In my mind, this year was gonna be a white table cloth spread with breakfast for one. Eggs and avo on toast and freshly brewed coffee steaming, sunlight streaming through open windows juiliette balconetted with views of a small place. The trees outside would hush themselves in gentle breezes and the rooftops of the city would range away from me to a river and to hills and beyond.
It looked like a cross between an Instagram post and a Monet. Soft strokes and warm light, like waking up well rested, like seeing the world through a glass of rosé: tinted and tilted.
In a way it has been that. It’s been a dream I’ve felt like I was living through. I felt like my life was running through my fingers like water, like I kept trying to pull one out of an ocean of lives around me and coming out with nothing. I think, in a way, I’d felt that for so long that I became content to be taken with the tide. Paris has not been about floating with the tide.
When I was about 21, my uncle’s wife asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my life. What a question to ask of someone so young.
At the time I said something like this:
I’m going to live my life by taking all its pieces and putting them on a table cloth. Then, every time I need to make a decision I’ll just flick the tablecloth and see where everything lands, and I’ll just do whatever feels right once the chips have landed.
That’s what Paris has been: putting the bits of my life onto a table cloth and flicking them into the air. This weird weird situation we’re all in has left me feeling like the chips still have yet to land. They’re caught in the air like clouds.
It’s clouds illusions I recall/ I really don’t know clouds at all.
I am feeling very at the brim today. It would have my been my parents’ 33rd wedding anniversary. I feel like it would have been a day they’d have spent together in confinement doing nothing much of note, like the day we’ve all had.
It rained all day. It’s a public holiday in France so I was thinking about how pissed off i would have been if I’d been working and had a bank holiday ruined by tempests.
Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” came on the radio. It’s conversational tones, and the sound of her voice as it sounds like it might break.
I told someone I didn’t love them anymore once beside a canal in London. It was about this time of year, and the sun was so bright it hurt to keep my eyes open. It hurt them to look at his face when I said the words I just don’t love you. Not anymore. I sometimes think of him when I hear this piece of music. It sounds to me like the earth turning under me, like water breaking against the canal walls, and like endings:
It’s love’sillusions I recall/ I really don’t know love at all.
This isn’t really a blog post, today. I’m sorry. It’s just me saying that I’m feeling alone in a way that I can’t express and in a way that isn’t assuaged by friendship, or by anyone really. Life is sometimes just lonely, and lonelier still when you wilfully upturn it’s contents because you’re tired of living it.
I wonder if the habit I have of picking up my life and rearranging its pieces is as a result of having had it rearranged for me when my dad died. I wonder if the process of flicking that table cloth feels safe to me because it’s a rehashing of what I’ve already done.
I keep thinking about all the lives half begun which have amounted to nothing. I keep thinking of the one life I’ve carved out for myself. life is rich and fast and then suddenly slow. At the moments of deceleration you’ve an opportunity to turn the viewfinder back on yourself. I’ve lived a life that was never the life I imagined for myself. I will continue to live a life that surprises me. I hope so anyway.
It’s life’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know life at all
Sometimes I think life was immeasurably easier when we all lived together in that grotty house in South London. When I remember that house I forget how foetid it was, and how the mould encroached upon our personal space, and how we were all a huge house of depressives going to therapy on alternate days. When I remember it I remember it like this tiny haven hewn out of south London suburbia. The basement fog-hazed by cigarette smoke, the garden grey/blue/gold with beer haze, over cast days and trampoline, our rooms all interjecting from each others like small doors, all of us happily co-existing except we were unhappily existing together happily. Symbiotic. I felt I didn’t need any other friends because I had you.
Life has separated us, now. It’s been seven years since we lived in that house together. We’re still close, I love you all like the brothers I never had; but there’s a sense we’re aging out of eating takeaway pizzas and putting our cigarettes out in old beer cans watching Brazil or the Orphanage or every single Bond film in order of preference. Perhaps we did a long time ago. Or maybe not. Whatever it is, I hold the rest of my friendships up to yours for comparison, because you were the first friends I had who never asked me to be anything but myself. You have all been open windows onto the world, you’ve all brought new things to the fore. Despite the trials of that year, of turning twenty, of being young and foolish and sad and happy and crazy; it was a divine moment, held in amber like a charm for times in which I feel friendless.
There’s this poem called the friend by Matt Hart that I read once, and have been thinking of recently because I am sad to be isolated from my friends, now, and I am especially sad to be absent from oath edged cigarette tinged chats in someone’s kitchen, or around pub tables, or in the middle of the night walking from in house to another, or on drab beige sofas in the dark. So this poem, “the friend”:
The friend is indefinite. You are both
So tired, no one ever notices the sleeping bags
Inside you and under your eyes when you’re talking
Together about the glue of this life and the sticky
Saturation of bodies into darkness
It’s a conversation or a series of conversations between friends many or singular about the difficulties of being alive and the ease of sharing that difficulty with each other or the difficulty of sharing it or the ease of understanding. It sounds to me like the conversations had in the early hours when you’re finding things hard. There are things inside us that are talking to each other, like we’re not communicating but the things inside us, that recognised each other as kin before we built friendships, are. I wonder if that’s the bit that misses, and not our conscious selves so much.
Bataille says, in the inner experience that life has no meaning if you only give it a meaning you understand alone. “Each being” he says, is “incapable on his own, of going to the end of being”. Because by going there alone, you can never share the experience with anyone else. If you went to the end of being alone it may as well mean that you never went at all. For me, I think this means that to have lived a life without friends is hardly to have lived at all.
You are all at the touch of a button but the yous of then aren’t somehow. I don’t know. I think I prefer the now to the then, but I miss doing nothing but being your friends. Even though I spend my days now doing as much nothing as I did then.
I normally write these letters about art but I haven’t been to see any art because all the museums are shut and even if they weren’t I’m not allowed outside and even if I was it’s really hard to see art in Paris if you’ve reached the haggard old age of 26. In a way I wonder if the picture I’ve painted in my mind, patched over by Wetherspoons carpet tiles, labels peeled off beer bottles, and the open handed leaves of London Plane trees is the real work of art.
You are all there like a really shit Renoir impression that I’ve further bastardised by sticking their teenage memories to it like a suburban bedroom wall. What a tall story this is, really. How young we were. How young we are. How different things will be. I’m getting morose in my isolation. You’d probably all tell me to stop being stupid, and one of you would come with me to red star wine to get a red good for just drinking or another of us would go to dominics pizza and another one would eat his left over crusts, and I would smoke through an entire 10g pocket of 2.99 Pall Mall red, and one of you would have my lighter and swear on your life you hadn’t seen it before pulling it out of the left breast of your pale blue shirt to light the cigarette you’d just finished rolling.
I wonder what group are sitting in our basement now, cackling some diatribe of artspeak, or watching terminator 2 half way through a joint. Maybe there is no community of slackers sitting in that basement now. Perhaps it is empty and the ghosts of our conversations chase each other around the room and come to rest on the ghosts of those gross leather sofas one of us found on the side of the road and brought home. I wonder if other ghosts of other groups keep us company. I wonder.
I wonder if this is a letter to you all at all, or if it’s a love letter to rose tinted glasses. I just know I’d probably walk back to London if there was the promise of a pint in a pub with all of you, as we were, as we are.
I think, maybe, that none of you will read this anyway, and it will be an unmailed letter, like those that old man posted in his local dogshit bin instead of the letterbox, despite the fact I’ve posted it to the world.
In his book Friendship, Blanchot also says that friendship is something “into which all the simplicity of life enters”. It’s nothing more than brief moments of beauty, snatched conversations, and that we can’t talk of our friends, only to them. It’s why I’ve written this letter to you and not about you. We greet each other through our estrangement, we are always separate and we are always together until the ultimate fissure unties the bonds that we built between us. Friendship is the simplicity of life. Bataille says the same thing. That you can’t live your life without sharing it with friends. I can’t imagine my life without you. And this, in the end, is the grief of having friends, that friendship inevitably ends. But I will be your friends until I enter the void myself. I will be your friends until I am myself a ghost, chasing the tails of old conversations in a room that has no windows.
Yo. Sorry I’ve been away, I’ve been feeling pretty demotivated. I don’t really know what to write apart from « I watched tiger king and read a book and thought about what will happen when this is all over »
I feel like I’ve written a lot of lovely things about feeling bored, but writing about boredom is boring. I am bored of doing it. I’m sure you’re a bit bored of reading it. Besides, today I feel really sad, and writing anything at all has made my nose itch and Judas tears start to bud at my tear ducts so… you know, not sure I’m too hot on this any more. I’m sorry.
I went for a walk this morning. The trees are in leaf and I nearly cried and their newly minted green goodness and thought that things might be easier if I was a tree.
If I was a tree I could stand outside in the weather and wave my arms in the wind like a child. If I was a tree I’d shut myself up inside myself in the winter, draw all my sap to the core and wait it out sleeping. If I was a tree I’d grow new leaves every year and in some way be reborn in the spring. If I was a tree you could look inside and see my rings and see how long I’ve been living here. If I was a tree there’d be no obligation to isolate because I’d have no friends anyway because I’d be a tree.
Trees are witnesses, but they do not engage. Trees don’t write blogs for no one to read and they don’t try to have careers and they don’t have lives for people to approve or disapprove of. Trees don’t have to make decisions and they do t have to listen to anyone and they don’t have to do anything except make oxygen and even that I think they do without thinking too much about it.
The Roomba had mangled them, whirred over their edges and swept at their corners. The paper plains become crags and creases and trenches.
“Oh,” I said weakly, and sank to my knees. What metaphor was this? Half-done, half-loved labour in tatters? How to explain my grief for these squares?
My finger hovered over the first of the puzzles. I dreaded the feel of it, hated those contours. I tapped at a peak, it pricked me right back. I looked at my littered letters in valleys.
“You can still do them,” husband comforted. “We can flatten them out – they’ll be just the same.” But what of the folds and the scars and the tears? There is spirituality in perfect minutiae – in the crispness of bedsheets and pages and grids. This: the essence of the perfectionist’s faith.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My sin of carelessness had begotten this plight. On the floor beneath the window I had discarded companions.
Several hours later I took husband’s advice: they are squeezed between tomes, like flowers in a press.
Faith is delicate, like a crossword.
Et in Arcadia ego.
Megan is studying data science and is currently teaching machines about crime. She still loves words though, especially crosswords. She can be found on Twitter, @CrypticMeg.
For all lapsed catholics its an interesting thing, to remember the traipse to mass, the week long vigil you spend running back and forth to church. The emotional release of maundy thursday, weeping in a pew for all those whove gone before, holding vigil like youre in gethsemene yourself. Good Friday when you try not to put your lips to the feet of jesus because you cant bear the thought of all the lips on jesus’ wooden feet so you make a parody bise. You stoop and you pucker your mouth, and then you get up quick before anyone can stop you. To arriving on Saturday night, to find the tabernacle open and all the lights extinguished. Then, one by one, candles are lit from the bonfire, from the easter candle, spreading throughout the church until youre all bathed in the amber light of the flame, a symbol of the rekindling of faith after all was lost in grief and pain and death the night before.
I feel emotional just thinking about it. I sometimes miss the ritual, i miss the comfort and surety of faith. But i have none, and the doctrine sits wrongly with me these days.
The coming of spring is like the lighting of the candles for me. Illuminating each day more and more as the candles illuminate the faces of the congregation. What a beautiful sight it must be for the priest, to see the faces of your flock flare into becoming from the darkness. What a beautiful thing it is for me to see light restored to mornings and evenings, and watch new leaves and new flowers spring from where there was nothing before.
From my confinement hole, i feel like as the spring becomes, i flare into becoming myself. Awakening from the slow death of winter, like Juliet from her fake death, Except only to find Romeo dead by her side. I awake from mine to find the spring is dead, too. It might as well be, because I can’t access it. The blackbird has stopped singing for some reason, i feel like another little piece of the spring has died with it.
Ive got an ivy plant a friend left in paris for me. He’s survived the whole winter. A couple of days ago he started to look sad so i watered him and popped him out on the windowsill for some sun. Today i saw he’d died. Once green leaves are now shriveled and brown, rustling in the breeze. The amber hush of an unseen sunset blushing a wall in the distance. A square of springtime allowed to me, so brief, so fleeting. Empty and void as the tabernacle after a good friday mass, i hold vigil in the hope that some good may come of it.
I wrote to a friend about Marconi’s notion that sound never dies. I talked about the notion that, if that were true, it would mean that every word you have said or heard is recorded in you, reverberating on your skin or in your blood. She said, then, that triggering things must reverberate on the same frequency as that which they trigger. I said that that was like how in cathedrals, when choristers sing, they have to sing in a certain way to bounce the sound. She said, then, if your body were a cathedral, how would the choristers sing?
On easter sunday, the spring is allowed into the church. Its been becoming on the outside for a long time, but the church in its lenten austerity has barred it from entering at its heavy doors. On easter sunday, though, the church is resplendent in gold and green. Daffodils bob their merry heads, and green gold leaves spill over from the alter. Even the priest dons green and gold on his cassock to welcome it in.
Maybe spring is a sound, as well as sight. Maybe throughout lent, it sings in mass, but not in a way to allow it to reverberate fully within the cathedral. Maybe On easter sunday it opens its lungs and sings fully. Maybe throughout the long winter, the spring sings in the cathedral of our bodies, and with each flare of spring-flame lit, on each candle of a day, the spring sings louder within and without us.
If this is the unsprung spring, one which came into being only to be shut out, then perhaps it awakens in me the singing of all the springs which came before it. It is spring in me as much as it is spring out there.
It is spring in me as much as it is spring out there.
This time last year I was resurfacing from a pretty deep depression. I know this because I remember, but I was reminded of it because my Instagram archive decided to display some choice pieces of last spring for me to look at. Most of my content last year was me waxing lyrical about birds or trees or light. Here’s one:
——— imagine here a brief hiatus in which I went deep on my insta and sent my friends photos of us from 2015 with captions like « omg so long ago » and other such vibes. I won’t bore u by including them here, but I can assure u that they’re good pics of me with varying lengths of hair and at varying degrees of sobriety ✌️it’ll probably be charged about in another vidéo -Apéro that I’ll have with my best pal sometime again this week (that’s drink wine & face time to u)
Anyway I spent an inordinate about of time looking at last spring today. Looking at the sun drenched, green robed fields of home. A ghost spring of recovery, silver streamed into my retinas whilst the depopulated spring outside my window battles the war for us. Paris occupied again. Here, there are two springs existing at once. One in my phone, one outside my window, and neither of which I am actually IN. The one in my phone is huge, i walked about ten miles a day with the dogs, over hill and down dale and across streams and through woods. I was documenting the wild magic of becoming. The one in reality small, one room, two windows, a courtyard, a corner of sky.
So many shots of chubby knees and heavy docs striding through fields growing progressively greener. Shots of the dogs running, begging, smiling, tongues lolling. shots of brickwork, of country pavements, of pub signage, or birdsong, or birds, or blossom, or blooms or new leaves. Where I’d been I’ll I’d posted relatively little. In coming back to myself in recovery I posted more and more. A minds eye view of both the return if the spring, and my return to myself. An almost « real-time » video essay: what does it mean to become in the season if becoming? An interesting question. One I have no answers for, except the list of shots I mentioned above. One which is still being answered as we never cease to become. Either way it is spring on my phone, and it is spring outside, and even though I am inside in my flat in Paris, in my phone I am running through fields in England. I am both. I am all.
In reality though this compulsive Instagram documentation is not a video essay, in that I have not consciously created it to have structure and form like an essay is supposed to have. More accurately you could call it a video notebook, like the stacks of notebooks at my mums and the two I have here that have every single thing I’ve ever written in them in pen and paper form. A video sketchbook: some light, some birds, some sky, a song I like.
I read a paper by Simon O’Sullivan called « Fictioning Landscape » (it’s on his website) about the relationship between landscape and fictioning in the form of video-essays. He particularly focuses on weird examples, that unpick the fabric of reality and posit weird fictions of the past and future within them. The examples he examines present a « porous border between fact and fiction » and insinuate a foreground of temporal shift; futures that won’t happen, pasts that didn’t quite. The notion of the then-spring encroaching on the now-spring implies a layered temporality, too: now-spring is all-spring.
O’Sullivan discusses some brilliant examples of audio-visual essays including Justin Barton and Mark Fisher’s On Vanishing Land and Victoria Halford and Steve Beard’s Voodoo Science Park. J would highly recommend looking them up – the book of voodoo science park is brilliant – highly recommend.
My friend, Josh Vyrtz, makes video-essays – you can look at them here. They each possess a kind of fictioned surreality, whether theyre about painting a landscape as toilet graffiti or sitting on a bench from 9-5. There’s a joyous kind of whimsy to them, that’s tinged with a melancholia, and a hunt that there’s some kind of Magic going on, links to external spaces, spaces outside of the frame.
Thé above photo is a still from my favourite of josh’s performance/video essays. It was about his dad, who died. About his own self discovery, and about learning about Switzerland where his dad is from. It was also not about this at all, but about vulnerability, and masculinity. In the film josh was himself and his dad and a plastic gnome. In the performance he was himself a cab driver, and a whirling dervish of emotion. It was a performance, an essay, a film, and a thing of beauty. To my mind josh was create a fictional past in which his dad had shown him Switzerland, and a future in which he had been shown. Fragile, vulnérable, wishful. It made me cry.
I’ve written a lot about music over the last few days; being inside all the time, it’s one of the few things I can always do without getting bored of doing it. This video essay of Josh’s starts very close to his face, like the moment at the end of a party when your smashed and on a sofa chatting shit:
« there are some songs which, when I listen to them, make me feel like the lead in a movie »
Cut to josh blue lit, by fountain, gazing around , telling us, conversationally, and in response to the obvious question « which songs? » the top five songs on the soundtrack of his life.
Cut to josh silhouetted against a pink dusk, London skyline rising jagged on the horizon, and josh freewheeling in his bike, bare arms conducting the symphony of a London bike ride: wheels ticking, bike creaking, wind blasting, river rushing. We don’t hear the songs he mentions, just the sound of the city, and of the weather. It’s joyful in its release, melancholy in its près back sonic element. It makes me ache for London, and ache for the outside, and for riding my bike. I don’t know why the lack of music makes it feel melancholy, like a dream. What do you hear in dreams? Music? Real life noise? Quiet?
Josh’s video essay turns the wind and the river and the bike into the soundtrack of his life, they become the music; that actual music may change that’s playing through his headphones, but the sound we hear never will. It makes a temporal shift. Josh will hear these sounds on every bike ride he goes on, and for someone who rides his bike almost every day pre confinement, that seems to me to be the true soundtrack of his life, if he ever manages to hear it. In the film josh makes the city an orchestra, the weather the symphony: himself riding no-hands-on-the-handlebars conducting the sky. The fiction here, though an aesthetic one – (re)making a conversation we’ve had before – enacting a freedom and joy of riding through the city in fine weather – creates a performance journey. One that exits real time and creates a « music-time » or a « film-time » as much is I created a « spring-time » within my phone. The film is saturated with residual emotion, and by not providing the music, Josh allows that emotion to speak for itself in the box of film time we can all dip into with an internet connection.
Both of Josh’s films that I’ve mentioned here are hugely emotionally charged. They both alter space-time and allow something to speak « not to us but to something within us » which is how fictioning works: creating a space-time in which the truth is made not true, and by which we can pro rated ourself on the plane of now. Whilst they don’t engage with the weird in the same way as O’Sullivans examples, they engage with a melancholia that seems ever present (I would call this grief-space)
like listening to a song u thought was happy but is really sad. Like Dancing Queen, or Boys of Summer, or Loaded by Primal Scream. Joy and melancholia: two sides of the same thing.
In these uncertain and tumultuous times, where the news is often based on « post-truths » it becomes « crucial to produce other and better » fictions than created by the state or the media « by which to orientate ourselves within our world.
“It is spring, that is to say that it is approaching THE BEGINNING”
Scrolling through Twitter at some god awful hour this morning I saw a green and yellow painting of daffodils. Mottled grey blue of sky and brown thatch of distant trees reminiscent of the arrival of spring in William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All :
Under the surge of the blue
Mottled clouds driven from the
Northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the
Waste of broad, muddy fields
Brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
David Hockney, confined in Normandy, has painted the archetypal spring view, reminiscent to me of Lent fasting, of school holidays, of spring fairs. Of the becoming and the returning of the spring; new and old at the same time. He’s called the painting Do remember they can’t cancel the spring. The painting is joyful, yet there’s a restraint in Hockney’s iPad stylings that isn’t usually there, a pared back response to the view he’s been presented with. Hockey in confinement paints in starker, more drab colours. There is no true joy in the coming of this uncancelled spring. The joy of yellow cannot combat the sadness of brown.
I went out today, into the quiet of a Parisian morning, cold edged air like the cracking of an eggshell. The streets are deserted as they never have been, everyone inside and fearful, but the morning is as glorious as any one I’ve seen. The sun barely up, the sky itself pale with its own becoming. I had that familiar loosening feeling, of the ending of the long winter, and the upward spiral into spring; and then I remembered I had one hour within which to move around, to buy bread and loo roll and milk and then turn on my heels for home. I was unreeling from my insides, but tethered to the safety of home. Out on furlough for eggs and bread.
A few weeks ago, pre confinement, Matt @xenogothic tweeted something about Caribou’s new album Suddenly, that resonated with how I felt about it: full of spring bops, but tethered to an innate sense of melancholia that seeps through the alum with every subsequent listen.
The album stakes its emotional territory lyrically, and through the clever use of windy samples in “lime”, or Sunday morning soul in “home” to place you in a memory, whilst making the moment of that memory happen in the present. In a google hangout yesterday my friend was talking of the semantics of nostalgia making the memory always already present, so its tatters to the past become meaningless almost in the act of remembering. Another friend with whom I’ve been writing letters has written some questions to me about this to, like :
How do you know what was real? How do you protect memories from new feelings that will ultimately twist it? How do you travel in time throug memory without altering the memory?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I don’t think it’s us who travels in time, but the memory. We’re always on the surface, weathered by the ghostly returning of past/future moments: spectral weathers (if you’ll let me name check my own book?)
Suddenly is suffused with memory, with a retrospective glance inward, and feels, when listening to it, like an album made inside someone who’s been listening in on pop music and has made an album that orbits it: not part of it, but born of it. Apologetic soliloquies to sisters, mothers humming lullabies, the four to the floor of the club still reverberating in your bones as you lie in bed waiting for the room to stop spinning, an elegy to emotion, and rawness. Dan Snaith (the man behind caribou), when he sings, seems to me like he’s whisper singing in the confessional, or right into my ear. The fragility of his voice caught in close miced glory, and more often than not without reverb or delay. Dry, soft, and conversational, like whispering in the night to keep anxiety at bay.
I especially get this feeling in “Sister”, the albums opener, where Snaith whisper sings:
Sister, I promise you, I’m changing
You’ve heard broken promises, I know
Like a conversation had late at night, in response to a sister saying they’re worried about you. The rolling progressional chords and steady heartbeat like rhythm seeming a metaphor for revolution, and not the kind of revolution that overthrows governments or changes the world, but the kind that turns the world again, continues the revolution of a cycle. It feels like a mirror held up to life in confinement; the beating of my heart, the tick of the clock, and the cyclical shift of the sun as it revolves in the room.
“You & I” has a sense of the opening approach of spring, the synth chords warm and bouncy like the first day you can go out without a coat on. The arpeggiated chimes that punctuate the verses and chorus sounding like sunlight through freshly grown leaves, calm and calming, yet its chorus and outgrown derail this feeling of warmth and comfort by pushing us into a feeling of high tempo anxiety, discordant rush, snatches of voice. The end feels like the upcycling of a Bond climax, all running and car chases and guns and thrill. A final sampled “Hey!” Echoing into the void before opening into the inherent melancholia of the opening of “Sunny’s Time”. The piano warped like an old record rattling on a gramaphone that you’ve left too long in the garage. The speakers are damp, and it sounds as though the sound has to travel through time to reach the present moment; from the becoming of its recording, to the moment of its hearing.
Spring whilst seeming like the happiest of new awakenings, freshness, beginning again, it also seems to be suggested with the melancholy of endings. There’s an old English folk song I heard sung once in my local pub by a man with no teeth that caught, for me, that sense of euphoric release; albeit one that knows it cannot last.
The primrose blooms, the cowslips too,
The violets in their sweet retire,
the roses shining through the briar,
And the daffodown-dillies which we admire will die and fade away.
These lines, in acknowledgement of the temporary nature of the coming of spring are reminiscent of the scant lines sung by Snaith in “Sunny’s Time”
It all found me since I’ve been gone.
I’ll be back when this is all done.
“Sunny’s Time” slides itself into “home” with a relative danceability. It feels like coming throug the door with a baguette, and an avocado and a box of eggs, the coffee on to brew, windows flung wide to let in the new spring breezes; but with the bitter sweetness of wishing there were someone there to spend that morning with you, and a particular someone at that. Like the first lonely Sunday morning after a breakup, when you’ve gotten past the getting drunk phase and your friends have deemed that you could do to be left alone a bit, you wake up with not much to do, and a wish to do not much with someone that isn’t satisfied by eggs on toast. It’s the beauty of a good morning undercut with a lonely melancholia; like putting on happy music that only makes you cry. This is further compounded by the sample of Gloria Barnes singing “Baby I’m home, I’m home, I’m home”. The final time you hear this sample, it’s cut short with a gothic cut off, sending an echo like a door slam into the following guitar chords, pitch shifting like a memory. It’s like someone’s last words, like they’re ready to tap out: baby I’m home.
Perhaps this melancholia is part and parcel of spring, a cruel season, in that it rips us raw: raw winds, on new skin. This is how the wasteland starts,
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
Like parents whipping us up and pulling back duvets to get ready for school, the world outside the cocoon of duvet is still too brutal, too cold, and too concrete. Winter, though brutal, is the season for dormant dreaming. I spend the three months of hibernation waiting for the spring, though – dreaming of bluebells. Is it as Emily Brontë says: that “there’s a spell in the purple heath” that burrows down inside us, “to wildly; sadly dear” that yearns for its partner found in springtime? Brontë mourns the coming of spring when she is without it. The “cold sun” with its “chill” beams, the “dreary sky” is “frozen”. The long winters make me feel this way, too. Chilled to my bones, warming myself at the first few rays of sun, almost kissing the daffodils and bluebells when they first show their bright faces above the mud. It’s driving me mad to be so separate from it. Yet even Brontë notes the “transient brilliancy” of spring, and of spring sunshine sliding swiftly over the garden wall. Spring is beautiful in its ephemerality. The Hauntology always revenant whose joy in arrival is tempered and haunted by the knowledge of its passing.
In “Never come back” the lines “and you never come back, and you never come back to” are repeated ad infinitum, it’s the feeling of losing the spring once it’s come, like being at the afters , intertwined on a sofa in someone elses’s house whose name you don’t know. Early morning sunshine beaming behind closed curtains, a sliver of dust filled gold breaking onto a table littered with beer cans and ashtrays.
In Williams’ spring and all, “dazed spring approaches” almost unaware of itself, with “the stark dignity of entrance”, dually reminiscent of Hilary Duff standing at the top of the stairs in A Cinderella Story, and of the procession of the cross at the beginning of mass, leading the priest from sacristy to altar.
“Magpie” from Caribou’s Suddenly is reminiscent of this duality, and of that tethered freewheeling sense I had walking to the boulangerie this morning; a loosening of the self, whilst still being tethered to home. The song wheels in circles, shining aurally like sticking an ear in a kaleidoscope. In a way it reminds me of the beginning of “Entangled”, the second track of Gensis’ A trick of the tail. At about the half way point, though, Snaith opens out the filter on the track, which takes it from 1975 to the present moment, and it releases you from the constraints of its first half. With the shift in tone, you’re released out into the depths of sound like into an ocean, or a huge crowd. The song de-isolates you, by disconnecting you from the self and connecting you with something outside of yourself, something that sleeps back to you, and almost cradles you.
The mood of Suddenly is almost entirely sweet, the chord progressions are so warm that, listening in my bed under a square of sunlight, I slip in between the grooves of the songs and hang there. Strung out on synths. Snaith’s control, and measured pacing, and restraint almost feels like he’s in confinement too. Like there’s something holding him back from unspooling himself into the tracks. That’s the feeling I had with some of the tracks on Our Love and Swim. In reality I feel like he’s in a space as small as mine, with the front door locked and the windows open only a crack.
The final track, “Cloud Song” is the only song that really embodies a release, a slack in snaith’s tight control. It opens with the close miced voice that seems to characterize the album, just him singing in my ears as the synths return to that cyclical pattern as found in “Sister”, the album turning and returning to the beginning as the chord progressions do. “When you’re alone with memories”, he sings, “I’ll give you a place to rest your head.” The place to rest your head is here. Not to be away from memory, but to converge in a collective practice of remembering. Dan Snaith’s personal traumas are writ large upon this album, but sung softly and quietly. His traumas become our traumas, and the act of opening them out allows us to share in them, and share ours within them.
The cyclic return of the chord progression is as smooth and azure as the water on Suddenly’s cover. Kaleidoscopic and rushing into the build of “Cloud Song”, the music slides in between me and the world: trills of synth like birds calling, or radio signals clogging the airwaves. Dissonant in repetition. Sliding.
“Nothing’s granted an eternity, nothing lasts it all will fade.
And yet it always ends too early.”
The spring outside the window rises like a Gershwin clarinet solo in response, so clean and clear I feel I almost pour out into it. What of the spring un-sprung, of the world unturned? Rather, what of the world turning without me, and me unable to break the winter chrysalis. Spring playing out there, and orchestra without audience – an unheard soliloquy – a film with the sound turned down.
The first spring of a new decade, unexperienced and lost. A necessary loss, one we must do, but a loss all the same.
In a way Caribou’s Suddenly is 2020s perfect spring/summer album. Seeking an escape, but confined. A spring sounding elegy to lost moments, lost memories, lost things. “I wish that you were here by my side”. “Do you ever miss me like I miss you?” I listen to it and I hear all the moments I won’t have, and I hear all the moments I am having, and all the moments I have had and will have, all existing in the cacophony of now.
In my apartment the spring turns his shoulder and shifts his weight away from the window, sliding himself into another crisp March night. The north wind blows chill through the window, and I close them. I put on “Sister” and begin the cycle again.
The day before the solstice and the coming of the spring brings birdsong into my windows. They are flung wide to bring some of the outside in. If I only have one small corner of sky I want it in here with me.
I have not been outside for four days.
Today I woke up thinking of all the times I didn’t take being outside for granted. Most of these are times I didn’t talk to people or felt anxious about talking to someone.
My alarm clock ticked on playing “everybody’s gotta learn sometime” on RTL2. There was sunshine streaming in, “I need your loving, like the sunshine – everybody’s gotta learn sometime” the soaring strings and at 73bpm I can feel it in my rib cage, underneath my sternum. “Change your heart, look around you”. Those plinky synths climbing the scale, the violin solo? (Or is it a cello? I’m not v good at strings. Sounds like a violin tho) it all culminates in this weirdly melancholic way of waking up. Looking at the sun that I’ve not seen since it put itself to bed in the autumn. Here it rises to spring, but to find no one here to welcome it.
I think about all the beautiful people I have spied on the tube or the metro or at bars, with whom I have made eye contact, but with whom I haven’t ever spoken. What if I had? Would we be friends now, or lovers or enemies, or would you be like most of my past entanglements, something I think about sometimes in the paleness of the morning?
I was watching some TV programme once where someone – I think it was Kathy Burke – said you never regret anything more than not shagging someone when you had the opportunity.
Not to be horny on main, but she’s actually right. I have spent this morning thinking about the things I was too scared to do, to scared to say. Thinking about all the people I’ve been too scared to admit feelings for, even if they’re fleeting. I’ve been thinking about conversations I’ve been to scared to have, or kisses I’ve been too frightened to bestow, or moments of inaction that with hindsight could have been moments of beginning. Even people I’ve been too afraid to tell they’ve upset me, or angered me.
In being forced to live passively, I see the passivity in my life. I cannot act now and I resent the times I could have acted.
Anyway after confinement I will be tell everyone I like that I like them. And tell everyone I hate I hate them. I’m just rlly bored of being inside.
Everyone prefers a film where people don’t declare their feelings: Remains of the Day, The Bridges of Madison County, etc etc etc. That scene where Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson’s hands break contact as the bus pulls away… oh I could pull my own heart out of my chest. To strangled by inaction, by inability to act. Too much. Is “every body’s gotta learn sometime” let’s all learn now. Don’t wait, don’t say nothing, don’t stand still.
If you’re confined with someone you love, tell them that u love them.
If you’re not – as soon as we’re outside, you can come tell me you’re in love with me and we can get started.
Pebbles are transient things. Always caught in the half mess of becoming, between mountain and dust. Always in the process of being carried somewhere by tides or inquisitive hands or brimming pockets or sandy buckets. Things of all four elements, caught by fleeting sunbeams as they play on the horizon line of ocean, heaven beams like searchlights seeking one armed swimmers not waving but drowning, and here on the shore I have found six pebbles. Small and round and delightfully palm sized; my pebbles, come into being to be held by me, and made smaller by the holding. Made smoother. I take them up to the top of the head and toss them over in an act of prayer. Tipping each one back into the ocean it was borne upon in the act of droplets of holy water dropping from my fingers into the well at the door.
Were I still of the faith I would make a sign of the cross, but instead I drop a pebble for everyone I’ve loved and lost, and send a thought of them out to sea.
I hear footsteps on the shingle below the cliff edge but I am too far back to see who walks the line of surf below. Marking the territory. Beating the bounds. Perhaps one of the lost wanders there, but this shoreline is too peopled and joyous to be ghostly. Or, perhaps it is the snatches of laughter and song and friendly, family talk that makes it ghostliest. Here are the voices of family caught up and encapsulated in wind and sunshine and bluster.
The weather is transient and transitory today. Sunshine fleeting and filtered through clouds which bank mackereled and then rise to cumulous, and then dissipate, and roll back to us. The sky a great theatre, reflected and refracted by the water below. Two great mirrors performing together.
This island, my home, is transitory too. Always changing shorelines, always changing identity. National identity itself means nothing, it’s a made up thing, handed out to us as three lions on a shirt, and henry the eighth as a ladies-man, and queen victoria, and the second world war. All of those things are over now: transient. All of those things are pebbles worn to sand, a tricky foundation upon which to build an identity, in my opinion.
Walking the cliff edge there are little markers every few steps. Flowers laid, photographs buffeted by wind, benches inscribed with names. We are all transitory things, though less like flowers, and more like pebbles. Always on the way to becoming something else. From vertiginous mountains to friendly pebbles, to hold your hand, or keep you company in your pocket, or to be carried from a beach to a mantlepiece, to guard the dormered anonymity of estate windows, or to wind up forgotten in a box that, when opened, spills out old photographs and the smell of brine and seaweed.
There was a bench on the head that had a bible verse about remembering our fathers. I took a picture of it, but I can’t find it now, I can’t even remember the verse.
I threw a pebble into the sea in memory of my father, and hoped the thought reached him, if thoughts reach the dead at all.
I threw a pebble into the sea for me, too, so that I might remember that I am always being shaped by the hands that hold me, and will in the end become the sand that bare feet run across on the sprint to the sea. To be bathed clean in salt water, and reborn anew.
I thought about the turn of the decade. I put my face into the sea and thought of my own rebirth, a new beginning again, always beginning again. Then I thought that I’m not beginning again but continuing on at last, up the path, over the head, past to beachfront to the cafe for coffee and home. To rejoin the tide that sweeps us out and continue the journey outward, horizon bound.
I took a pebble home so that I might remember that sometimes it is not always the tide that weathers you.
I put it on the mantle so that a little piece of me in the pebble might keep my mum company.
I had hoped that this would have some semblance of narrative, but really I just want you to feel the way the head felt that day; salt on the wind and sun breaking through and my family laughing. The day open wide like a window, or a door, or a great crack in the world through which I might move. The sea like a mirror, and the sky like a wall, split between cloud and blue. The sun a hint of summer, a balm.
The coffee hot.
The car cold.
The home journey full of my sister’s music and me trying to read worzel gummidge in the waning light and snaffling chocolate from the picnic basket.