[Whoa… this has been a draft for a year. Good golly.]
In 8th and 9th grade, I listened to my walkman a lot. I had a really long commute to school, by public bus (i.e. no friends), so besides reading, and practicing knitting, I would usually sit listening to Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, or some of my mixtapes. (I used to record stuff off the TV –sit up late and hold a recorder up to the TV speaker, record songs off movies — Yentl, Savannah Smiles, other even more obscure things. Ahh, I’m such a dork. Totally illegal, I’m sure, but I didn’t know where to buy such non-mainstream soundtracks and music. Heck, I hardly knew where to buy regular music, assuming I wanted to. Crazy, hmm? Think of how much easier it is now. You young whippersnappers, you.)
Did I ever have a portable CD player? I think so — but it was prone to skipping. And at the time you couldn’t really make your own CDs, or at least I couldn’t — heck, our computer at the time used 5 inch floppy disks for crying out loud. So for a selection you had to bring along several CDs. They were smaller than tapes, but it still got bulky quickly.
In college, freshman year I still made mixtapes (still had no CD burner). I don’t think I really started trying out mp3s till I was a senior. I didn’t know anyone with a portable mp3 player. (Of course, I only knew a few people with laptops, though nearly everyone had their own desktop, and only one guy who even had a cell phone. Bet things are a bit different NOW.)
I enjoyed suddenly being exposed to the world of more mainstream music, listened in my room and later on my computer, but I didn’t use my walkman much in college — too much going on. People to talk to, singing to do, a cappella concerts and plays to attend, trees to sit under, SET to be played. Maybe a few classes and studying to squeeze in there somewhere. So I was out of the habit even before the summer of ’99.
Between my junior and senior year, that was the summer I went to a program in Ireland. (Studied Irish Gaelic. Is maith liom an chat a mharu. Tabhair dom pog no pleiscidh me.) For a month beforehand, I traveled around Britain with a nice train pass. Conwy, Wales; Stratford-on-Avon; Oxford; Edinburgh and Inverness, Scotland. I had planned to go with a friend, but when her father died unexpectedly just before, those plans changed. So most of the time I was traveling along. Writing in my notebook, taking things slowly (many things are complicated by traveling alone – like no one to watch your bags for you while you run in to the loo), hauling my harp around in addition to my luggage. A lap harp, but still very bulky — but I couldn’t go to Ireland and not bring my harp.
Later, just before the program started, I met up with my dear friend John who came to learn Gaelic as well. John had brought a stack of CDs and his discman, and listened to them on busrides and such. (We had a lot of un learning and singing a couple songs from one of them, singing them together: One, I love. Two, he loves. Three, she’s true to me….) At first I could’ve kicked myself — duh, that would’ve been a good accessory to have along for my solitary wanderings. But then I decided I had really been better off without it, especially since, with my obsessive tendencies I would’ve always been immersed in it. And I would’ve missed — time to think, to write, to endure the boredom and silence, or to listen — birds, water, talking to fellow travelers, the voices and accents around me (though I could’ve done with a little less of the crazy or perhaps merely mentally-challenged young lad in Yorkshire, the one with the north accent so thick I really couldn’t understand a word, though the whole rest of the time I had no trouble). Even seeing the scenery, since when I get into something, I start to tune out my surroundings, even in a visual sense. I decided then that, for me, and particularly as a writer, it was better not to walk around plugged in, that I’d do better not to cut myself off from the rest of the world.
This is why I don’t have an ipod or anything similar, and I haven’t listened to portable music for literally years. (Radio, yes; mp3s or youtube on my computer, yes, but nothing else.) However, I have been rethinking this stance a bit lately. Ipods and the like with mp3s have really solved the awkward portability problem. Also I am lured by the possibility of music while I exercise — now THERE’S a time I want to be distracted. I still wouldn’t want to use it too often, but now I think I’d eventually like to get one.
Eventually. Laptop first, though.