All is not lost: ruminations on disappearance and my famous blue recorder

Posted by at 3:45PM


Reunited, and it feels so good

Seven months ago, on the thirtieth day of November, 2006, my former band The Black Spoons played its last San Francisco show at The Make Out Room. It was not a proper Black Spoons show, insofar as I was unaccompanied by my close friend and former bandmate Ruben Mercado, but it was still something I wanted to remember. As is my custom, I recorded the show on my Sony Minidisc recorder, my own personal FDR that keeps track of all my takeoffs, landings, departures, arrivals, and crashes. I used it extensively in China starting in 2001, when I was in Beijing conducting a research project overseen by Orville Schell of Berkeley. I captured the voices and opinions of American foreign correspondents stationed in China (Melinda Liu, John Pomfret, Odilon Couzins, and many others) as well as Chinese reporters covering the United States. I still remember writing the report, about media bias, and getting ready to present at the World Economic Forum in Shanghai at the close of the year. Then came September 11th.


The minidisc accompanied me everywhere, all over the world. In late 2001, early 2002, on a four-country tour of Europe, I took “readings” of Berlin, Paris, Prague, and Amsterdam. Some of my favorites include the Berlin subway station, in which an accordionist held my ex and me under his spell, the Berlin new year (the year of the Euro), a Parisian nightclub, Amsterdamian conversations… The recorder returned with me to China during my dissertation research, and never failed me once. I entrusted my blue brain with unfamiliar Chinese phrases – Chinese transliterations of non-Han ethnic communities who, officially, no longer exist – with the faith that I would decrypt them months later in the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam and 111th.
On November 30, 2006, the unthinkable happened: I lost my blue mind. I lost it. My thoughts immediately traveled to theft. There was no other explanation. Worse still: it was carrying hours and hours of sound. It contained the rehearsal from the night before, the show itself, and then an untold number of other tracks. Gone.
I dealt with this well and swiftly. I immediately purchased another recorder – the newer Hi-MD Walman MZ-RH1. It is a beautiful machine, packed with many new features and some annoying setbacks (end search, for instance, is far more difficult to use). But I picked up where I left off, and continued to record, record, record.
Today, as I moved my coats to storage, I frisked the pockets. I expected to find notes, perhaps, on napkins. Perhaps a receipt that would incite memory. My leather coat – a Canadian made “Grease Lightning” jacket that I no longer have the guts to don – was especially heavy, the inner pockets pregnant with something like a think porcelain tile. My blue recorder. Holy crap. I immediately plugged in my headphones and pressed play, and there it was: November 30th in all its cacophonous… well… cacophony. Unable to bear to sound of it, I fast forwarded through the tape. First, a mix-tape of songs I had recorded for myself in 2001 in Japan using my good friend’s collection of CDs, a little boom box, and a eighth-inch cord. That’s where I first purchased it, in Japan. The Pixies, Tom Petty, Tori Amos, … I remember listening to that tape until the batteries ran out.
A little further, something else: a recording of my Brother, my Sister-in-law, my nephew, my niece, my Mother, my Father, and me, just talking… all in Annapolis in what sounds like Thanksgiving some five years ago at least. I remember the situation precisely and exactly.
Out of honor and respect, I am dedicating a few days to celebrating my blue mind’s return. As soon as the celebration is over, however, I want to get back to business. The two questions which lie at the heart of Project Absentia are this: how did my blue mind get lost and where was it when it was gone? That is, I wish to reconstruct the process of disappearance from the show onward, and then to try and remember where, in my mind, my blue recorder was all those 200-plus days. I hope this makes sense, but at such an early stage of the project, you’ll have to forgive me if it doesn’t. I’m trying to understand how things disappear, and my cases include (a) those things which we actively wish not to lose, (b) those things we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, use so much that we cannot fathom the possibility of their disappearance.
Have you ever lost and found something? If you have stories or ideas, please share them with me here in a comment.
Thomas S. Mullaney
Assistant Professor
Modern Chinese History

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4 Responses to “All is not lost: ruminations on disappearance and my famous blue recorder”

  1. Erika says:

    Oh yes. That’s happened to me. more than once.
    An address book. My coach gave it to me in 1986 when he came back
    from the Soviet Union. It was small. outside: a green fabric cover
    with a picture of a Slavic girl from a fairytale. Inside, it had thin
    pages with different cuts for different letters of the alphabet,
    creating a booklet 33 notches deep….because this wasn’t my alphabet,
    but cyrillic. . . . These foreign symbols meant nothing to me. hard
    to know what to do with the B that was really a V, especially when I
    saw there was no V at all . . . a cute souvenir from the place that
    makes the best gymasts. At that time, I had no inkling of the role
    that place would play in my life down the road. I put the book away,
    but, 5 years later, brought it to Russia with me. And I wrote the
    addresses of people I met, or I had them write them, tickled that this
    strange alphabet was ordinary to them. The book came with me again in
    1994-only this time around, the bizarre letters and all the strange
    conventions to indicate a place in Russia– building, korpus,
    stroenie, kvartira–had transformed from exotic to functional. Then
    it disappeared…..for years. It was absent from my last few years in
    Russia and the addresses that matter most to me are not in it, but the
    address book resurfaced again, just now as I was clearing out my
    storage–(my possessions are about to converge on one point on the
    globe, such as has not been the case for years)–I found it again.
    And, among other things, I was saddened to be reminded of some of the
    connections I’d lost. I found the typed note from a young red-beared
    Russian named Alexander who had brought us, a handful of curious American
    students, to his communal apartment to see slides of his alpine
    ascents in the Pamirs. At the time, the pictures he showed us, the
    gear and systems he spoke of were incomprehensible!, not just for the
    vocabularly. I liked hiking well enough, but sleeping suspended by
    bits of metal for days on the side of a vertical wall in the winter
    seemed to me cold, scary, freezing cold, dangerous, and cold. This
    isn’t an inspiration memory; I can’t say his slides sparked any desire
    to do those things. So you probably won’t believe when I say it seems
    ironic to me that my life has drifted–yes, drifted–to where that
    gear and those systems aren’t so incomprehensible, …and I’ve even
    stood beneath tall rock faces, quite near (relatively) the ones
    red-bearded Alexander had hung from, waiting for other Russians to safely descend . . . still thinking it all quite cold, scary and dangerous. I try not to let the good ones slip away,
    and so I was sad to remember that, years after that slide show and our
    short-lived correspondence, we had again lived in same city, St.
    Petersburg, but our paths did not cross again, in part because I had
    had the address wrong.
    But speaking of possessions converging, I’ve packed and unpacked so
    many times–oh do I know the “joy of rediscovery” (play: Faithfully’
    by Journey)! And isn’t it funny–as you make clear yourself,
    capturing sounds (I’m not that hi-tech yet)– that it isn’t about the
    stuff at all? And I wonder if, as much as it triggers ” intangible
    stuff” inwardly, the point isn’t no less to trigger “intangible stuff”
    outwardly, too. For the past 10 years–yes, a decade–I’ve had
    material stashes on 3 continents (but only 2 at a time). I’ve always
    had to go back to places, to get my stuff, if nothing else. But not
    really for the stuff: ‘You mean a lot to me; put this box in a corner
    somewhere, this cup on shelf somewhere, until I come back for it, ok?’
    ‘Rituals of unity make something of what they pretend,’ says the poem
    3 of Cups. If my stuff occupies your space are we more connected? If I
    leave some of me there can I hold on to it all? can I still be there?
    We only really live in the hearts and minds of others they say,
    (which, taken to its logical extreme becomes a unbridaled quest for
    popularity, don’t ya think?) If I obstruct your daily view with a
    remembrance of me am I more alive?

  2. Greg Franklin says:

    uh, yeah…i think i just lost my mind reading about ur blue mind.
    cacophonous cacophony…hehe – i like.

  3. Carina says:

    Oh yes… I lost my very special perfume “mania” when I travelled some weeks ago to Berlin. But fortunately the flacon was in the depth of my NY handbag.

  4. evilbunnytoo says:

    “the last time I saw you
    you looked so much older
    you’re famous blue raincoat
    was torn at the shoulder”
    – L Cohen
    So, have you been to the station to meet every train?

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