What helps you remember yourself?

What helps you remember yourself?

In December, I spent two nights in a wonderful little hotel that has a vinyl record library and a turntable in every room. I happened to be assigned a room just down the hall from the record library, so as soon as I’d set down my bag, I stepped back out to peruse the shelves. Ten minutes later, I was in my room with a stack of vinyl, listening to Lou Canon’s dreamy Suspicious and feeling something ineffable I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

Record players have been part of my life as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents set up our basement rec room with an old turntable and amp, and a handful of LPs they were willing to sacrifice to the vagaries of young children’s inexpert handling. My siblings and I held daily dance parties and singalongs – countless hours spent listening and listening to the same songs over and over. To this day, I know every word, riff, and harmony on ABBA’s Super Trouper and Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits. 

In my teens, my record collection kept me company through the heavy mood swings of adolescence. In my twenties and thirties, I lived with my DJ boyfriend, and our record collection occupied the second bedroom of our apartment. Of course, he had one hell of a collection – thousands of records, many of them rare treasures – and professional quality turntables. I ditched my thrifted turntable when we moved in together. But eventually, we split, and he (obviously and rightfully) got the turntables in the divorce.

And then I just never got around to buying a new one. I knew I would one day, though, so I kept a couple hundred vinyl records – just the ones I couldn’t bear to part with. I lugged those very, very heavy boxes of records up and down stairs and stairs and stairs, in and out of multiple homes, across a continent and a border, and now here we are, twelve years since the last time they were played. ⁣

As I sat in that cozy hotel room, listening to records, I remembered. I remembered my records, sitting quietly in a closet below board games and puzzles. And I remembered a part of me that had been boxed up and filed away for a long, long time.

I had lost track of it, forgot that it even mattered. This part of me that hums alive to the sound of needle on record, the feel of stylus in my hand, the mesmerizing, silent revolution of the turntable; that feels, viscerally, the warmth of the sound that emanates from vinyl; that finds comfort in the little pops and crackles of dust; that pulses along with the steady, empty rhythm of the record’s final groove.

You’d think it would be a small thing, perhaps nothing but a nostalgia trip. That’s what I thought. That’s why I let it go for twelve years. (Well, that and the fear of what small children would do to my precious records.) But as I stood transfixed in front of that record player, I knew it was not a small thing. I listened, and I remembered.

I re-membered myself. Some part of me came home.

Not every youthful pursuit brings us more closely in touch with ourselves later in life, of course. There are many things I once enjoyed that no longer evoke the same response. So there’s discernment required here, as always, to separate nostalgia for the past from reconnection to self. Audre Lorde’s essay, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” holds a key to discerning the difference. Reminding us that eros encompasses creative expression, life drive, and sensuality, she writes:

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea. That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible…

– Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” from Sister Outsider

“A reminder of my capacity for feeling”: that’s what I experienced. And it’s what I wish for you, too.

Here’s this week’s curiosity experiment:

  • What objects, activities, or pursuits were important to you when you were younger? What brought you pleasure, then? (Spend a few minutes with this. Jot down what comes to mind, in point form. Take your time sifting through memories.)
  • How did those things make you feel?
  • Of the feelings they evoked, are there sensations you miss? Feelings that seem difficult to access in your life as it is currently?
  • Brainstorm ten creative ways you might reintroduce those feelings into your life (even if the objects, activities, or pursuits no longer fit).