Sunday, October 29, 2017

Adventures in Tattoo Acquisition

This is (late) Essay #43 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

You might recall my essay on tattoos from a few weeks ago. Welp. I did it. I got my first tattoo.


On Friday morning, I went to vinyasa yoga. I hadn’t practiced any physical asanas all week. I needed to ground myself after a doozy of an experience with Kundalini yoga teacher training (read more here). The instructor and my friend, Gabi, gave me a class that I exactly needed. Introspective and grounding poses. Slow pacing. Moments to go within. It was really grounding. After, we talked a little and she offered this delicious beverage: a grounding date smoothie. More like a tea, since it’s a warm beverage. And man, was that delicious! And totally did the trick. I could feel my body get a little heavier, a little more rooted into the earth. Thank you, Gabi and aruveyda!

Also? Warm comfort foods help ground us. So I made blueberry pancakes for lunch. Yes, lunch.

And then it was off to the tattoo shop.

I didn’t make an appointment. I figured: if it’s meant to be, then an artist will be available. If not, then I’ll try again next week. (I know: I sound like a total hippy dippy! At least my Type A self thinks so!)

I walked in and chatted it up with Roman, the person I had talked to before when I was doing reconnaissance work on tattoo shops. He went around to each room, asking the artists for their availability, and it started to look like no one was free and that I’d have to set up an appointment after all. As I was about to hand over my deposit, out walked Ray who said “I can do it.”

When I saw him, I knew right away: Ray is Filipino. I took this as a sign. Yes! Someone who understood my complicated feelings that came with getting a tattoo. Then, it turned out he’s also Buddhist (whaa??) and has kids and is an artist (duh! But I mean, he went to School of Visual Arts in NYC!) and shares the same ideals I have. Talk about a love letter from the universe!

So while he prepped my wrist –swabbing the skin thoroughly, putting the stencil on—and set up the various things he needed (a cream of some kind, some wipes, a tiny cup of ink, a needle and some other stuff), we talked. I was grateful for that. I didn’t have the mind space to really think about what kind of pain awaited me. When he was done, he held the tattoo pen, placed his hand on my arm, turned on the tattoo machine (the vibration of which felt just like Kundalini vibrations, which, strangely, comforted me), and said to me, “Ready?”

“Is this going to hurt?” I asked the obvious question. So obvious it’s rhetorical. Still he answered.


“Like a bitch?” I half joked. I didn’t know what to expect.

“Yes.” He paused. “It’s what we like to call sakit.” Haha! He used the Tagalog word for hurt, but for me, sakit isn’t all that bad in terms of pain. It’s a word I use after I bang my knee on an open file cabinet. I yelp “Aray!” and then the pain after is sakit. I use it when I have a headache. I use it when I get a paper cut. I don’t know if the pain I was about to endure was quite that low. I took a deep breath.


He began.

It felt like you would imagine it to feel: a stinging kind of pain. After all, you’re getting stuck by a needle over and over again. Tiny rapid pinpricks of pain. A million bees stinging you in the same small spot. Once in a while, it would smart like a bitch. But only for a split second.

We talked.

“Do you know that women have a higher threshold for pain than men?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah. That’s why we’re the ones having the babies. Haha—“ I stared at the picture that was directly in front of me. I didn’t want to look at the source of my pain, despite the fact that I volunteered for it. The picture was an image of Kali, Hindu goddess, Divine Mother of the Universe, destroyer of evil forces.

Of course.

Nothing is coincidence.

More deep breaths.

We continued to talk as he buzzed the ink and the pain into my skin, wiping every so often. I glanced down every now and then to see the progress. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. That this was real. I was excited. In hindsight, I wish I had just watched the entire thing. But there’s only so much pain I wanted to endure in that moment. The visual accompaniment would have just magnified it for me.

We talked about a lot of things: being brown in this country, raising kids in this day and age (he’s got two of his own), being a kid of immigrant Filipinos and the ways in which we defied our parents (we joked that neither of us was a doctor or lawyer or engineer, but artists of all things! haha), and single origin chocolate (yesss!!). It felt like we could’ve talked all day, well into the night. But alas, he had other appointments and I had children to fetch from school.

He gave me the info on caring for the tattoo, which, by the way, turned out fantastic. (Don’t get excited – it’s not a fancy, intricate tattoo, but I was really happy with it. You’ll see in the photo below.)

“Thanks for talking to me the whole time. It got my mind off the pain. A little bit.”

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“But it was also good conversation!” He agreed.

When we parted ways, I told him we’d stay connected. For one, I might have his wife as a guest speaker in my food writing class! But maybe the universe has more in store.


The tattoo I got is simple. It’s a single word on the inside of my right wrist: poeta. It’s for those moments when I get low and really really dark, when I start declaring that everything I write is trash, that I’m done with writing, and that I’m throwing in the towel for good (which I know is not something that’s remotely possible, but at times, it can desperately feel this way). It’s me speaking to myself: Bitch, you’re a fucking poet and don’t you forget it! (haha!) I might want to try to forget, but if it’s staring me in the face, permanently embedded in my skin, well, it’s kinda hard to do that.

So yeah. In case it wasn’t clear:
soy un poeta.

A Glimpse Into My Inexplicable World of Kundalini

This is (really late) Essay #42 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

Last weekend, I started teacher training for Kundalini yoga. If you don’t know what that is, the best way I can describe it is like this: it’s a yoga practice that works to align the ten bodies of your existence for optimal operation. Like a chiropractic practice for your mind, body, and soul. BUT it doesn’t look like vinyasa or any other kind of yoga you might be familiar with. There are a lot of movements of the body that are strange and unfamiliar (arms held at 60-degree angles, for example), linked with plenty of breath and breathing patterns. If you’re curious, google it – I’m sure my description is not doing it justice. The bottom line is this: if you’re open, the practice is transformative – in difficult ways that, in the end, pay off in bliss. (I know: I sound like a total yogi dork with my New Agey talk, but trust me on this. I’ve experienced it first hand.)

That said, opening training weekend was a doozy.

But the perfect storm was already set up for me. My kiddos were all fighting mild colds. My emotional stress was high because of the Me Too movement & talk of sexual assault and harassment on social media. Which then set off an episode of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Then add Kundalini to the mix? It was inevitable.

For clarification: my experience of Kundalini yoga usually results in a humming of the body; my vibration is elevated. The first day of training wasn’t really training like I expected. I was expecting some lectures & discussions of the science of yoga & Kundalini, maybe some readings of sacred yogic texts. But nooooo. It was an extended Kundalini practice. Morning session was about 4 hours. Then another 2-3 hours in the afternoon. My body was on overload. During the lunch break, I went to run a quick errand & sat in my car for a while, contemplating not going back. Then I went to the field across the street from the yoga studio and lay down in the grass for a while.

I was freaking out.

But I couldn’t explain why or even articulate what I was freaking out about. I just knew that something was happening in my body. And by association, something was also happening in my mind and spirit.

Still, I mustered up what I needed to finish out the day’s “training”. After all, I’m not a quitter. (Hello, Asian perfectionist girl.) The next morning? I couldn’t go to 4:30am sadhana – a 2-1/2 hour meditative & physical practice. Nor endure another 8 hours of “training” (if that’s what awaited me). My body was shot. I ended up sleeping all through Sunday until the next morning. About 24 hours or so.

The rest of the entire week, my body was low-key humming intermittently.

According to astrology and other sciences: we are entering the Aquarian Age (yes, just like the song). We just left the Age of Pisces, the time during which we are given information and, from that, we establish our belief system, our faith. The Age of Aquarius? It’s the age of experience; that what we experience directly informs our beliefs and faith, rather than knowledge told to us. Now, I’m not going to get into all the details of this, though it is fascinating! You can go do your own research. I’m only pointing this out because it helps me understand some of what has been going on in my life.

Go ahead. You can write me off as some crazy New Age weirdo. I don’t mind. Sometimes I call myself that! Haha! But I know what I know because I experienced it firsthand. And I know I didn’t make that shit up. I know it wasn’t a product of my imagination. How? Because some of the things I’ve experienced and witnessed aren’t even in my brain. And if I were to explain it to you, dear reader, it would sound totally generic. As in “yes, yes – I know exactly what you’re talking about because I have also felt this way.” But no. You haven’t felt this way – not like this.

Let me give you a brief example: in one instance, I had a moment when I found something abstract that I didn’t even know I was looking for. If I were to say this to someone (and I have), their response is: oh yes – I know exactly what you mean. Like it happens all the time. Does it? Do people find something they didn’t know they were looking for until it came into their lives? (And no, Target doesn’t count. Haha!) I don’t know. Not the thing that I experienced. It was startling. And if something like that happens all the time, then why the heck aren’t more people talking about it??

This one time I experienced such high vibrations in my body that I could’ve sworn, had I continued the practice just a few minutes longer, I’d probably be levitating. No joke. Not like superpower flying. Maybe a quarter-inch off the ground. But still. It was nuts. I sound nuts!

I considered dropping out of training. It was that intense. Do I want to subject my body, mind, and soul to that level of intensity? For the next TEN MONTHS?! WTF.

Of course I do. Haha – I think.

After some meditation and a really good long conversation with my friend and spiritual teacher, the answer is yes. As long as I have support along the way (and I know I do!), I’m in.

Deep breath.

Kundalini teacher training is going to kick my ass –both on the physical and cosmic levels. Get ready! 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Reality Check: Life is Short

This is (late) Essay #41 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

We all hear that: life is short. We hear it so often that it becomes cliché and then we take it for granted. Which then defeats the whole purpose of the message. The message of which is: tomorrow is never promised so live the best way you know how every minute of every day that you are breathing. When you first wake in the morning, when your brain is first turned on but your eyes are still shut, give thanks for another day. Be grateful for breath.


A year a half ago, my much-younger cousin died suddenly, while speaking to her pastor after mass. She was only 23. She had dealt with a heart arrhythmia for most of her life, but this was a shock to everyone. The only child of my aunt and her husband.


Last month, my middle child’s classmate’s father died. He had been sick so it wasn’t a shock, but still, loss is loss. For a nine-year-old to lose her father is no less devastating.


This afternoon, I just spoke with a friend. Her daughter and my oldest are close friends. She just told me that she has stage three breast cancer; that she had started treatment is past Friday. She will undergo chemotherapy for the next five months to shrink the cancerous masses and then surgery to remove, hopefully, the rest. She is the second mother in my daughter’s class to have been diagnosed. The statistics are 1 in 8 women. This makes three women I’ve known in my life (the first was a woman whose son was in preschool with my oldest).


Just the other day, I was asking myself: what would it be like to know you were dying? Sure, we’re all dying – just some sooner than others. But what would it be like to know when you were leaving this earth? Most people would probably plan to live their last days as full as possible. Others might grip tightly onto denial, fighting against the inevitable. I’d like to think I’d be in the former camp. But more importantly, I’d like to think that I’m the person who already lives life to the fullest every day that when the time came, I wouldn’t be cramming my days, trying to check off my bucket list because I’ve already done it.

To be honest though, I don’t think I really have a bucket list. Nothing that I want to do so badly that I’d die happy after checking it off my list. Climb Mt. Everest? Nah. I’m not really a mountain climber. A lot of things are “would be nice” things. What does that say about me? That I’m pretty content with my life, I think. I think. Either that, or I’m just a simple person who doesn’t really know what kinds of awesomeness are out there! Haha!


Every morning, on the days I teach, I walk across campus and pass by a big old elm tree. Its massive branches and limbs create a big canopy of leaves. Morning sunlight dappling through. On rainy days, it keeps me dry for a few paces. Every morning, I say hello. If I’m lucky and there’s a branch low enough, I reach up and touch a leaf to greet my tree. If I’m feeling leisurely in my pace, I’ll stop by the trunk and touch the bark, send a little love. But always, always I look up, smiling at my tree, saying hello, grateful for its presence on my path. I don’t know why this particular tree out of all the trees I see along the way, but for whatever reason, this elm is my tree.


What are you doing each day to celebrate life? What are you doing each day to show gratitude for your breath? For the people who bless your life? It doesn’t have to be magnanimous (though those are always fun! Both to give and receive!). It can be simple as a heart in a text message. Or a smile. Or a big fierce hug. Or the always awesome: “I love you”.

Guess what?
I love you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Not an Essay on Being Victim and Survivor

This is (late) Essay #40 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

On Sunday morning, I started to write Essay 40. This was right before the Me Too “movement” (are we calling it that? what do we call it?) but during the height of the Weinstein storm where *everything* was about him and sexual assault and harassment. Everywhere I turned, there it was.

Feeling triggered, I started to write my story.

This is how I process and make sense of the world: I write. Whether or not I share it is determined after I’m done writing. I write to survive. It sounds like an exaggeration but it’s not. If I don’t write, I become physically incapacitated. My body refuses to work for me. It shuts down. Sometimes to the point where I am in bed for half the day or more. So I write.

Then the Me Too thing took off. My FB newsfeed was too much to bear. So many “me toos”. So many.

I am not surprised – no woman is—but to see it, right there on the screen – a parade of “me toos”—made it all too real. My body started to shut down.

I stopped writing my story. I couldn’t fight the shutdown hard enough to write anymore.

I am tired of fighting.

I am tired of being the brave one, the strong one.

I am tired of being the one people look to, the one people turn to.

I am tired of opening up the wounds of old traumas to say, hey, me too.

I am fucking tired.

I need a break.

I want someone to take care of me for once, to hold me and just say, Don’t worry – I got this. And I love you.

Why is the burden put on us? Why must we endure more pain in order to incite change?

And then there’s the yogi part of me that remembers: suffering is optional.* So I’m asking myself how do I transform trauma into healing in ways that do not recreate suffering? Or do I allow for the suffering, sit in it, move through it, and release it each time it comes? And hope that maybe with each experience, that suffering diminishes into a tiny thing that I can flick away with my finger?

[*This statement is not meant to be dismissive of real experienced traumas, but more, for me anyway, of a way to think about how trauma is functioning -- is it keeping me stuck in the past? Or is working in another way that doesn't reinforce the groove of suffering?]

I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m trying to practice self-care but I don’t even know what that looks like anymore. I’ve gone to yoga for the past three days straight and I don’t feel any less shitty. Or maybe I do feel less shitty immediately after class, but then I am subject to the shit that’s still out there so I get pushed back to where I was before I went to class.

Writing isn’t helping. I find myself all over the place. Starting one essay, then stopping halfway through. Starting a second essay, then abandoning that. Writing a poem that feels okay…. Maybe the writing is helping and I’m not noticing it. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself (which is par for the course). Maybe.

Right now, all I want to do is crawl under the covers and sleep until it doesn’t hurt any more.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Yeah, I said it: let’s talk about guns.

This is (late) Essay #39 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

I am tired. Weary. Exhuausted. Wiped. Burned out. Skin tired. Down-to-the-gristle-and-bone tired.

And yet—


Let’s talk politics. Because, you know, it’s a thing I like to do from time to time. And yes, let’s talk guns. Because, you know, it’s uncomfortable for a lot of people. And I like to do that from time to time: talk about the discomfort of things and the things that cause discomfort. What I don’t understand is why. Why the discomfort? I mean, of course, I get it: people have their thoughts, their positions, their opinions and stances on guns. And they vary. As do the solutions to such a triggering (heh heh) topic. It’s not as simple as “let’s own guns” to “let’s ban them entirely”. If you’ve got some critical thinking skills, you know there are nuances. What I don’t understand is this reluctance to even talk about it.

From newscasts after the Las Vegas mass shooting: It’s not appropriate to talk about gun control right now. Now’s not the time. Uh, really? If not now, then when? Trevor Noah has great commentary on this.

But I will be honest: I myself have a hard time talking about guns and gun laws. And I’m puzzled by this.

I grew up learning how to shoot a gun. Issues of Guns and Ammo magazine were all over my house. Occasionally, I would go trap shooting with my dad and my younger brother on weekends (Just to watch. Because I wasn’t big enough to handle a shotgun*); my mom would be no part of it. I would listen to conversations between my dad and brother about which guns were the best, which ones were the coolest, which guns were appropriate for certain situations. I have this hazy memory that my dad might have purchased a Saturday Night Special on my behalf (“For protection.” Of course.). It was never in my possession but I might have seen it. I can’t quite remember. And there was always the heat in my dad’s tone of voice when politics would cross the dinner table: the latest news on gun laws would come up and my dad would steam about how They couldn’t take away his Right To Bear Arms. Because, really, that’s why he came to America in the first place, not the dictatorship that he fled (I say this in jest. But sometimes I really wonder…). As a kid, I could only agree. What else did I know?


I’ll admit that I really really wanted to shoot a shotgun, to know what it felt like. To hold it with my entire torso, arms wrapped around it. To load it with a pump of the fore-end. To squeeze the trigger and feel the force of the kickback. I’d probably close my eyes, bracing myself – which is totally NOT advised! But yeah. I wanted to know what that felt like.

What’s funny is that I wasn’t interested in the clay pigeon I was supposed to be aiming at. Thinking about it now, maybe there’s something satisfying about seeing it break apart, hearing the smash of it. But I was more interested in the feel of cold metal kicked against my chest. Is that what power feels like?

As a woman of color who must fight for any kind of power to be heard or seen, I am interested in exploring various methods of acquiring power. Are guns part of this exploration?

I have a clear recollection of this specific scene in Terminator 2 where Linda Hamilton’s character, Sarah Connor—all buffed up—is injured and she can only load her shotgun with one arm. She holds the fore-arm with her good side and jacks up the gun over her shoulder to load it. Repeatedly. For me, that was an incredible display of fierce feminist strength and I wanted that.


I’m the minority in my family. This includes, not just my own parents and siblings, but my in-law family as well as my husband, who I classify as moderate, slightly right of center.

In my mind, I feel one-hundred-percent clear on my position on guns: we don’t need them. Quite frankly, why do they even exist? (You want to hunt? Try good old bow and arrows.) I told my students the other day: arguments, gripes, and the like should be settled with fistfights. One should be forced to know what it feels like to inflict harm upon another human being, to feel one’s knuckles on the skin, muscle, and bone of another’s face or arm or torso. And yes, there are those who are not of sound mind who might indeed take delight in this, but at the very least, there is no instantaneous theft of life. Of course, there are other things that come into play with this solution that do not work (eg. big burly man beats down a waify girl. Or a buff Linda Hamilton kicks the shit out of some wisp of a meek villain. Heh.), but my point is that there is actual work required to inflict harm. A gun requires no work. It is easy. It is instant.  

I told my students: people who want to inflict harm will finds ways to do it, legal or not.

Beyond this, I find myself uneasy, unsettled, and maybe floundering a little.

What about self-defense? This is the main argument for the good old Second Amendment. And this is where it gets hazy, where my mind gets muddy.

One of my students said that he feels safer knowing that there’s a gun in his house and that he can protect himself and his mom. Protect himself from whom?

What if someone were to break into your house and that someone had a gun? I do not want to meet violence with more violence. I don’t even want the potential of me bringing violence as a solution. Take my money, my jewelry, if you want. It’s just stuff.

What if someone with a gun were to break into your house with the intent to cause harm? What did I do that would make someone target me in that way? That they would specifically come to my house to do that? If this happens, I have bigger problems than whether or not I own and possess a gun.

What if someone with a gun were to come to your house and try to harm your kids? Would my having a gun solve that problem? I don’t know. I used to watch a lot of tv shows and movies. And you know that cliché scene where the kid is being held at gunpoint and the hero is an amazing shot. The hero successfully kills the villain, saving the kid who is physically unharmed. Is that the scene I’m supposed to imagine myself in? There’s a real possibility that I might end up harming my own kid before saving or in order to save her. So what do you do in that situation of your kid being held a gunpoint? Is having a gun the answer? I don’t know.

But here’s the thing: what are the chances this scenario will happen? Versus a gun accident. (Yeah, yeah. Settle down, NRA folks. I know all about gun safety. But even with all the safety you teach, why are kids still getting shot and killed accidentally? You can teach safety. Practicing it is an entirely different thing.) I’d rather take my chances on not possessing a gun. (My dad would be displeased to hear this. “Have I taught you nothing??”)


I don’t know what the answers are. And maybe there isn’t a single solution. Maybe it’s a bunch of solutions that are ever evolving.

One of my students told the class that Australia banned guns altogether. Read here for a brief overview that was published a few days ago.

And yes, American gun culture is, well, a strange thing. I don’t know how to explain it to people outside of this country. The obsession. The unwillingness to have an actual conversation about saving lives by working towards prevention of lost lives (how messed up is that statement? Think about it: we need to prevent the loss of lives in order to save them. Is it me or does that sound backwards?) I still can’t believe (and yet I can) that nothing of significance has been done since the Sandy Hook shootings when children CHILDREN! were massacred. Then again, this is typical for a country that was built on the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans stolen from their homes. We’re a messed up country that has been, for a long time, in need of some serious therapy. Know any good psychotherapists?

And I haven’t even mentioned race and class yet. You know those factors weigh heavily on the issue of guns and ownership and laws. Two words for you: Philando Castile.

I’m not saying anything new. I didn’t start writing this with the intention of making some new discovery or making some profound statement. I am only trying to start a conversation. To talk about it in the open. To make friends with my discomfort in talking about guns. To explore the contradictions I hold within me: I want to practice pacifism, to demonstrate love towards everyone, no matter who you are, no matter how terrible you might seem to be. I want to try to be like Jesus (yeah, I said it.). But at the same time, part of me wants to hold a gun. (“That’s my girl” I hear my dad’s voice in my head.) Not to kill anyone, but to know what it feels like to wield power. Because really, that’s what guns do: they make people feel powerful.

So how do we extend love and power at the same time? How do we demonstrate that both can be achieved without guns, without violence?

I have no idea. But we need to start talking about it more boldly. Enough of this timidity. We need to start somewhere. And from there, DO something about it.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Art of the Mixtape, or the Soundtrack of Life

This is (late) Essay #38 of The 52 Essay Challenge, a series in which I write a new (unpolished & messy) essay each week during 2017.

Music is my time machine.

I just made a mixtape.

Yeah, you read that right. And no, I don’t mean it in the figurative sense. I actually busted out the old boombox and made a literal mixtape on an actual cassette!

(I can’t believe that thing still works! I’m so excited! And yeah— I used to love making mixtapes so much that I bought tons of blank cassette tapes. So I found some still-wrapped cassettes in a box somewhere.)


The soundtrack of our lives. We know what this is.

It’s that moment you’re driving to work and out of nowhere SWV’s “Weak” comes on the radio (yes, you still listen to FM radio because you’re old school like that) and suddenly you’re transported to that summer you took a creative writing class at Rutgers before your junior year. You don’t remember much about what actually happened that summer. You only remember driving towards Frelinghuysen (ah, the River Dorms!) in your blue-gray Toyota Camry with all the windows down, blasting this song, singing along at the top of your lungs.

And it’s that time you’re in a bar, having a beer with a friend, talking about the poetry reading you just attended and suddenly Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” comes on. Boom! You’re back in that white passenger van, full of drunk college kids with your French professor at the wheel, barreling down narrow mountain roads past midnight on an icy-cold night, having just left a club in Geneva called L’usine, shooting across the Alps toward your hotel in Evian. Yes, you think. Yes, that really happened. Yes, you, an English major, took an economic course during a Winter session just to travel to France (If you must know, the course was looking at the economics of EuroDisney and Evian. But I suspect that the professors created this course for the sole purpose of traveling to France). And you remember the entire van singing along with slurred laughter. “Don’t call me dauuuugherrrr…”


Memory is triggered by our senses. There’s a specific smell to the building where I had most of my college classes: Pardee Hall. Once, I visited as an adult with a college friend and when we entered the building, we both commented on how suddenly, we were 19 again. And to describe the smell is impossible. Really. How does one describe the scent of a humanities building? It definitely smells different from a science building. What words does one use? “It smells like paper? Like concrete?” No, not quite.

Music is amazing. Like I said at the start: it’s my personal time machine. I can go to any time period I want. I just cue up a song and whammo! I’m there. Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” – woo, boy. That was an awkward time. Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”? All funked-up, Doc Maarten-wearing, black-is-the-only-color Pinay. Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”? Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “If I Had a Hammer”? That might have been the very early stages of my hippie self (yeah, I said it: I’m a goddamn hippie! Hahaha! But a hip-hop head, too. So yeah. Make of that what you will.).

But what I really wanted to talk about is the mixtape. (Yeah, I’m gonna pull out my old lady card right now. Haha!)

There’s an art to making a mixtape. Sure, you’ve got the playlists. Just click and drag some songs into a file. You’re done. The mixtape? Well, it’s a little more involved.

First, there’s the songs themselves. Which ones do you put on the tape? What message do you want to communicate? Fun? Party? Crush? Love? Heartbreak? Breakup? (Yeah, there are breakup mixtapes. Instead of saying “I want to breakup with you”, you just hand them a tape.) (There are also the mixtapes that were passed around to promote DJs and upcoming bands and underground shit. That was some real good stuff! I miss those days of randomly finding a tape in my hands –this person gave it to this person who gave it to me— and loving it!)

Then there’s song order. Order is EVERYTHING. Not just in lyric message but in sound. Does this rock song seamlessly transition into the next ballad? There’s a lot of sound testing before the final order of the list is solidified.

Next, there’s the actual recording of the songs. Back in the day of tape decks (god, I sound like a legit old lady!! Bwahaha!), you’d record the song –whether you had the actual album on cassette or just recorded it off the radio. Then –at least this is what I used to do—you’d take the mixtape out and manually rewind a little of the tape before recording the next song in order to cut the dead airtime between songs.

Timing is everything. You need to know how long each song is so you can figure out how many songs to put on one side before flipping over to the other side. You also want to maximize that sound time. Unless, of course, you’re making a breakup tape and you only have a handful of songs to send the message. In that case, well, silence is probably your friend.

Think you’re done? Nope!

There’s the presentation of the mixtape itself. You need to take that little cardboard insert and write the list of songs. If there’s room and it’s important to you, you’ll include the artist/group with the song titles. Then, you need to name the mixtape. Ask yourself: what’s the meaning behind this collection of songs? I have a mixtape from college called “The A-10 Mix” – that was the name of my on-campus apartment and this mix was what my housemates and I listened to while getting ready to go out (Kids these days call it pre-gaming. What a funny word… Ah, spoken like a true old lady.). Not exactly the most inventive of titles, but you get the idea. You can also title each side, depending on your musical selections. One tape I had (the name of which escapes me right now) had Side A as “Daybreak” and Side B as “Evening”. I know! I know! Not exactly clever. But the songs on Side A were quicker and upbeat. Side B, you guessed it, were slow ballads. Sooo, yeah. You get the idea. And if you want, you can put the date on it too. I like knowing when a mixtape was born.

You think it stops there? Nope!

If you’re like me, girly and arts-and-crafty, well, you’re going to want to put something on the other side of that little cardboard insert. An image. Some words cut out of a magazine. Something visual. Visual to complement the audio. This is totally optional, but it adds to the message of your mixtape. Like with poetry, in a mixtape everything is intentional and carries meaning.

Hearing Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” got me nostalgic. I felt like 19 again. So I started listening to music from the early to mid 90s. And then I felt like making a mixtape. But this time I had digital help. While putting together a playlist isn’t quite as laborious as stacking tapes next to the tape deck, I don’t mind. I even got to choose the length of silence between the songs (I chose 2 seconds). No more manual turning of the magnetic tape.

So how did I make an actual cassette mixtape, you wonder? Well, I worked in technological reverse: playlist burned to CD. CD recorded to cassette tape. (And, I’ll tell ya: pressing the <Record> and <Play> buttons simultaneously on my old boombox brought such a big smile to my face.) Voila! Your mixtape!

Now, if only I can find that Walkman…

I call this my White Girl Mix. Don't judge me for my musical tastes! Brown Girl Mix coming soon!