BOOK REVIEW: ‘love is a mixtape: life and loss, one song at a time’ by Rob Sheffield

*some small plot detail spoilers contained in the description below*

When I found this book on the stacks of Halifax Public Libray, as I navigated through the careful architecture pathways – looking for inspiration in environment or education or both – I noticed in the Table of Contents that the second chapter (all named after playlists and important songs to the story telling) was titled Hey Jude.  So, naturally my interest was piqued, if i am to play into this Beatles ascribed identity for this life. As I read the story at the beginning of chapter 2, Rob describes building a mixtape of only Hey Jude for the entire length of the cassette by repeating portions of the record into an album of filler “hey” “na na na nanana” and “JudyJudyJudy” – I knew the storytelling would continue to balance musical entertainment with heartache and joy in careful harmony to tell his story.

The story of his wife unexpectedly dying, and his coming to terms with their romance’s untimely end is eloquently explored by describing their relationship in a series of mixtapes from their life together. The mixtapes were evidence of their mutual adoration of music at the time, and the changes in the alternative-punk legacy with albums which had in the duration of the track length, each contributed to this love story.

His wife, Renee, completed the music part of his life, and soon filled in the gaps he didn’t know he needed filling by a southern accent and sassy comments. Their love feels so true off the page, being in their company must have been a simple treat.

And so, while reading this comfortable love story, the despair of her loss being within each story about his memory, I am comforted by the peace he has found in the joy they shared. It’s their love story, and it has ended – in the sense of no longer continuing into the future. but I can understand the need to preserve what was, for the sake of the beauty of the story. for the perseverance of our belief in love.

Reading into their life together, i was cheering for the happy couple the same way they were living it – until, as abruptly as it happens, Rob carries you into the truth of the situation. that in less than a minute, his wife dies from a brain aneyursm.

In the flurry of the grief and frantic planning of memorializing her body + memory he recalls not sitting with the immensity of the loss until later, on solo drives in the days following when music on the radio (no matter the station) would remind him of her. Stating what I feared was true, “I knew I would have to relearn how to listen to music, and that some of the music we’d loved together I’d never be able to hear again.” (149)

Soon after, this thought is followed by the assurance to the reader that as the story began, it continued:”mix tapes were the life raft I held onto” – and understandably so. It seemed this was what was happening while they were living and falling in love, but now more than ever, it would be the best self-made therapy to keep creating new memories in the style of the old ones.

—-

Where this hits home the deepest, is how there are plenty of unwritten stories kept within my personal memory of music intersectionalities. And how I share some of the songs with this tender couple’s experience, but how many of the songs were briefly popular during the late 80’s and into the 90’s – and they never made it into my working memory of the time period (okay, I was a small child living in a rural place..). Even with the missed association with the value of some of these songs I could appreciate their organization together as even song titles creating simple, abstract poetry of shared living in a globalizing community of shared stories.

And how, the era of the mix tape is unique all in its own. But we still understand the value of compilations, of sharing collections of music; track order does, and sometimes does not, matter. In many senses, technology is advancing faster than our ability to make use of it in our own time. When i was a kid I used our family’s CD/tape player to record copies of my sister’s CD tracks into a mixtape for the car (which only had a tape deck) or create strange CD mixes based on whatever music I had used our computer to download via Limewire, Napster, and whatever software at the time was able to translate a cool song into a digital file. As a child, I didn’t believe anything could happen by copying music in this way, because it’s just like making mixtapes and sharing music across the street, it’s just across the world now.

My history with music as a transition aid has been the most valuable part of the loss of places, people associated with those places, and the soundtrack we build underneath it all will be what holds us together when the rest falls apart. That’s where Riverhouse/Heartwood are a foundation – or atleast two deck posts- of my grief; layered with changing places (“we’re not us anymore”, unfortunately) and the loss of people who created them.

So I have an undercurrent of favourite songs which have and will continue to guide me along the path of getting over yesterday and growing into tomorrow. It’s in reading this book that I can put my experiences into the greater context of loss, and understand them to be far less consequential than the abrupt end of a marriage due to the loss of the person while the love remains. And then, it clicks, that’s what I’ve been chasing. Closure from the love that never ended, rather the physical presence was removed. So, I’ve learned to love the music and people of the place differently, without necessary discussion of why we are all connected, because it hurts too much.

And, some songs stick with you even after the loss is fresh. Hearing the song by the Replacements mentioned in this book brought back memories of the first year of infatuation with my Edmonton interest – who made sure I knew to listen for Unsatisfied during their set at Osheaga. But I didn’t, I slept through. And that was some cosmic joke played to remind me of a number of ‘read between the lines’ meanings. But also to remember that it is a song worth listening to, because of its legacy, and great lyrics, and weight. Hearing Leonard Cohen sing on a recording, and knowing you’ll never hear new music by him again. Or, in the heart of the loss, the warm fatherly baritone of Bobby Gibb recite the ode to the haggis on Robbie Burns day. Or see Shotgun Jimmie with Mark Kroeker – though the year he came through the prairies we each caught a show in our respective cities and congratulated the other on accomplishing that Bagtown goal. Some people are always going to be memorable. And if they’re lucky, they’ll get a mixtape of memories all to themselves. Keep the music makers close and the family of appreciators closer. (sometimes outdoor concerts are chilly!)

The nostalgia coded into a song’s storytelling and melody is crucial for its soul to come through, but it needs to transcend an individual’s nostalgia and become ubiquitous into the human experience. That’s where mixtapes – good ones- can communicate more than a kiss in some scenarios. They can be better than a therapist. (not a replacement, but enough to know why you’re unsatisfied, perhaps)

And if you’re lucky, you get to have someone narrate all the reasons why they chose the songs they did to you, with introductions and stories. Appreciating the community this music has created on the airwaves alongside the chaos of living.

I’m not sure if this book was an antidote or an amplifier for my retrospective tendencies, but flipping back through pages of the book now completed seem as familiar as floating backwards into my own memories – smiling at experiencing that joy with the lucidity of deja vu. flashes of curious familiarity mimicking past emotion.

And now, in the phase of my living where I am finding more courage to start learning music and developing unique style + character in playing piano and guitar, I understand the challenges involved with creating a ‘new’ sound, if only for the immediate frustration involved with the pain of not knowing how to get the sound you don’t know you need. So, my gratitude meter is restored with each new song, and each time I pick up a guitar and default to D chord, because it’s the transition from uke to guitar and I feel comfortable there. But i’m getting really sick of that note in particular. Thankful for all the sharers of music ability and advice. Without them my inspiration meter would have no traction against the current of modern life. With them, i have a memory of a time of my growing up and out of naivete.

“a mixtape steals those moments from all over the musical cosmos, and splices them into a whole new groove. … I’d rather hear the Beatles’ Getting Better on a mix tape than on Sgt. Pepper any day.” – pg 23/24

there’s more of my story to be told – about radio synchronicities and mix tape ironies. but for the moment i’m glad to have indulged in someone else’s. Highly recommend this read to you, internet person; if i haven’t spoiled it for you with the plot leaks.

Ch-Ch-Changes on the same Theme

I was making this playlist on paper, then spotify, when i decided i needed to think a bit more deeply about 2016 so I called up my grand-family friend. We talked about his life, and about mine. And all the things I think of when I’m offline, i’ve discovered, are key pinpoints of my brain’s inner workings that I’m thankful i have.

I support the conversations with elders in our personal story. For wisdom, for kindness, and yes… quickly witted comments about the state of the world. But also an informed sweetness, to know the benefit of reflection,  to have moved on from so much until this point,  the memories which remain are not only valuable.. They’re all you’ve got.

Having a conversation with this grandfather-figure  not too long ago, he  told 3 separate stories to make a point about serendipity.  Each of these stories  (snapshots of moments – 1000 words to paint a picture) involving himself and our dearly missed MB. Their lives crossed over in odd ways for 20 years,  living separate lives, with reason to interact  at first – then contact became sparse,  as needed but always welcome as the years went on. He recalled: “It was around the time my father died, I called her up, as I hadn’t done in quite some time. I rang and she answered.” He said, in a particular manner, ‘I knew there was something the matter with her the moment I called.’ … “then you find out why”

Her father had also died.

She says: ‘oh my god it’s you’

With that, no need to go into details. You go straight to empathy.

That moment, and a few significant others, were moments of that serendipity.  He explained, now, after her end and our grieving: “There’s truly a chapter for each one. {45 years from now., ago} He continued, how a previous instance, he courageously decided to mention the importance of their interaction, on the cusp of her marriage. I’m going to have to say some things to you.. ‘I have no interest in getting in the way […] I really care for you. And the reason I’m telling you now is that it doesn’t matter’ And she never took me up on that dinner. But I was there, at the beginning and the end, in moments

The transition .. If you want to know…” And I did.

so, we continued to talk about the distance they survived, by means of networks of community and places of important beauty. Both in storyline and landscape.

From this chat, I reflected how this version of the same synthesis In my context Has not been easy but it has been kind many times over. This transition, is twisting the story in  important ways Until the time comes to demand we accept our capacity ..for foolishness of love, for impatience, for cruelty, for fear.

And in that appreciation of oneself, we see without astigmatism.

In this conversation, we also talked music and how Leonard Cohen had passed away. How on his latest album everything was softer, darker, still so characteristic of his style. And that he was reflecting on the end of his life, and produced a summation album of his wisdoms as he collected them and made a career out of it.

‘make sure you listen to Treaty, and include that one in your list,’ he says.

and so i did, track no. 13. in a Dan Mangan sandwich with Gord Downie alongside some modern favourites closer to the heart, within local networks. i’m honoured and delighted to be able to collaborate favourite memories next to each other. And within modern streaming, to create and share a mixtape with the people making the music in real-time.

and a little bit, of all of it, is the Beatles too. and that’s cool with me. especially on days when the weight of the world is a bit too heavy on my aching shoulders (i.e. mapping laptop)..

Connectivity of Joyfulness

This past Sunday was celebrated in United Church families as ‘joy sunday’. 

A reminder of that being the original inspiration for my middle name, at it is around my birthday each year. In fact, the first year of that annual proximity was inspiration enough for it to be inked onto my birth certificate. 

So, it is a continuing reminder of ways to be joyful in the face of everything else. That strength has always been a superpower of mine. To access joy as a motivator, as a function of memory living forward – harnessing joy for future motivation. 

This persistence of happiness, in all of us, is what allows us to survive in the capacity we do. This year my strength has been tested, and yet as December exam season comes around again, I feel resilient and capable. 

I credit the connectivity of happiness to have supported this journey. Casual acquaintances are knit together in webs which keep the world afloat. Best friends nurture the love we feel when we experience this joy. 
as Year 25 comes to a close, I am so grateful for having the joyful reminder of love embedded in the places we share. The number of towns I briefly participated in were echoes of the one I was shown to love.

and to have wound up in the middle of the best dream, for it to be reality…is hard earned bliss.

Cartographic Conversation

This past September I packed up my life from the corners of Canada where I’ve been hiding and moved to the Annapolis Valley for the first of two years attending CoGS, a respected but secret place for mapheads.

(cover photo courtesy of NASA, landsat5,+ ERDAS Imagine)

I have embraced my affinity for visual memory recall, and the affinity for photos, spatial displays, and visualized directions whenever possible. Ergo, it was about time I took those skills and developed them into something employable.

Getting here took a year of being unemployed, detaching myself from the emotional loss of a comfortable job, and resettling in a new version of familiar on the other side of Canada.  During this time I got to the heart of what I truly love – spending some time and “Pogey” dollars on travel. By the time I wound up back on the East Coast in March 2016, I’d been to every other land province in the country  for atleast 12 hours since leaving Edmonton in Fall 2015. (Sorry Newfoundland, someday!)

And yet, it was the best kind of preparation I could have designed for myself. If I were to do it all again, I would do few things differently if only for the improved state of mental wellbeing. Road regrets aside, I’m glad to have documented many of the adventures on paper maps with coloured notes. Pathways + people of places etched into memory banks. These banks I draw from on days when transition gets too heavy.

Here, is Lawrencetown (not the beach). For a town that turns out hundreds* (*~2) of cartographic wizards annually, it’s constantly surprising how confusing its location can be for nearly everyone trying to figure where they have to go to be spatially informed. A college tucked in the heart of the Annapolis Valley, it turns out. It’s not really on the map for much, but it hits the mark for maps.

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the course of the past year, and I’m exceedingly grateful for the amount of rad tunes, fun folks, and window-seat-views I have the privilege to remember.

The next step, as it always is with growth, is to take what was and magnify into a continued beauty. Mapping opens the doors to what I have always Trump-ed about: what “should” be and how it “could” be done. Damn him and that attitude. Independent thought is alive and well. Love conquers hate.  Questions conquer fear.

Fear has no place here, says the wise Ken Stead.

So much for fear, echoes another bearded bard Dan Mangan.

In every ounce of sadness, confusion, and melancholy, there is a fellow human who has lived through worse and wants to share that moment with you. Music wins.

I’ve come to learn many parallels between cartography and composition. Notes and phrases move across piano keys as swiftly as the eye connects dots via contour lines, streets, and rivers.

Psychogeography is just that – allowing emotion to bleed into the documentation of living.

For now, it’s watersheds and text placement. Remotely sensing our community’s infrared, even, has a colourful subtext.

So much for Alberta.. Time for happiness in the form of hectare calculations.

thanksgivingdem

Collections of Stardust, part 1 of Yesterday’s Tale

2 years ago, give or take a wrinkle in space time, she met a pale blue dot of galactic gravity.

He helped her find mirrors to shine sunlight into the deepest part of her caves. with eyes that shone like diamonds and a track record of defeat, he knew he may be more than she could handle. still he offered two diamonds shaped by a hard world, polishing her as reciprocity for being tough enough to shape complicated carbon into mantles of trust and collaboration.  Neither had any plans for living next to despair forever, wondering how long this game could last. Pompeii had no time for rest or vests, Vesuvius claimed active history; our humanity swept away by more forceful dust.

She used bars as litmus tests of emotion. Radio at a high frequency promised highly metamorphic metaphors sustaining sympathetic cymbals on well timed existence. We hardly know our selves, we’ve always learned through others. Jesus can’t help you find the mental health you lost. Mocking you from the dismantling foundation of certainty in hospitality you’ve always celebrated. Stumbling into another’s shared third place; another Monday for the books. The first day of creation, Gregorian decided. The first step on collaborative connection with this environment. Culturally shared geographical spaces become places. How many of our shared stories have taken place similarly? There is earthly consistency for destruction bringing new life.

This undercover spiritual scientist had other intentions in mind, not just our collective best. Challenging this, our upbringing, against understanding synechdotal synchronicity. We mustn’t put up a fuss for the end to arrive just in time for grief. It’s all been a dream, one that plays out in patterns and smiles. We keep using words like good and bad, pretenses for emotional evacuation posing for sympathy. Forging our own ways through habits of forgetery.

It’s hard to believe this is more than a dream. A hard world, a heavy bag, the weight of how it all seemed. Next to happiness and enjoyment. Falling through cracks and finding a rabbithole of generosity and communal city.

Released from fibres of a familiar weave, this freedom from winter’s sleeves challenges everything I knew about creating seams in time’s fabric. No longer tethered to expectations of next. No longer disappointed by a withering eternal ‘yet’.

SAVOUR IT. The love, the feeling of peace. Compliments + congratulations. Beastial pedestals of ceremonial competitive complacency.

SAVOUR the moments of simplicity as record of potential, of patterned culture. Even on days when every movie seems like yesterday’s script; you hardly had time to memorize the lines before fame’s curtain closed. They say try again tomorrow, with less enthusiastic repose. Yesterday’s script inspires today’s always. And never. We know we can always be better.

One such movie, The Giver, narrates this well: “it is the memory which keeps me going.” “Life. The More I Experienced, the more I wanted.”

Triggering self statements of actualizing truth:

I treat those around me like dirt, thinking I am the greatest seed. But I tend to myself, and plan to leave after sharing pollen with other flowering seeds among common weeds.

Unhealthy avoidance of these truths and fears bleed us out, organically faltering, continually altering, each thing we pretend to consider.

Narcissus waited for the Echo to guide him home. Familiar moments of faith, lust, diminished fifths, and captive in reflection.

synergy of the sol

When you arrived, it was with a breath of goodness and a hug of love.
Now with a reminder of our love in recent memory (you stepped out this morning)
I’m smiling with your grace and joy, it’s a part of me again
Active progression of thought and rhythm keep this life enthused
Daily breaths of life kept taught (inform the confused)
Keep apologies next to gratitude
On the bedside of your anxiety
Distribute as needed, generosity of spirit can live quietly.
In hearts of bitter experience, allowing sublimation
Cleansing, resting, refined joy in captive times
Moments of honest love, touching toes
As toughness grows ever gentle the sensation
Soulful rhymes overwhelm the boy
With the problems of the nation
Sneaking requests into beauty you hadn’t known yet
getting misty at mangan’s phrasings
finding new sound always, individual grazings
Requests for change, demanding an honest stage

Where’s freedom to live when captive strange holds tight
Where’s struggle to remain if competition is no longer the game.
In remeeting ourselves in these fresh eyes
(swirls of entropic destiny aligning lottery’s prize)
You speak of distant loves with reasons to be by their side
And many more meetings left waiting for a ride
An energetic resilience will save us from our failure
Not our addictions or our saviour
Obsession dissection is overthinking our true forte
Of gentle love and brightened song
With great desire to sing song along
Pretend until you get it
Break it til you fix it
Of all the deranged masses’ screaming insanity
Freak meetings of synergy are all too often met with hostility
Until serene reminders joining anxious and peace
As mirrors of the same, well brought up poor and alone
Are you an echo of a grief living deep?
Is all this life just waiting to be buried by sleep?

Let’s get to it then, move on move up move out.
Find the ‘worth it’ in every sigh.
Grip tightly what keeps you “I”
Introspection is often too nearsighted, distance meaning fear
Extrapolate these meanings, go forth without tears

When you find softest tears from your pupils
Wrinkled pages keeping score
These are the moments of true brilliance,
This is the forgetery of poor
Stains of our so(u)l(e) making statements among the ink
Showing off emotion without closing off or out
Applying devotion as travellers’ idea grout
Is love just pity in a pretty box of sugar?
Do we know how to taste it, finding truth in disgust
Understanding beyond our meditation, instead medication
Insulin of apologizing can’t fix rooted indigestion
Turgor required for movement
Stalled in periphery and genuine limits of capacity
Each moment of change brings us closer to home
The one we’ve never known
The hope we’ve never shown