Thursday, May 19, 2016

Golden Years

A photograph that Ava took of me at The Barbican this evening.

We all notice our moods lifting and rising throughout the day like little levers that get nudged easier some days than others, depending on time or weather or the month, or whatever else. It's incredible how quickly the moods can change. Medium, medium...high high HIGH! Wowwww down again and low. One minute you're red-cheeked, drinking wine and eating salt cod croquettes with a girlfriend at a bar, and the next you're emotionally floored. I think those feelings are heightened when you're living in a new place. This month I moved to London! I packed up my lovely pink room in Manchester and i'm here! I'm subletting a room, and I'm working in a new office. I am constantly leaning on kitchen counters making conversation with people I'm not used to talking to.

This evening I went to watch a film at The Barbican with Ava, and after we parted ways I sat on a bench in the blustery-as-hell courtyard and looked up at the flats (as we all do at The Barbican, sighing a little bit) and I hungrily shovelled some leftover popcorn into my mouth, while the fountains churning through water, drowning out city sounds. Sitting alone on a bench at Barbican in the bluster, when the sky is fading towards evening is a very newbie in London thing to do, and I felt high, like I'm here! Sometimes that feeling is very real, and sometimes it's mustered without realising, from a corner of your brain where film scenes are stored and quietly marvelling in a big new city feels like the right (cinematic )thing to do. It felt real though. It was both of those things. As I walked to the bus I could feel that moment fading fast, as all around me other people also made their way home. Jesus, there are 8 million of us here, I thought. You know that feeling when you want to phone somebody because you feel a little internal shriek saying 'I'm a human!' and you should probably sit with that feeling for a while and let it pass, but you can't quite bring yourself to, and so you end up doing that mental checklist of who fits the bill? I was quickly in that headspace.

I phoned my Dad, and launched into an update. Can I call you back? he asked, I've just arrived at work. Sure, I said. I'm used to his late work hours but I sensed that he was in fact sitting in a bar with a Gin and Tonic in hand, and in that headspace that is stronger, when you decide to not go through your mental list of close people, and to sit quietly instead. I know that headspace, I protect it too when I'm in it. But it's hard to understand that when you're making your way to a bus stop in the bluster in the capital city and you're 24 and suddenly things have a way of feeling very tricky to navigate. When I was 14 or 15 my Mum and I went to a cafe, and I spotted my Dad at a table in the far corner. As we ordered drinks at the counter I phoned my Dad and waited to watch his face as he answered and I could tell him to look up, but instead my Mum and I watched as he took out his phone, hung up on me and returned to his drink. I can't remember what happened after that, I just remember being like "it's cool!" to my Mum, and trying not to act too traumatised, but now as i'm writing it and feeling it in my stomach I feel so fiercely protective of that 14 year old. How do we protect our own mental headspace without treading so un-carefully across those of others? 

A nice shade of pink.

Six months after David Bowie died, i'm still feeling affected by his death. It feels like you should reach a place- after a few days, maybe- when you don't feel weird about a famous person dying anymore, and i've ended up stayed too long at the party. (The wake!) For me, there's obviously more wrapped up in Bowie's death than Bowie himself (he died the morning before the 1 year marking my Granny's death, and as with so many families, Bowie was a legitimate connecting thread between our generations) but also there isn't more to his death! Or there shouldn't need to be. I'm letting myself still feel sad about Bowie. I have varying levels of grief in my body. Last week I cried at a Richard Linklater listicle, last year I lost one of my most Important People. I'm fucked off about watching my Dad hang up on me, and with all of this I honestly don't know where one grief starts, another ends.

One thing though, that is such a relief, is that Bowie is still here! As long as you have a way of accessing music, you can access him whenever you want! You can listen to Wild is the Wind, or Slow Burn, or Heroes, or Without You, or Five Years when you're feeling a bit tender and like you want to lean into it. When you need a pep talk from beyond the grave you can listen to Rock 'n' Roll Suicide ("Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful") or Golden Years ("Don't let me hear you say life is taking you nowhere") and if you really want to finish yourself off you can listen to Dollar Days from Blackstar ("If I'll never see the English evergreens i'm running to, it's nothing to me. It's nothing to see.") This is why music is so important, it's a comfort in so many moments, but especially when you have a pair of headphones in your bag and the itchy-fingered urge to phone somebody because you think an external pep talk is the only thing for your head. (Sometimes it is, but i'm trying to be better at not doing that so much. Ranting down the phone to your long-distance love isn't always good for either of your souls, when you could find personal solace somewhere else first.)

When my Granny was dying she told me "I'll always be close" and I believed her. After she'd died I felt angry, like Well?! Where are you? when I needed her, and her presence was intangible. But you have to trust that closeness is as much a feeling you produce in your own head, as it is something you feel from others. There's a crossover. When I'm walking down Exmouth Market at lunchtime, or under the last fall of the Cherry Blossoms around Islington (as I did last week) I feel close to her. I know how excited she would be for me, to be in this new city, getting paid to write words during the day. When I listen carefully to Bowie's lyrics on Blackstar, of survival sex, of accepting what you will and won't do and not being able to give everything away, she is incredibly close, and that's why I continue to feel so strongly about Bowie's death, because he's become like this artistic and emotional conduit to my Granny. Where on earth do these people go when they die? And isn't it just the greatest gift to have all this leftover art to absorb and comfort ourselves with?

I have this urgency to string words together in a beautiful way, and pick through feelings and give people a knowing nod, and I know who that came from. Sometimes I look back at the few blog posts i've written in the past year and I feel self-conscious that so many of them are about this Important Woman in my life, but you have to find your ways of working through those delicate moods, and picking through things for yourself, sometimes before sending your best friend a "give me a pep talk?" text. (I'll talk about those soon, because that's a whole other gorgeous can of worms.) Pouring it all out into a text box continues to bring comfort. Into the place i've been figuring out how much to keep in, and how much to put out for almost ten years. I figure it's going to take years worth of effort to build a shell against blustery winds that turn from high to low in a matter of minutes, or perhaps grief will fade and the skin will grow back. Either way, taking words in and sending words out continues to be such an utterly comforting way through, as I'm sure it will always be. That, and a plate of creamy scrambled eggs, covered in smoked salt and eaten in bed. Look after yourself!