Oof, that was quite a chore. I just spent close to six hours this morning trolling eight or nine different websites (plus a phone app) looking for COVID vaccination openings, but my diligence and French-Canadian stubbornness PAID OFF. I will be getting the first dose next Thursday over in Mill Valley, which is a shortish trip across the Golden Gate Bridge from here, with dose #2 TBA at the same place. WIN!
Anyway, I was planning on doing a Spare Oom Playlist March Edition post today but due to said trolling (and needing to get some work done later today), I’ll push it off to tomorrow. Thanks for waiting!
Walk in Silence, the mixtape series I’d started in 1988, was not the first mix I’d created (that goes to an unnamed multi-cassette collection from late 1982, taping songs off the radio and MTV), nor is it the first of the thematic mixes (that would be the noisy Stentorian Music from May 1988), but it’s the first one I’d made specifically to fit the mood I’d found myself in at the time. It was sort of a sibling thematic mix to the Listen in Silence mix I’d made in August, which was essentially “my favorite college radio tunes of the moment”. Walk in Silence, named of course after the first line in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, was meant to be more about dealing with my darker side. I was still feeling the sting of nearly all my closest friends having escaped our small town for college and the bigger world out there, and I’d made this to deal with that.
College radio was indeed my oasis during my senior year, alongside those Sunday episodes of 120 Minutes. I was doing my damnedest to deal with the frustration of still being stuck in a small town. The sources of these mixtapes were equally from the records I’d bought from Main Street Music and Al Bum’s, vinyl borrowed from the local radio station I’d worked at, taped off WAMH 89.3 (Amherst College), or second-hand dubs of albums I’d borrowed from that same group of friends. I wanted to start making more of these mixtapes, now that I understood how to create a smooth mix, and more importantly, fit as many songs onto each side of a 90-minute tape with minimal leftover blank space.
I still remember opening up a new cassette from its wrapper and smelling that fresh slightly plastic scent. I was super careful with the boxes they came in and would buy empties whenever I found them. I treated these tapes just like I treated my purchased albums: I made sure they were wound correctly, had a readable label, and didn’t get worn out or erased. I rarely bought the fancy expensive hi-def brands — I usually stuck with the affordable and reliable Memorex dBS 90s — because I didn’t care so much about the quality as much as I just wanted the music itself as part of my growing library.
I cataloged these mixes in notebooks primarily so my friends could see what was on them if they wanted to borrow them. It’s only because of this that I was able to successfully recreate nearly 99% of my mixtape library digitally, missing maybe only four or five lost and unavailable songs total. I used the Walk in Silence theme off and on, and currently I make at least two of them a year alongside two Listen in Silence and end-of-year mixes.
I bring this up to personally thank Lou Ottens, who helped invent the compact cassette tape, who recently passed away at age 94. I used so many blank tapes over the years for so many things: mixtapes, recordings of jam sessions for jeb! and The Flying Bohemians, live shows, soundtracks for my novels, dubbed albums, and maybe even a few class lectures now and again. I completed then hard-to-find discographies of favorite bands. I will totally admit to spending food and lunch money on blank tapes. I’ve put scotch tape over those holes on the top to use actual albums nobody wanted as fresh blanks. I came across a blank or two recently while cleaning out and rearranging things here in Spare Oom. I have a storage box full of my mixtapes, a few I’d remade around 2000 but many of them still the originals.
And now I see that cassettes are making a comeback, believe it or not. Indie bands are selling them on Bandcamp. And Amoeba Records has a nifty little corner full of cassettes new and old.
Thanks, Lou. Your invention was a huge and important part of my life.
Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.
I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.
This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.
A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.
I’ve decided to take next week off for a few reasons: One, it’s my birthday on the 22nd. Two, we’ll be installing the new President (Version 46, now available with Vastly Improved Intelligence Capability) and I feel like celebrating that. And Three, I just want to get some offline creative work done and get myself caught up.
Getting a job during the pandemic has been an interesting job in itself, to be honest. I know I’m not the only one looking for remote work, and I know I’m not the only one who’s getting up there in years looking for work, either. And in the meantime, I’ve been honing my creative skills to open up that market just a little bit more.
I’ve been getting the occasional employment agency reaching out to me, whether by email or by phone, to offer various positions. Some of them have been tempting but not in the direction I want to go…and some have been a hard pass (I’m looking at you, “the hours would be 7PM to 6AM PST”). And some have been tempting but end in “we’ve chosen someone with a bit more experience”.
Still — it does feel good to get a positive connection and potential position every now and again.
We had a day yesterday, here in the US. A lot of us are still trying to process it.
Sometimes you need to escape from the noise that comes after an event like this. It’s not healthy to keep doomscrolling and tweeting and blogging when you’re already running on fumes. It’s okay if you need to unplug. Adding your own words isn’t always necessary…there’s no reason you have to prove your stance to anyone if your friends and family already know what it is. They’ll understand.
It’s still okay for you to keep posting your art or your music or your stories, whether or not you’re a pro in the field or just starting out, or even if you’re doing it to feel better. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
Being angry and being creative can coexist, whether together or separately. We all process traumas in different ways, whichever works best for ourselves. If you’re getting yelled at by people online because you’ve posted your WIP or a song or a cat gif instead of an angry screed, you have every right and reason to mute, unfollow and/or block them. You are under no obligation to have any preset level of feels about anything that happens in life if they don’t work for you…or if they make your life and health worse.
We’re all in this together. Others are already being angry for you if you just don’t have the spoons right now. Go ahead and create. Celebrate that. Find a way to process these events in your own way.
We’ll be here, together, when the dust settles again.
During my long hiatus from blogging this year, I thought about closing down one or both of my WordPress blogs. I don’t think I’d run out of things to say on them, just that I’d gotten repetitive, focusing on the same finite number of subjects to write about. I still enjoyed talking about music here on Walk in Silence, and about writing at Welcome to Bridgetown, but it had become a chore and a deadline assignment, and one that felt a little overwhelming at the time. Come April, I’d decided that I wouldn’t just leave the Former Day Job but distance myself from the blogs and the daily words.
I of course immediately recognized that I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, probably had been for a long while, and this was a perfect time for me to take a long overdue vacation. And think about what it was I wanted to do next.
I’ll be the big Five-Oh next month. It’s not the age that bothers me, to be honest. Aside from the creakier joints and a bit of extra weight, I’m actually in good spirits about it. I still have a lot of years ahead of me and I’d like to think I’m ready and equipped to take them on. I’ve trained myself to think more about future endeavors and less nostalgic (and obsessively so) about what I’ve already done. A funny and unexpected side-effect of this is that I finally see my long-simmering Walk in Silence 80s college radio book project with somewhat more detachment. Which is a good thing, a very good thing, because I’ll be able to write it without once again falling into the trap of Proustian rambling. Maybe I’ll finally get that damn thing done and released in the next year or so.
This is the same with my music listening habits as well. I feel less manically obsessive about it. Sure, I’m still an avid collector and a nerdy librarian when it comes to my mp3s. But I’m no longer trying in vain to recapture the moods, memories and thoughts that come with listening to music. I experience the music again, in the present. I enjoy it. I create new moods, memories and thoughts about it. I can listen to those favorite records and mixtapes of thirty, forty (!!) years ago without my brain slipping into “it was a very good year…” mode. I didn’t forget any of the memories, I just allowed my present self to loosen my grip on them. Those memories are hard-coded into those songs and albums and mixtapes so I can call them back up easily.
Where did this come from? Good question. Most of it was due to a distinct lack of creativity on the Daily Words front, which itself was due to the Former Day Job situation. Instead of trying to write any kind of microfiction for the Daily Words, these entries ended up being an extension of my personal journal and yet another retelling of my Walk in Silence idea. It was so ridiculous and frustrating! So when freedom of the FDJ presented itself, I also chose to free myself from everything else that was holding me back: including my listening habits.
As with everyone else, I too have had a bit of a weird 2020, pandemic notwithstanding. I started the year in a foul mood due to a Former Day Job situation, a distinct lack of productivity in my writing (partly due to said situation), and on top of that, I was finally letting myself process a lot of personal issues so I could move on. We flew to New England to visit friends and family on one of the coldest late winter weeks in March. The pandemic did play a significant role in my leaving the FDJ at the end of that month, setting me off on a long stretch of unemployment on the one hand, but a renewed burst of creativity as well as a much needed mental and emotional clarity on the other.
I listened to a lot of music during that time, surprising absolutely no one. The internet radio dial (so to speak) has been permanently stuck at kexp.org, causing any commercial radio listening in the car to feel pathetic and bland in response. I’ve listened to new music on Fridays occasionally downloaded the albums I wanted. I gave my writing process — and the listening habits that often go along with it — a critical rethink as well, spending some time not writing or worrying about productivity. And after a few months, I finally allowed myself to return to the music and creativity with almost no strings attached.
It’s been a long year, and of course I’ve started this month by looking back on all the albums, EPs and singles that have dropped since January. So many release dates changed, tours cancelled or postponed, performances livestreamed. The music industry changed a hell of a lot because of the pandemic. Some of it for the worse, but some of it for the better; it caused a lot of bands and clubs to do a massive rethink in order to survive. A number of bands like Crowded House, Elbow, and even Seatbelts, utilized communications platforms normally used for business to synchronize themselves and perform in the safety of their own homes. In a dark and uncertain time, there was a cloud of determination and creativity that kept things going.
I’m not sure when this uncertainty is going to end, or the pandemic for that matter, but with certain changes in the air, some of them long-awaited and positive, we can move on and even evolve. I’m very curious as to how 2021 will treat us, creatively and productively. Things are definitely different now. The pandemic (and the election, let’s be fair) changed things just enough that I think it gave society a bit of a nudge out of its complacency and stasis. Will it continue in this manner? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it will at least have inspired enough people to make the next couple of years interesting in a good way.