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Always account for the time where you just come across something and you’re just emotionally wrecked.
I moved around a lot as a kid and as a result I find myself giving a warning to my friends when they’re in the process of moving. But now, after 9 years in one apartment, I’ve put off much of the move until the last night.
I don’t want to leave.
It’s hard to come up with any kind of statement or rumination on what “home” is without sounding like some kind of inspirational meme designed to be passed around by the motivational speakers of Instagram. But home has always been a fairly elastic concept in my family.
Both my parents are Chinese but neither are born in China. And the United States is not home to them either. And neither was Panama, Taiwan, or Colombia. So when we’d travel, even if we’d only be there for a weekend the hotel would casually be referred to as “home.” Home was simply where we slept that night.
Over the 31 years of my life, I’ve had at least 15 “homes” in the most traditional sense of the word.
In August, I will have lived in California for 10 years. This decade was what I originally aimed to commemorate with a mixtape but as more time has passed it’s become increasingly clear this mixtape is about what home is for me.
“Where are you from?” was always difficult to answer for obvious reasons, but also as a person who can’t answer that question without listing at least 10 cities.
But California was the first place I got to choose to move to. Packed into a 2007 Civic, I, along with 3 other friends, moved to San Diego to ride out the worst of the Great Recession.
Eventually I would end up in San Francisco for work and for the hope of finding a career among the economic rubble that has been left for many in my generation. It was in San Francisco where I discovered the joy of not being one of 10 Chinese people in my particular city, but instead to be one of 180,000.
And in San Francisco, I held desperately onto my little rent-controlled studio in the Mission. It’s innards covered with wood paneling, and at one time, brass furnishings, my home here looked more like a houseboat than a house.
When I first discovered this apartment, I was on Craigslist, staying at a hotel by the airport, eating what was probably the third of twelve peanut butter & Nutella sandwiches I would eat that weekend. Eventually a voice dryly told me over the phone that there was a lot of interest and I should show up to the showing on Sunday at 2pm.
Unsure of parking, I arrived in my trusty Civic at 1pm.
I waited as the apartment was set up and would be the first person to be let in. I glanced around for all of a minute to make sure there were no cockroaches and that it had running water. By five minutes I had signed the application and given my check over to who would become my property manager.
I was in such a rush to get this apartment nine years ago that I completely ignored the fact the houseboat’s ceiling was a series of asbestos laden tiles that hung slightly above my head.
For my first three years here, I never really felt like I could put an anchor into this city. Everyone seemed a couple years older than me, more established in their careers, and definitely making significantly more than me. The ceiling tiles always appeared ready to cave in, and an inevitable move back to the American South seemed ever present.
I wish there was some kind of moment or anecdote I could point to when I felt like I would be fine in San Francisco, but that doesn’t really exist. It’s just a feeling that, like a recurrent STI, has flareups and remissions, but is always lingering below the surface.
Looking back at the mixtape I made five years ago, “A Bed of California Stars” I can’t help but notice a lot of what I was feeling then still applies, although the story is different.
I share this shitty little houseboat with the love of my life and while many of my friends have left to head somewhere back east, I don’t feel as lonely as I did then.
When I first met Maribel she had been to San Francisco, but it was her first year living in the Bay Area. With glee, I told her about my favorite places to eat and my favorite places to drink. Couple that with a couple cool places to walk around, I had summed up most of San Francisco for me.
Our second time hanging out as friends, I walked her down 24th St and all it’s glory as I seemed to have a story for every building we passed. I told her about the time I ran around the city taking photos of buildings for a newspaper project and about the time I first met people in SF that I definitely did not want to be friends with.
Looking back at that time, I realize how much San Francisco, and the Mission, in particular has felt like home for me. I mostly know how long it takes to walk to various cross streets, and can name the majority of the busses that pass through the neighborhood.
Tonight, I have to finish putting whatever bullshit in boxes to get moved up to Bernal Heights where I will probably throw half of it away by the summer. And while I feel sad about saying goodbye to the little houseboat that has survived spells of unemployment, burn out and the rare feeling of belonging, I am ready to leave.
Moving around habituated me to always be ready to leave at a job’s notice. The Mission was home and wasn’t. But at the same time I can’t think of any other way to describe this neighborhood. We have shared a studio for about six months now and we’re finally moving into a place with more than a door to the bathroom.
Finally, with Maribel, I’m ready to put the anchor down and call a new place home.]]>
This is the last thing I need to be doing right now. It’s early, I can’t sleep and I’ve got a zillion pages to write in the next 72 hours. But in the tradition I started back in 2004, I have to create a mixtape every time I go to New York. A lot of these tend to have a fair amount of carry over since there are certain songs about New York I’ll always love, but this time I tried to keep it pretty simple.
Even though I never lived there, New York has always felt like home to me. I remember taking a lot of pride in a college friend remarking that I “took to New York like a hamster does to a wheel” since my sister and I had to learn exactly how MTA worked in an age before Google Maps.
I didn’t intend for this one to basically be all about how lonely New York is, but looking at the tracklist, I realize a lot of my love for these songs came out of my understanding of big cities. They’re great, but they’re also incredibly lonely places at times. When I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t know a single soul and had to learn how to talk to strangers again. As time developed, I found my own community, but as communities so often do, they dissolved over time as its members fly off to different parts of the world, with many landing back in New York. To state the obvious, this mixtape is as much about New York as it is about first moving to San Francisco.
PS: Yeah that last song is definitely about 9/11. Sorry.]]>
The first time I got my heart broken, I moved across the country to California without a job, a home or anyone I knew beyond my roommates. “There’s nothing left for me here,” I would repeatedly say to friends in the feeble hope that the girl in question would suddenly appear out of the shadows to ask me to stay. The pain was so dramatic it felt like a physical distance between her and me was not enough. I needed some kind of temporal distance that would always keep us three hours apart and hundreds of dollars from ever seeing each other.
The next time I got my heart broken, I moped around my neighborhood most weekends, wandering the streets while Get Lonely played on a loop in my shitty headphones. I let my meager mustache grow out and just labeled parts of the city I explored with her off limits. I later turned her into a cartoon cat.
The last time I got my heart broken, I spent way too much time working on the mixtape above. I remember leaving her apartment, struck by how well I seemed to be taking it.
“Well this certainly is progress,” I thought as I hailed a cab outside her building.
It would be a couple weeks until the grief really set in and I started obsessing over the mixtape. The final product isn’t exactly a retelling or necessarily even entirely related to that heartbreak, but it feels inextricably tied to that moment and the associated realization that I had effectively hidden my heartache from strangers and friends.
Which more or less is what I think the mixtape is actually about. Heartbreak isn’t something where what was once whole is simply rent in two, but it’s more of how do you survive without the person you look forward to seeing the most.
The heart is covered in fractures and bruises with scar tissue and callouses slowly enveloping the once raw, fresh tissue. But those areas don’t necessarily mean the pain is numbed, as much as it means the pain is easier to handle. The pain that once required a cross country move, could be handled through a steady regiment of The Smiths, a couple sad Mark Kozelek songs, and a few plays of Jens Lekman’s I Know What Love Isn’t.
“You don’t get over a broken heart; you just learn to carry it gracefully.”
More or less it becomes like therapy. Therapy can’t fully remove the pains of life or change the circumstances in which that pain exists. What therapy does is it enables you to better understand that pain and figure out how to keep going even in the face of grief. Coping skills are less about numbing and more about learning how to live with the pain that can feel inescapable.
For the last ten years I’ve been making a mixtape for every Valentine’s Day. While the early ones are completely lost to the age of a very slow Hewlett-Packard desktop and discarded CD-Rs, I’ve put all the ones I still have up on this site. But now as the project is a decade old, looking back I’ve pretty much refined my own breakup mixtape with some novelty ideas scattered in between. Juxtaposing songs about being in love right against songs about losing it feels the way it feels to have that heart ruptured, but just like a good coping mechanism I’ve started to settle into a routine.
Which is why I’ve decided to make this mixtape my last Valentine’s Day mixtape. The project, while initially fun and constantly pushing me to find an angle on songs about love like songs about loving someone who is funny, the impossibility of meeting someone at a bar, or the age old process of asian fetishization, has become stale. Even on this mixtape, only four artists on Side A have never appeared on a mix before.
Initially I started it as a simple idea of collecting covers of songs about love, but as time evolved, it felt unfair to ignore the originals. So what you’ll probably notice above is that Side A is an hour (plus a few minutes just because any experienced mixtape maker knows you can always squeeze in a bonus song on a cassette) of covers while Side B is an hour of those songs in their original form, but in reverse order, as if it was playing through a filtering cassette player.
It should also be noted that the male and female singers both represent different voices in the story. Side A serves as more of the guy’s story whereas Side B is more of the girl’s.
I briefly considered how “cute” it would be if I instead decided to completely cut out any form of digital distribution and only give it out as cassettes, but I think that A) overestimates how much people want to listen to these 2 hour long bummers and B) is especially cruel to force people to buy tape players even though for some bizarre reason cassettes are having a resurgence.
At the time of this essay, I’ve listened to this mixtape around 40 times over the past four months I’ve worked on it. But finally, over the hundreds of hours I’ve poured into this one and the 10 mixtapes that preceded it, I feel like I’ve learned to carry a broken heart gracefully.
Co-published with Loser City.]]>
Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Vocal) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) Christmastime Is Here (Instrumental) ]]>
A couple days ago my friend Catie and I were talking about bands we listened to in high school and all the melodramatic heartbreak that comes with bands like that. Her mixtape was a 2 hour epic into the history of emo catching a lot of bands I missed.
An earlier form of this mixtape started as something I made in high school. It was a pre-emptive strike for when a crush would inevitably tell me she wasn’t interested and was inspired by a shirt Joe Strummer wore as a teen. Emblazoned on his shirt was a picture of a heart and the words “In case of emergency, tear out.” I always loved this fact because it was a slight glimpse into how sentimental the singer of The Clash could be. This is the guy who wrote The Street Parade and wrote Lost in the Supermarket for Mick Jones.
However, through switching through several computers, the original In Case of Emergency has been lost to dead hard drives and time. What remains is a new version built through someone 10 years older. I took Catie’s challenge and stuck exclusively to songs I listened to in high school. I skipped some that were on it because I didn’t know what the songs meant at the time and others have made it on several mixtapes at this point. I would say I’d be embarrassed to put any of these on a Valentine’s Day mixtape but that’d be a lie. I stand by every single one of these songs as something that got me through high school and helped me discover what love is and isn’t.]]>
I used to rely pretty heavily on OpenTape to stream my mixtapes to friends, but in the 7 years since the project first started OpenTape has been dead for about 3 of them. The code won’t work at all on my server and I’ve been forced to finally modernize the way these work. Oddly this coincided with the realization that this site has long been a derelict since it was hacked in 2010. All the old posts about songs and love and being dumb are now lost forever to a MySQL database I’ll never find. However, now with nothing to do, I’ve decided to relaunch it as a host for mixtapes. The inaugural mixtape will be the 2015 Valentine’s Day mixtape with as many of the others to follow as I find time to do so.
So after a couple months and scrapping an entire mixtape I finally finished my Valentine’s Day mixtape for 2015. This one is called The Department of Forgotten Songs, since the entire concept is b-sides, alternate versions and unreleased songs about your standard Valentine’s day themes: pining for someone, feeling really lonely, missing someone, loving someone, etc.
When I was a teenager, I would frantically hunt down any live songs or alternate versions of songs from artists I really liked because I am in capable of doing anything casually and quite frankly had nothing else to do. I think as a result I ended up loving these songs more than I should because they usually involved spending hours to find something that would then take at least an hour to download on my parents’ phone line resulting in a high that would last about 3 minutes.
In any case, here I’ve cut out all that work and put together a mix of songs that I always thought deserved more attention than being relegated to bonus discs, SoulSeek or EPs. As always I’m keeping the tracklist a secret since part of the fun is realizing who wrote what songs and being surprised by what comes next. However, let me know once you’ve listened to it and I’ll send you the tracklist.
Note: Your HR department might get pretty miffed if you played this on speakers at your workplace.]]>