Essays from a Detroit Hospital.”

I’ve always been dulled by meandering descriptions of physical surroundings. As much as I love the Bronte sisters’ work, the never-ending description of the moors in Wuthering Heights just wasn’t my thing. But by the same token your work floats away if isn’t grounded. Also, wandering thoughts can be drearier than dulling meandering descriptions. Music was one of the main tools for me to authentically tether my reality, both in real time and in my description of it.

“Circles” by Post Malone

This was one of the top three of The Billboard Top 100 during the first week of the pandemic, and I set the stage of my collection with that. I like this song both for the name and the actual song.

I fell in love with circles in high school when going over limiting polygons in math class. Adding corners to a polygon gets closer and closer to a circle—is a polygon with infinite corners a circle? I remember thinking that question was one of the most beautiful things in the world. I got another dimension of appreciation for circles with Emerson’s “Circles” in undergrad. The Post Malone song is about letting go of a relationship but just running in circles back to the same place. Malone’s laconism and voice make the song a top trend.

“Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa

This was also one of the top three on The Billboard Top 100. The song is about the age-old theme of jealousy: a guy coming back around when he sees his ex dancing with someone new. Dua Lipa’s first album was the backdrop to my final year exams in medical school. Her face and look were so fresh and real. I recently read a super interesting article, The Physics of That Spinning Hug in Dua Lipa’s Music Video, in Wired that literally breaks down the physics of her movement with graphs and arrows and all. Newton and Dua Lipa? Yes, please.

“After Hours” by The Weeknd

I can’t believe this wasn’t nominated for a Grammy—it makes zero sense to me. His music is haunting and nihilistic and who doesn’t love that. Plus, his voice is out of this world. I mention the album at the end of the first essay in my collection: “I left my weekend hospital shift with The Weeknd’s After Hours in my ears and Viktor Frankl on my mind: having been is also a kind of being, and perhaps the surest kind.”

“The Medmoji Pandemic” by ZDoggMD

ZDoggMD is one of medicine’s favorite comedian-singers (he may be the only one as far as I know). My best friend at work is a huge fan and he would play it in our little covid workroom. This was definitely one of ZDoggMD’s funniest videos. He parodies different medical specialties’ reactions to the pandemic. It’s been one of my goals to learn how not take myself or life too seriously, and being able to put that to practice in medicine has been especially challenging. There’s a balance between not giving a sh*t and being a preachy moralist. ZDoggMD typifies that balance.

“Apes**t” by The Carters

This makes an entrance in the essay “Holes in the Brain” that goes into a brief history of medicine. Can I just say, it’s kind of weird quoting yourself? Anyway, I write, “I’m trying to recreate my story, consciousness just the lateralization of drowsy early morning thoughts extending to the ears and dangling down like chandelier’s—Beyonce’s super power.” If you haven’t already seen the music video, then please pause here and watch it (and then come back).

“Eleven” by Khalid feat. Summer Walker

11:11—make a wish. I absolutely love love loved this song: the music, the lyrics, the music video. The chorus “Lately I’ve been watching your movements” reminds me of Kundera’s “Immortality” that starts off with the idea that a gesture is the source of initial attraction and everything really. I mention the song in my last essay after I write, “It’s strange that being able to walk out of the house means so much. But then again, all paths lead to movement.”

The music video takes an 11:11 wish and turns it into a street race with neon undertones. Summer Walker and Khalid race one another in hot pink and bright green cars respectively. We never find out who wins and the end of the music video drops the beat and scene into a choreographic dream that makes me wanna get out of my seat and try to emulate.

Selina Mahmood was born in Detroit and serves as a second-year neurology resident there. She has also lived in Lahore, NYC, and Ann Arbor. She graduated with a major in history from the University of Michigan in a previous life before pursuing medicine. Her work has appeared in The Manhattanville Review, Squawk Back, Blood and Thunder–Musings on the Art of Medicine, The Conglomerate, and others. She has also blogged book reviews on HuffPost and worked as a reader for Boulevard, Bellevue Literary Review, and Frontier Poetry. When she isn’t busy diving into the brain, she’s trying to swallow her way out of it.

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