Boombox Love

cassette mix tapesMy parents were cleaning out their basement a few weeks ago and came upon a box of mixtapes from my ex-boyfriend. I felt a pit in my stomach that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

“Did you listen to them?” I asked. They said no, (and yes, I believe them).

If they did listen, I’d be mortified. They would have heard countless professions of love from him to me, wanting to marry me and be with me, and there was plenty of not knowing what he would do without me.

I was sixteen. He was a little older but not much wiser at the time. I haven’t listened to those mixtapes in years and am baffled as to how they wound up in my parents’ basement. Maybe they found a secret stash I hid in the basement, although I don’t remember ever putting them there. I’m not surprised that there are more tapes than what I initially purged from my childhood bedroom. He made a mixtape for everything from first date anniversaries and birthdays to on-again-off-again breakups.

We went out for quite a while.

I have no desire to listen to them, but I can tell you what songs, singers, and bands he selected and the sentiments they imbued. He had impeccable taste in music that shaped my own (and I can honestly thank him for that). There’s plenty of Billy Joel, Elton John, Madonna, Bryan Adams, Chicago, Styx, James Taylor, Air Supply, Bee Gees, Toto, Starship, and his all-time favorite, The Beatles. He was the ultimate DJ of love ballads from the 70s and 80s love ballads, and he dedicated them all to me.

But it wasn’t all heavy-duty love stuff. He had a wonderful sense of humor and threw in plenty of comedy bits from George Carlin and cheesy songs like “Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” “PacMan Fever,” “Mr. Roboto,” and whichever Weird Al Yankovic song came out that month. He was so adept at making these mixtapes both fun and flirtatious.

You could tell he enjoyed making these tapes, and of course, I liked the attention and the music. I remember packing several in my big denim purse for the long car rides my family was fond of taking. I could sit for hours in the back seat with my clutching the Sony Walkman ears pressed tightly into the headphones. I didn’t want to miss a single word or lyric and interpret both its meaning and his reason for choosing it.

But sadly, I didn’t have the same love for the boy behind the boombox as he had for me. We parted ways shortly after I went to college. While he didn’t steal my heart, he certainly added a lot to my life in the way of making me feel special, beautiful, and worthy of someone else’s love. And, of course, the music is a soundtrack that will never die.

As for the mixtapes, I don’t have any reason to keep them – in the name of posterity. While I love nostalgia, there is no reason for me or future generations to revisit my past relationship with this person—who is now happily married, as am I.

Mom and Dad, I commend you for restraining yourselves from listening to those tapes, and you have my permission to toss them immediately. I’m not sure I would be able to do the same if I found my daughter’s teenage angst mapped out in front of me.

Oh, and a quick note to my kids: Be much better than I was at hiding things you don’t want your parents to see.

August Book Report

I love a good podcast, and lately, I’ve been listening to episodes about the ’70s and ’80s nostalgia. One of my favorites is “The Pop Culture Preservation Society,” which recently dedicated an entire episode to ranking Barry Manilow songs. Whether you are a Fanilow or not, I highly recommend it. And if you are a child of either of these decades, this podcast is worth checking out.

So, what does this have to do with my reading life? I also came across some podcasts that were just plain awful. The topics were interesting but misleading, including one that took a deep dive into books turned into movies. When one of the hosts declared that books were “a waste of his precious time,” I immediately banned him and his podcast from my playlist.

You can imagine the horror I felt when I heard these words. And if you agree with him, then maybe this blog post isn’t for you. But, if you are a casual or a voracious reader, or at the very least feel that books are gifts that keep on giving, keep on reading!

God Spare the Girls

The Nolan family looks good on paper. A husband who shines as the beloved young pastor at a Texas Evangelical church with an incredibly supportive wife by his side. Two daughters, Abigail and Caroline, were born into his spotlight and grew up under the constant watchful eye of members of the congregation. When the community learns of an affair between the pastor and a congregant, scandal erupts in their seemingly perfect life. And his wife, their daughters, and the congregation must decide if he can be forgiven and what that means for their own faith and family values.

I’ll get straight to it. I LOVED this book. I’m a sucker for a good family drama, and basing the story in a fire and brimstone church setting brought the stakes to an all-time high. The story centers around the pastor’s daughters – one relying on her faith in the wake of the scandal and the other questioning everything she was ever taught about living a moral, Christian lifestyle. However, the reader also watches the community’s reactions unfold – from their mother to the senior pastor to their significant others. The ending was pretty predictable but getting there made for a fun and fascinating read.

The Other Black Girl

I am only about three chapters into this summer bestseller, but I am immersed in this story about a young Black woman working as an associate in a publishing company. Having worked in publishing myself for the first 10 years of my career, I can totally relate to everything from the tedious manuscript prep to author and editor meetings over fancy dinners that I could never afford on my salary alone. But, you guys, there is something seriously messed up about the office politics at this company! Diversity is a joke across the board, and bosses are condescendingly sweet, but I am anxiously awaiting the backstabbing to begin.

This book is due back at the library on Tuesday. I should finish it by then, but if not – I’ll happily pay the late fee.

Up Next

I’m so glad our book club selected Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This is another summer smash hit that many people have on their TBR list. I can’t wait to dive into this one. It will make for a nice end to the summer reading season.

A Not-So-Little Book Shopping Spree

So, you know that self-imposed book-buying ban I announced last month to focus on the books I own and not be tempted by shiny new titles? Yeah, that’s officially over. 😉

In the middle of the month, I fell off the wagon when I attended HippoCamp 2021 and accidentally left my Kindle at home. I was so mad at myself but quickly realized that one of the best things about a writing conference is their bookstore.

It started innocently enough. My first visit to the bookstore yielded four books specifically about my craft. Come on – that’s not a shopping spree; it’s a tax write-off!

But then I went back. Twice. And picked up five more titles from the table written by some of the amazing writers and brilliant speakers attending the conference. How could I not buy these books after I met them face to face? These are my kind of people, and I want to get to know them better. What better way than by buying their book. 🙂

I wish I could tell you that the end of the writers’ conference was the end of the shopping spree. However, I’d be lying. I went home, picked up my Kindle, and proceeded to purchase several titles. I’ve lost count of how many I downloaded, and I don’t want to know. Let’s just say that I have been an excellent literary citizen this month.

Final thoughts

I typically end these book reports for a plea to buy from independent bookstores. I’m sad to say that I have done the opposite this month and bought many cheap titles from that big box store that I don’t like to speak of.

So, PLEASE – do as I say and not as I do and support independent bookstores. I will do better when I am ready for my next shopping spree – but that won’t be for a while.

My Creative Leap into HippoCamp

Do you know that moment when you walk into a room and immediately know that you belong there? This is exactly how I felt when I walked into HippoCamp 2021 for the first time earlier this month. But before I get into that, let me tell you how I got there.

Several years ago, I spent a Saturday at Moore College of Art & Design in Philadelphia at a career day for writers, artists, and other creative types. This event was where I first heard Hippocampus Magazine founder, Donna Talarico, speak about creative nonfiction (CNF) as a writing genre. Her 45-minute workshop was a breath of fresh air to me because I wasn’t sure where my voice fit at that point in my writing career. I have this little-known blog of slice-of-life pieces about my kids, book reviews, and strong opinions about Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks coffee. Most posts are light-hearted, but sometimes I share more personal stories like my struggle with depression and anxiety. My audience is small but strong, and my parents are my biggest fans. I’m proud of this blog, but I want more.

Sitting at Career Day, I looked for my nonfiction cohort, but I didn’t find too many of them there. However, Donna told us about a magical conference where memoirs, personal essays, flash nonfiction, and other great works are born, nourished, and celebrated. I can’t tell you why it took me so long to find my way to HippoCamp 2021, but I felt right at home once I arrived.

Wanting to make the most of my conference experience, I relied upon Donna’s article in Brevity: “How to Make the Most of a Multi-day Writing Conference” as my guide. Here are some of my wonderful experiences, thanks partly to the advice I took from her piece.

Get Outside of My Comfort Zone

When I walked into the workshop entitled “Survival Handbooks for Creative Writers,” the first thing I saw was a table of scrapbooking supplies. There were books of stickers for every kind of interest, hobby, or emoji that speaks to me. And then, I saw glue and scissors and colored pencils and markers and started to sweat. You see, I once left a Creative Memories scrapbooking party in tears because art projects have always overwhelmed me.

But, I decided to put that behind me and jump in to make my own writing survival guide. I filled it with reminders of what makes me happy – my dog, family, and love language – words. I stepped out of my comfort zone and completed the task at hand. And while I didn’t share it with the group, I was proud of myself and brought home a lovely conference souvenir.

Participate in the Back Channel

I’ve attended many conferences before, but I’ve never seen anything like the community that forms on Twitter and Instagram before and after HippoCamp. The buildup to the big event gave me the confidence boost I needed. I didn’t know anyone on Friday, but I introduced myself anyway when we met in person. By the time I left on Sunday, I had said goodbye to people who felt like old friends. And now, I am still following them and meeting other attendees online. I’m learning so much from their wisdom and basking in their post-conference glow. I hope to get to know them better between now and next year.

Be Polite and Cordial

If I could boil down the conference vibe into one word, I’d have to say that HippoCamp was a super-friendly event. (If I add a hyphen, it still counts one word, right?)

Not only did I find writers like me here, but also people who went out of their way to be warm and welcoming. I would love to share a meal with or go out for a girls’ night with any of them. Heck, I’d share an Airbnb, and that is something I do not say about some of my closest friends. My heart dropped when we had to cut conversations short because the next workshop was starting. I looked forward to meals because I was met with a smile and found intelligent and engaging discussions there no matter where I sat.

My One Takeaway

I came away with many ideas and action items that I almost don’t know where to start. Thankfully, at the end of the conference, Donna shared some of her wisdom. She asked us to think of one thing to focus on first. This “thing” is different for everyone, and I hope my fellow attendees will share their takeaways soon.

Here is mine: I went to HippoCamp with a book idea and left with a clear vision for how I will tell my story. This is exactly what I wanted from my conference experience, and boy did it deliver!

Thank you to all of the conference organizers and attendees for an amazing writing experience! I can’t wait to see you next year at HippoCamp 2022! In Judaism, when we don’t want to say goodbye – we say L’hitraot, which means until we meet again.

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