December 22, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The essays in MB Caschetta's collection A Cheerleader's Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment coalesce to form a moving and unforgettable memoir.
Augusten Burroughs wrote of the book:
"I knew Mary Beth Caschetta was a brilliant writer from her Modern Love essay about being disinherited. What I didn’t know until I read her stunning nonfiction collection is that she is also a trailblazing activist ex-cheerleader poodle-loving almost-nun. And those aren’t even spoilers."
A Cheerleader’s Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment is a memoir in essays that I wrote throughout the course of my adult life, starting in 1999, and finished editing during the COVID pandemic. I’ve always wanted to write the soundtrack of my life, and the lovely Largehearted Boy has given me just such an opportunity. Below you’ll find the playlist, and then the annotated playlist.
• “O-o-o Child” by Five Stairsteps
• “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
• “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls
• “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge
• “Seasons of Love” by Jonathan Larson
• “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, sung by K.D. Lang
• “Firework” by Katy Perry
• “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys
• “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga
• “I’ll Rise Up” by Andra Day
• “Easy on Me” by Adele
SECTION I: ESCAPE, FIND PAPER
“I am stronger than I am broken.” –Roxane Gay
“Once More to the Lakehouse” is the essay paints the landscape of my childhood. The song “O-o-o Child” by Five Stairsteps was released the year of my birth. It always makes me cry. I wish I had this band singing in my ear about my future when I was a kid. Such sweet lyrics:
O-o-o, child, things are going get easier. O-o-o, child, things’ll be brighter. Someday, yeah, we’ll put it together and we'll get it undone. Some day when your head is much lighter. Someday, yeah, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Someday, when the world is much brighter.
“Cheerleader,” the main essay in the book, is about a coping mechanism involving pom-pompoms that helped me survive. The best choice here is a song from 1975 titled “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. Enough said.
SECTION II: WRITING LIFE
“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.—Pauli Murray
“God is a Lesbian” Is an essay about my life as an AIDS activist, which sparked my career as a medical writer. The title is from an activist protest song as explained in the essay. But there is no recording of it, so I’ll have to go with the lesbian anthem of the universe: “Closer I am to Fine” by the Indigo Girls.
“Blind Edge” is about my failed search for love. “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge is the perfect song about obsession and unhealthy love, which the hallmark of my youth.
“Pharmaceutical Whore” is an essay about my first lover dying and a reflection of my time working in AIDS. “Seasons of Love” by Jonathan Larson from the musical Rent came out when I was still living in New York City. (Tracy Rapp’s solo knocks me over every time. What a voice!). interestingly, I was on a long run, listening to the song when I first cried—I mean, really cried—about everyone we lost during that terrible epidemic.
SECTION III: ANOINTED
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”—Albert Einstein
“Four Days in Silence (or Get Thee to a Nunnery)” is the central piece of my spiritual enlightenment, for which I choose KD Lang’s 2004 cover of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. (Who can forget her at the opening of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics barefoot and in a white suit representing her homeland of Canada?) Lyrics that I cite in this book are: “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.” Amen.
“This Comes Next” is an essay about our beloved black standard Poodle Lillian Hellman, who died about the time Katy Perry was crooning a song that fits that sweet girl: “Firework” by Katy Perry. She really was.
SECTION IV: LOVE AT LAST
“Like air, I’ll rise.”—Maya Angelou
“Italian Bride” Is an essay about marrying my spouse, the playwright Meryl Cohn, the first day it was possible for LGBTQ+ couples to get married in the US. We wed in Provincetown, MA on May 17th, 2004, the state that first made it legal. Alicia Key’s ”If I Ain’t Got You” was topping the chart, so I’ll go with that love song, though any love song would probably do. “Some people want diamond rings, some people want everything, but everything means nothing, babe, if I ain’t got you.” (Plus, I love a song title with the word “ain’t” in it.)
“What Gets Passed On” is an essay about my being disinherited. I’ll go with Born This Way by Lady Gaga for so many reasons, including the lyrics: “I was born to survive. I was born to be brave”
SECTION V: LONG RUN
“I want to write rage but all that comes is sadness…”—Audre Lorde
“Teach This to Your Heart” is an essay about our second beloved black standard poodle, Violette Leduc. Sweet, perfect Vi’s song is: “I’ll Rise Up” “by Andra Day.
“The Loneliness of the COVID Long Hauler” is the most recent essay I wrote about having long COVID, which is a slog and a heartache. I often think about all those poor souls who died of COVID and those who are worse off than I am. Not to mention the entire silent epidemic of women with post-viral diseases that are far less “popular” than long COVID. I’m talking about ME/CSF. The song for this last essay is “Easy on Me” by Adele. These lyrics seem fitting, and the plea to go easy is to the world which can be very harsh for the differently abled:
I had good intentions and the highest hopes
but I know right now that probably doesn’t even show….
So go easy on me.
MB Caschetta is a recipient of the W.K. Rose Fellowship for Emerging Artists, the Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writing Award, and the Seattle Review Prize for fiction. She's a Medical Writer and Content Strategist by day, who lives in Western Massachusetts and on Cape Cod.