Sorting through a box full of cassette tapes that survived my handful of moves from over the last decade, I reread the story of my adolescence and early adulthood, spelled out on the handwritten covers of my mix tapes.
Ah, the mix tape, a short-lived, essentially obsolete art form. A few of my eighth and ninth-grade classmates had made them for each other, with photocopies of kittens or puppies as covers. As an introverted chick with few friends and less confidence in matters of influencing others' taste (but plenty of confidence in my own ability to know what I like) I made tapes for myself.
In high school the tapes, titled "Hits of 1980/90-whatever (I'm going to pass up the chance to show my precise age here)" and adorned with hastily ink-drawn musical notes, were songs I caught off the radio, recorded on the fly. I depended on my not particularly quick reflexes to catch the songs in their entirety, and so they appeared in no particular order.
Then in college I got a bit more sophisticated. I titled the series of tapes "Sonic Potpourri" and made them only from other tapes or (increasingly) CDs that either I or my brother owned. I could only make them when I was at home from school, where my treasured once-state-of-the-art stereo stood in my girlhood room. On the frequent occasions when I was home for a weekend, a new tape would be my major weekend project. I labored over the tapes with the attention I should have directed to my homework -- the attention and the passion. Maybe it wasn't coincidence that the only A I received my first freshman semester was in the history of jazz.
The tapes told the story of my life -- not from day one, but what was going on right at that time, in narrative form, although the narrative would probably have been comprehensible only to me. Much of it was centered around my relationship at the time, my first serious one, and my efforts to find my own voice in the world. Typical college stuff. Speaking more recently to friends, I realized that almost everyone made mix tapes in those days. My boyfriend at the time had made some for me, stuff he thought I might like, or hoped I might like, or thought I should like. I lacked the confidence to pass on my own finds to him.
Later on, my tapes began to tell the story of my burgeoning feminism -- since this was the '90s, a Second Wave, Riot Grrrl-influenced feminism -- my own untattooed, still-introverted but increasingly confident version of it.
I found one tape that captured this moment in time, a "special edition" called "27 Songs by Women." One of my signature ink-drawn notes is encircled by a Venus symbol. Reading the list of songs really took me back. Some remain staples of my playlists. Others I haven't heard since the '90s. Tori Amos, Veruca Salt, Shonen Knife, Hole, PJ Harvey, the Breeders, Belly, Throwing Muses, Heather Nova, Bjork, et cetera.
"Silent All These Years" leads off, and Indigo Girls' "Language or the Kiss" closes with a question, one never answered, but replaced with different questions.
Yes, I have my playlists now, but I can tweak them with a quick right-click of my mouse -- a bit too easy. In comparison, those tapes have staying power. Like the spiral notebooks I scribbled in as a kid, they're immune to hasty single-fingertip deletion. And every once in a while, I'll probably find myself combing through that dusty box of tapes and retrieving a gem.
I had faithfully kept journals in spiral-bound notebooks and later more attractive blank-paged hardcover books, up until my last year or two of college. I don't know why I stopped journaling. I continued to write poetry and dabble in fiction, but at some point I stopped allowing myself the luxury of written self-reflection. The mix tapes filled the void, and allowed me to tell my story (if only to myself) in music.
I never did go back to handwritten journal-keeping, but eventually (after a few resistant Luddite years) started up a live journal, which offered the slightly unnerving opportunity for me to share my personal thoughts with other human beings, albeit at a safe distance. Eventually, I replaced my highly personal blog with others more topical in nature. I suppose sites like Facebook filled the more personal niche, or maybe, once again, I stopped believing I have the time to journal. And I'm probably right, unfortunately. It's difficult enough to make the time for poetry and fiction. But occasionally, I jot down a quote or a few lines and file them away in a safe place.
And I have my playlists. The one entitled "Melusine" does, oddly enough, share a few tracks in common with my rediscovered feminist mix tape. All is not lost.