A lot of these old playlists I made for myself are an interesting window into what I was thinking and feeling at the time. This one is especially so. Amidst a lot of the usual “this song was fun and bouncy and maybe a little bit snarky” fare that tends to grab my ear in pretty much any stage of my life, I can tell as I go back and listen to some of these songs that I was really wrestling with deeper concepts of legalism vs. grace, a death in the family and the thoughts it left me with about what sort of legacy I’d leave behind when it was my time to go someday, and some of my own hopes and fears about one day becoming a parent. Looking back and trying to figure out what my younger self wanted to remind me of when he picked these songs has been quite cathartic, actually.
In with the New:
Robert Randolph & the Family Band
If you could graph my emotions during the spring of 2001, it would be a slowly declining spoke with a sudden spike in the middle of March. That spike represents my first trip to Hawaii, a place that would come to have great significance in my life even if I had no way of knowing it at the time. At this point, I desperately wanted a way to “rekindle” the fire that was rapidly dying out in my relationship with Sharon, and once the opportunity to visit a friend of hers in Hawaii came up, I held out a lot of hope that our time there together would revive our happiness.
In with the New:
Nicole C. Mullen
This mix represents the summer of a lifetime, Part II. (1996 being Part I.) Most of this time was spent on Catalina Island, serving in and around the kitchen, and missing loved ones dearly, but figuring I must have been growing from the experience… right? I doubted it at times. After about the halfway point, I was nearly insufferable, counting the days and hardly being able to talk about anything other than wanting to be with my girlfriend again. But let’s not count out the friends I made at camp that summer – fellow staff members who played a variety of roles, some who challenged me to be more patient and forgiving, and some who I clicked with as if they’d been college friends living in the dorms with me for four years. Now I think about some of those folks and miss them dearly, and that’s the thing about graduating from college and wholeheartedly investing different parts of my life in different places – for the rest of my life, there’ll always be someone across a body of water or a long stretch of land who I will miss dearly. But I was challenged a lot that summer – by willingly giving up time with someone I loved during the summer, and by the time I spent with her when I came back in July and had to start adjusting to life as a full-fledged adult looking for work in the “real world”. The bulk of that didn’t hit until August, so this mix mainly covers that nomadic and difficult, but highly memorable summer.
Life was good in the Spring of 1999. It felt like I was preparing for adventures that I might not get to have ever again, and as I wrapped up my senior comps, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, which I tried to make count by spending it with friends that I might not see a lot of after graduating. I came in a wide-eyed, ignorant freshman in the fall of 1995, and that felt like it had only been yesterday – who was I to suddenly be one of the big guys, the ones everyone would be giving a warm send-off, the people expected to go out and create a brighter future? I was barely 21. I was still a kid. But those days felt rich, and God was setting me up for big changes. This set kind of becomes my “commissioning mix” towards the end, because several songs focus on leaving my current life behind and having God lead me out into the unknown with some sense of missional purpose. In some ways, I saw my aspiration to go back to Campus By the Sea for the summer as a sort of “mission”, a way that I could serve and learn new things, because it had been that for me the first time around.
This is how my last semester of college began: I had a wide array of good friends, a girlfriend who was as excited to spend time with me as I was with her, a good plan for how I was going to finish my senior comps (that’s like a senior thesis at other schools) that brought my studies of math and philosophy together due to inspiration from a cognitive science class that I had taken, a job that I could do confidently and fit around my class schedule, and no classes before 1:30 in the afternoon. I was doing a lot of hard work, but for the most part, living the good life. I was trying to avoid thinking about the fact that it would all have to change in a few short months.
The original cassette version of this mix ended up being the very last thing played in the tape deck of my old Neon in 2005, while I was driving it down to the Toyota dealership to trade it in for a Corolla. The tape was made the same year that the Neon was – in the summer of 1998. This was a very uncertain time, when I was on the verge of making an important decision that would profoundly influence the next few years of my life. That summer, I was living in an apartment in Boyle Heights with some InterVarsity friends and leaders in an experiment called “La Vida Juntos” – basically an unofficial urban mission where we simply learned to live in a poorer community, to influence and be influenced by the people there. At least, that was the idea. Personally, I spent most of my time avoiding the neighbors due to my inherent distrust of strangers, being holed up in my room with music and my journal, or chatting over Telnet with a “special someone”. It wasn’t an easy summer – four guys and four girls sharing two apartments got to feel a little crowded after a while, especially one weekend when I found out we would have no power until Monday. I wasn’t the most cooperative or helpful person to live with, and I was kind of in my own little world, mostly consumed with the task of figuring out how I truly felt about Sharon. Had I known that I would get myself into a relationship that would end in heartbreak three years later, I probably would have passed on it, but you know what, God taught me a lot as I learned to open my heart up in that way for the first time. Sometimes it’s the beauty of a transition into the unknown that really makes me look back and realize how alive a certain period of my life felt. I just never realized it at the time.
This one’s for Winter 1998, the beginning of my second semester of Junior Year. It rained cats and dogs, it was lonely, I dealt with the difficult loss of a friend’s life, and ultimately I think I learned a lot. And I may have sought out more fluffy catchy songs than normal in an attempt to soothe the pain.
In with the New:
Out with the Old:
Geoff Moore & the Distance
The end of fall semester was never an easy time for me – looking back on these mix tapes, I can always detect a bit of tumult going on with the “fall” and “winter” mixes, in comparison to the often sunnier state of the “spring” and “summer” mixes. The winter that would follow would be one of the wettest and hardest ones for me to deal with – I wasn’t as outright depressed as I had been the previous winter, but I had a lot of tough stuff to deal with. The funny thing is, even when the music brings back sad memories, I can still see how well it all fits together in light of who I am now, and I find myself missing the ultra-awareness that I had of some of the valuable lessons I was learning back then.
In with the New:
First semester of junior year… man, what a strange semester that was. The sun was out, the days were long, and I felt like I was actually doing something worthwhile with my life instead of moping around… life was good. But at the same time, even though I could easily meet tons of new people (mostly freshmen) and endear myself to them, my lack of ability to attract any of the ladies (and I had romantic interest in several that year) still frustrated me, causing me to find solace in Sharon, one of the female friends I didn’t feel awkward around, due to her already having a boyfriend and us being “just friends”. She was a freshman living downstairs in Chilcott that year, and she listened to so much of my crap that year as we stayed up late and talked about random stuff – about my job, about why I thought math was fascinating, about the latest crush on the girl over in that other dorm clear across campus, about music, about my failure at tutoring high schoolers, etc. Tim put up with a lot of it, too. Thank God for friends like the ones I had at Oxy!
In with the New: