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What A Mixed Tape Can Teach Us About Uncertainty

Christmas 1990 I received a pink double tape cassette player from Santa. I’d wanted one for what felt like the longest time. All the kids at school were making mixed tapes and I had the perfect songs in mind for my very first mixed tape.

Stuart, my older brother, and I woke eagerly at 2 am to check what gifts lay beneath our plastic pine tree. I loved the little ornaments that adorned our tree. Little men on sleds covered in winter snow, reindeers with sparkles and little children making snowmen. I always thought it was a little strange as growing up, we spent our Christmas in the scorching heat of summer days but I loved to imagine what the snow felt like crunching under foot.. but I digress.

Stu was always dismantling things to see how they worked and to my horror took no time in pulling apart the sparkly new cassette player assuring me all the while that he knew how to put it back together again. In the early hours of that Christmas morning, I watched him unscrew the pink casing and tinker with the wires inside. I held my breath, watching on intently and not wanting to wake my sleeping parents, my apprehensive silence turned to captivation as he placed each internal piece back together with his tiny screwdriver set and turned it on to find that t still worked.

All but one tiny screw…

December 1990 I was 9 years old. Just finished Grade 4 and learning about friendships, family dynamics, and the years of hormonal turmoil that lay ahead. It was a simpler time yet when I felt “off”, I would simply head to my room, listen to music and everything settled within.

The pink cassette player made a great addition to my chill-out sessions where I could escape my brothers and dance out to my favourite songs, hairbrush in hand, and my sights set on music stardom. My parents had bought me some blank tapes the week that followed Christmas and I spent the summer creating my ultimate playlists.

For those too young to know, in the 90’s we didn’t have Spotify or iTunes for our listening and playlist pleasure. We had to execute the record and pause buttons with millisecond precision in order to capture our favourite song mix to a cassette. The Cassette was a small flat case containing two reels and a length of magnetic tape that winds between them. The uncertainty, the frustration, and dread when they were jammed and the surgeon like composure required unraveling, untangling, and salvaging your hard work.

It took effort, patience, and finely executed button pressing to cut out the DJ’s voice when they frustratingly talked over the end of your favourite song, a skill that required precision and the ability to hit the right button without even looking. The hours spent crouching in front of the player only ceased with bouts of dancing and twirling as Belinda Carlisle sang about Summer rain or Bon Jovi took me down "In a Blaze of Glory'.

The satisfaction of creating your own mixed tape was a simple pleasure of delayed happiness through a sea of frustration, anguish, and chewed up tapes. It was an accumulation of dedication; persistence and working towards an end product that made you push through despite any setbacks.

The 90s and this method set our generation up for the concept of delayed satisfaction. There was no searching on Spotify and having song of choice within seconds, you had to wait for the radio to play it. Some times you'd miss it and have to wait. It was the uncertainty that had you waiting with bated breath for the 2-3 mins of pure bliss as you caught both the song and hit the record button.

The 'Smash hits' mixtapes didn’t have all your favorites on it and there was no sense of accomplishment from buying one either. You couldn’t create your ‘ best friend’ playlist or in the years to come, the ‘ I like you’ (here is a creepy mix of songs that remind me of you) without this method and that was special in itself- special crafted music from the heart. It meant something, albeit the latter is a little creepy.

Happiness isn’t the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings. Nor is it chasing the good vibes only and pushing back the ones we decide to label as ‘bad’ or ‘uncomfortable’ – yet it is the rich experience of all these feelings, the depth of despair when you realize that you didn’t hit record on Vanilla Ice’s ‘ Ice Ice Baby’ because you were too busy perfecting the moves, the anticipation of Wilson Phillips ‘Hold On’ to complete your ultimate Summer 90 playlist. It would remiss of me to mention those songs that I no longer listen to also, Milli Vanilli anyone? No, I didn't think that anyone would want to admit to that one either...

Happiness came in the form of distractions from the hours spent carving these tapes. From the freedom of dance that shifted those feelings that emanated dark days of emotional warfare. It was an escape from the days at school where your best friend had moved on to another you were left rejected. These tapes represented so much in a time when nothing made sense. When uncertainty hung over our heads like a dark cloud. Much like now.

We worked for results. We waited and anticipated. Pushed through the hard times and danced in the magic moments. Our diligence, passions, and desires drove us knowing that the ultimate mixed tape would make things just a little brighter on days when we didn’t feel so glowy.

Whilst I don’t have my sparkly pink cassette player anymore, my Spotify list will have to suffice. Some days I feel a little gloomy and uncertain with this current pandemic but the idea of recreating my ‘Best of ‘90’ Mixed tape sparks a little brightness within that I trust will light the way.

We never did find where that little screw belonged either.

Amanda x


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