I’m pretty confident most of us have stuff we wish we’d known when we were younger. I wouldn’t call them “regrets,” per se – after all, the whole point of getting older is gaining a sense of maturity. While my sense of humor is still resolutely immature at times, I’d like to think I’ve come a long way in other areas. (Wouldn’t we all?)
With that in mind, probably the single thing that I think would have made the biggest difference in my life, as a whole, would be WRITING EVERYTHING DOWN.
You’ll notice that I’ve committed that cardinal Intarweb sin of writing that in all-caps. That’s because indeed, I would shout it at my past-self, if I could. Maybe then, I’d have listened.
When I was younger, one of the single dumbest things I did was to trust my memory to hold onto everything. While it’s true that I did – and do – retain a ridiculous amount of trivial tidbits that give many people pause, I mistook that ability as something more than it was.
The trouble is, while my brain seems to be something of a sponge for all sorts of random trivia, it has distinct trouble with remembering other things. Important things. Things like, oh, that I really needed to pick up some orange juice on the way home.
When I was younger, I was an inveterate mix tape maker. Yes, before the advent of mix CDs, and MP3 mixes. Ask anyone who got one of my pastiches in those days, and they’d probably tell you about them in hushed voices filled with awe and fear.
Awe, because I’d obviously taken a lot of time and thought to put them together. Fear, because I was so clearly in love with my own cleverness that it obscured my ability to speak (or write) intelligibly. And also, perhaps, fear because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me so.
I would painstakingly handwrite liner notes for each of my creations, explaining in intricate detail exactly why I felt each song belonged where it was on the tape. Although I took great pains to leave as little dead air between songs as possible, the liner notes probably took more time than actual song selection and recording.
Then, for the coup de grace, I’d give each tape a title. It would always be something that I thought was a) clever, b) amusing to both the recipient and me, and c) usually some goofy inside joke.
Frequently, the jokes were temporal and situational in nature – meaning that looking back at those tapes, years later, I have absolutely no idea what half (or more) of their titles mean. (Yes, of course, I was so in love with my cleverness that I made myself an archival copy. You would have, too.)
That wasn’t the worst part, though. No, the worst was stuff I recorded for myself, for my own personal amusement. I used to love to tape concerts off the radio. Before I was able to save up lunch quarters to go to my favorite record store, I’d tape my favorite songs off the radio, just so I could listen to them again and again and get my fix.
As the tapes filled up, I usually labeled them. But instead of labeling them with easily-decipherable and informative names, I gave them clever (or situational) titles. Or, worse yet, I chose titles to suggest the frame of mind for which the mix was intended – and then put off writing down the actual track listing.
As an example, I had a tape that I called “Stand on the edge of the ledge; jump off cos nobody cares.” Was it a tape meant to reinforce or countermand apathy? Resignation? Anger? Resentment? All of the above? Hard to say; there was no track listing.
About the only thing I can guarantee, without listening to the entire 90-minute opus, is that it definitely included Guided By Voices’ “My Impression Now,” from which that song lyric was taken. It may also have included other GBV samples; at the time, I put several of their songs on almost everything I gave anyone; such was my love for them.
I could have gotten away with giving my compilation a clever title if I’d at least written down the track listing. Then, it would serve as a snapshot of myself at that age, in that frame of mind. And I’d probably give it a cursory listen.
It took a long time for the simultaneous CD and vinyl revolution to come around to my house. By that time, I’d amassed over 300 cassettes – many of which started life in my house as store-bought blanks, onto which I’d recorded whatever I wanted.
Most of them were similarly improperly labeled – if they were labeled at all. I figured, at the time, that I’d see the title and instantly remember what I’d put on it. While my brain is a great cataloger of minutiae, it’s not THAT good, and never has been.
If I was that sloppy with something I clearly cared passionately about, how sloppy was I with everything else? You don’t want to know. That’s probably why I later became an inveterate electronic listmaker, and it’s improved my life immeasurably. More on that in a later entry.
So, really, probably my primary letter from the future to past-Janni would be: WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. A subheader would be, DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR OWN CLEVERNESS. I’ll have more of these letters in the future, but even if I didn’t, I can confidently say that these two things would have changed my life considerably.
What thing or things, more than anything else, do you wish you’d known when you were younger? What would you like to go back in time and shake yourself by the shoulders until you were sure you’d truly learned it?