It always comes into my head unbidden at strange little moments, so that when I listen to it I feel like I’m in all those places at once. It’s only a minute long. Well, a minute and one second. A dalmatian tune. 1:01.
But I’m everywhere in it. I’m in open fields by some upwater stretch of thames. I’m in some london pub in autumn, and I’m in friends flats. I’m walking along the Seine in crisp winter sunshine, I’m in the back garden of a house party, I’m in your kitchen, I’m smoking your cigarettes, I’m laughing at you over the rim of a glass, my eyes flashing and your eyes flashing. Inside the song are all the hands held, and hugs given, and heads patted, and arms flung round eachother and there’s also all the moments of quiet solitude in which I’m just on my own in the world.
Have you ever jumped into the ponds up at hampstead heath?
Watch your limbs turn green and feel the smart shock of cold as your hands then your head break the surface of the water.
That’s what that song sounds like.
Like the sun breaking through green leaves, dappled green and gold on damp skin, and cigarette edged chats about who’s talking to who and which person hasn’t texted the other one back, or what books we’ve read. Someone talks about the exhibition they saw at the Tate. Someone talks about something you don’t quite understand but its so warm, that you nod and turn your head sideways to squint through sun splinters and grin at them.
I don’t know. This is a difficult post to write. It’s not the hot take on Mary Kate and Ashley that I’ve been trying to finish for a few weeks. But it’s real. It’s about how I’m really feeling. And I know that you’re reading this, if there are any of you reading this, going: “no one cares about how u really feel. Give us Mary Kate and Ashley” but I can’t give you Mary Kate and Ashley because I wanna talk about how I feel OKAY?!
So it’s 1:01 am. Dalmation time.
And I’m listening to this Dalmation tune.
And I’m thinking about what life’s really about. yeah , I know. But… do you know? Do you really Know?
The other day someone said I’d gotten to this point in my life and I was just doing nothing. Just here. It didn’t matter what I just was, but she said i was just something. just.
I don’t think anything anyone has ever said to me has cut quite so deep, and I think it’s secretly because I think it’s sort of true. I’m just here. I’m not really doing anything important, and I can’t boast a full LinkedIn profile, but I can’t be just something, can I? Can anyone?
I don’t know.
I guess I’m standing at the Tiller of my own life, and I’m not sure where I’m steering. Do you steer boats? I don’t know. I’ve never driven one. I want one though. A little one I can take up the canals and write on and drift around in.
I think I just want to drift about. I think that’s what I actually want. because it’s not what I should want, whatever that means, and just because the mothers of my childhood friends would tilt their heads sideways at me and tell me what i was doing was alright enough in its way but how was I eve going to buy a house… none of that, really, means anything. Does it? I don’t want to buy a house. I don’t want to sit behind a desk, and I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing.
I wish I’d been born in 1346 so someone could try to catch me and burn me at the stake for selling hedge potions. I’d evade them, of course, because this is my story and I’ll tell it how I want. I’d evade them by turning myself into a hawthorne. They ward off evil do hawthornes.
Have you heard tea for the tillerman?
Put it on.
I’m so tired of feeling like I’m not good enough. And I’m so tired of feeling like I’m making the wrong choices all the bloody time. I want to feel, all the time, like the first outdoor swim of april. I want to feel, all the time, like the first sip of a pint after a long day. I want to feel, all the time, like the lights coming on at pont neuf when the sky has gotten dark enough, and the 800 eyes upon the bridge look upon me. Only I think they look upon me without judgement.
Find me, sometime later. Drifting like dandelion seeds in the wind. Drifting like smoketrails, or the first tufts of mayblossom, or swallows, or
A seagull singing hearts away
I’m reminded of my dad, for some reason. I hope he’d be proud of me. I hope he’d like me. I hope he’d think I were doing the right thing. I hope I’m doing the right thing.
The Tillerman stands at the wheel of the ship and,
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
I watched blue crush last Monday because I was hungover as a dog and I didn’t want to do anything but watch a film I’d seen a thousand times before. It got me thinking: my favourite kind of hangover movie is the « girl is good at a sport and becomes pro » movie. Right now there’s blue crush and chalet girl in my mind, but also Ice Princess and Bring it On. I know you hate ice princess, even though I think it’s a stone cold banger. It 100% passes the Bechdel test, it offers multiple characterisations if what it is to be a strong woman, it combats anti-feminist ideas of femininity (that you can either be smart OR beautiful and not both, whereas the premise of this is that you can do both, which is true because you are both and I am both and so are all of the women I know).
Ngl another big seller of these movies is that there’s always a snog (prime hangover vibe) there’s something to root for (a big competition) and almost always the character has got no money to compete (REL8ABLE). It’s like they tackle huge themes of classed oppression, gendered oppression in masculine fields (snow boarding/surfing – not nec. Ice skating) whilst mixing it with a slice of romance. Even tho you sometimes r like « I do not want to watch chalet girl AGAIN Lucy! » I know that secretly u do, because secretly you love watching that girl from the worst witch and chuck bass from gossip girl fall in love in the snow, and also that you secretly love watching someone learn to b a great snowboarder. (Although ngl, this trope of the poor girl becoming a bad ass sports person could also lose the « rich boy » aspect bc I don’t feel like she needs a rich man in the end of any of these scenarios. Like the class barrier that keeps the two apart is only crossed by achieving a meritocratic status of success – becoming a pro – and really if it is T R U E L U V they should like idk have a relationship based on mutual respect for their origins but YOUKNOW)
I wonder if part of the comfort of these films on a hangover is that they’re interconnected with all other hangovers. They come with the associated memory of going to M&S to by the 2 for £10 ready meal deal and drinking a bottle of wine and having a fancy pre-cooked one. Or they’re tinged with the promise of an entire platter of chicken goujons, or they just feel like the taste of Diet Coke the morning after.
Every hangover I have has you in it, because almost every good night I’ve had, has had you in it. I mean not all of them, but when I go out with you I never wake up with the fear. So, when I go out without you, and am hungover without you, I put in a film we’ve watched and I feel like I am not hanging in my bed a l o n e.
Every single one goes something like this: eyes slit open at some ungodly hour (it’s actually 11am). I mumble something about wanting to die (I think I’m dead. How did we get HOME?) you are usually either a) already awake or b) groaning that I need to shut up and sleep a bit more. Then, when we r both ready we lurch unsteadily to the kitchen. I make a coffee which you decline because (quite frankly) you’re weird and don’t like coffee. Then we turn on the oven and put chicken goujons from the freezer onto the tray. Sometimes there are chips. Most times there aren’t. I get the ketchup, the coffee, and a Diet Coke and put it on the coffee table. You are pulling up Netflix on the telly. You tell me we have choices. We usually entertain the idea of watching something new or good before having the following convo: (There’s a dead dad in this one. I don’t want a dead dad movie – can we watch ice princess?. Absolutely not, Lucy. I hate ice princess.Chalet Girl? Fine) I think this is how it goes because one time we watched Love Rosie and you forgot the dad died half way through and I was absolutely traumatised by it.
Now normally I would not admit that these r my fave hangover movies because I think people will think that I’m lame. But ngl, they r lame movies but they are also very very good, and they serve a real purpose to remind me of something: not all women in film only talk about boys. Women in film can often be poor and do good stuff. Women in film can be bad ass, they can be good at stuff, they can look after a family and do a job and still achieve a dream. What’s more is that the women in these films are made specifically to talk to women. If you think about a lot of rom coms they’re made for women, but not necessarily by women, and continue to perpetuate the notion that we’re nothing without a man (BORING). The women in these films remind me of my sisters and they also remind me of you.
You are one of the smartest people I have ever known. You look at a situation and you just know what to do. You never fail to have a plan. You’re also 100% up for anything as much as I am. I think there hasn’t been a single time when either one of us has come up with a plan where the other one said « no ». It’s just kind of a prerequisite; if you’re going I’m going and there’s no two ways about it. You do ur job, you work hard, you work on ur dreams, you let no one take u for a ride, you get fucked on the weekend, and I am in awe of u.
To me, you’re like the women in Blue Crush, or Chalet Girl, except that the job you do is really cool. In those films those women are dedicated, a little bit distracted by boys (comme tout le monde), and completely and utterly driven by a passion of theirs. They’re unapologetic about being women in their chosen field, they’re unapologetic about who they are and where they come from, and they’re really fucking cool. You are all these things and when I hang out with you I feel like a little bit of that badass magic rubs off on me, too.
In a way both of these films: Blue Crush and Chalet Girl subvert the « romantic Comedy » trope by placing the protagonists’ wish fulfilment in a personal achievement as opposed to a man. Now yeah, I know, both movies have got a gorgeous dude as a love interest, and yeah he still functions as a kind of Richard-Gere-esque saviour (they’re poor, he’s rich, he offers them a way out) but the crucial thing is that both women, Anne-Marie in Blue Crush and Kim in Chalet Girl achieve success without them.
I think the reason people dismiss these films so readily is because they’re squarely in the category of « women’s film » (because they’re about women 🙄🙄🙄🙄) but they’re sports movies… (a genre typically geared towards men). But here’s a kicker: women generally are less choosy about the kinds of film they like to watch, and society as a whole is way more accepting of a woman who likes to watch gangster films or action flicks, than a man who really enjoys Ten Things I Hate About You, or hes just not that into you. In Feminism at the Movies: Understanding Gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema, there’s a general understanding that « women watch a wide variety of films, and if fans of the « woman’s film » rarely confine themselves to that genre »
It is important to note, though, that despite the alteration in outcome for the « love arc » in these movies, they still adhere to classic tropes of consumerist capitalism. Being poor is bad and success is only realised if you achieve success and become the very best. A mediocre life with mediocre dreams isn’t really the point of a romcom tho tbh – they’re classic escapism. Even so, the consumerism of the films settings directly influence our reading of the characters: Anne Marie as a maid in a Hawaiian hotel; and Kim as a chalet girl. In the latter though, Kim is still classed out. Where Anne Marie has comradeship in her colleagues, Kim’s class still marks her as an outsider in a role usually reserved for « posh girls »
Either way I recognise us in these two protagonists (which is definitely the point). I see our desire for achieving something, the ache for finding someone to love us. But what I see answered in these films is that love is not the be all and end all. In fact, despite the eye-roll worthy Herero romances, the films are full of love found in truly admirable platonic and familial relationships.
In Blue Crush, Anne Marie relies on her friends far more than the rich and pretty two dimensional football hero love interest. They’re the ones on their boards on the waves encouraging her to try again, they’re the ones who pull her out of the surf after nearly drowning (the surf, it could be said, might stand as a neat metaphor for the tides of life, pulling Anne Marie hither and thither and threatening to pull her under, riding the wave a metaphor, perhaps, for overcoming the struggle of a troubled home life, a lack of money, and needing to keep herself, her friends, and her little sister’s heads above water, the fact that her friends support her in the water and on shore a metaphor for their steadiness in her life) The women in Blue Crush love and support each other to be better friends, better sisters and better surfers. To have confidence in themselves, and trust in each other.
This is where I see us. In a way it’s where I see all of my female friends, in that we each support uplift and encourage each other . To be better at our work, to be better supporters, and to believe in ourselves. I realise, as I get older, how important my female friends are to me, and how they offer a wholly different kind of support to my male friends. I think, when you’re 16, you end up battling a whole bucket load of internalised misogyny. You don’t recognise yourself in the women in media, and so you wrongly assume that you are one of a very select group of women who think differently to this. « I’m not like the other girls » is a thing for a reason, and men similarly perpetuate this myth by saying the same thing back to you. But it’s just false, the more women I know the more I realise that the women in film simply don’t exist. No one spends a life only talking about boys, and what they are doing. Yeah we go to the pub to bitch about this weeks love interest turned fuck-boy, but we mostly talk about each other and about stuff we’ve seen. We all believed we weren’t like other girls, until we started talking to women who weren’t our blood sisters and realised that throughout adolescence were all performing this parody of masculinity in order to be accepted. It’s bollocks and it’s bullshit and I am eternally grateful to my female friends for their constant affirmation of the fact that « not liking pink or girl movies » isn’t a goddamned personality trait.
I think I learned this kind of comradeship from you first. I learned sorority in pub toilets; on walks home down dark alleys and badly lit streets; in seminars where we were spoken over despite the female majority. It is a wonderful thing to find more sisters in the world. I would pull you out of the ocean and into my jet ski any time.
Now get the chicken goujons out the oven before they burn.
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.
As I write, fire has consumed the Notre Dame in Paris. The spire has fallen, the windows have melted or been blown out, reports say the bell towers will not be long in joining the rest of the structure in a blaze. Sure, it’s just a building; but to many it is so much more than that. When a house burns down, you don’t just mourn the building, you mourn your home. This structure is the heart of Paris, a catholic icon,
It has stood for 850 years, built over 100 years, touched by so many hands. Soaring arches, quiet sequestered cloisters, incense winding smoky way to the ceiling arches, a voice raised in song, light seeping in through the rose window; dark, quiet, peaceful. A symbol of sanctuary, of hope. It is not so, now. Now, a raging fire rampages through it. The roof; gone. The Rose window; gone. The pews; gone. No more voices, no more prayer, no more quiet reflection. Just the fire burning into the night.
Media has changed the ways in which we process grief. When a natural disaster happens, or a celebrity dies, or something awful is enacted upon others we’re able to access the moment of its happening over and over again. We relive the moment of impact, the great blow, over and over again through the news, and that great blow ricochets outwards in the structure of society, shifting its surface forever afterwards. The purpose of a monument made in memorial is almost always to bring solace or closure to mass grief, yet what happens when we lose a monument itself, what does that mean?
9/11 shifted the course of events. The whole world turned on its axis after that, ricocheted off course like a stray newton’s Cradle ball.
The fire at the Notre Dame feels similarly resonant; and for it to have happened on Holy Week, right at the beginning of the decline into ashes and dust, before a rebirth feels, to me, oddly prophetic.
On Ash Wednesday, when many Catholics will have arrived at the cathedral to have crosses in ash placed upon their foreheads the line: ‘You are dust and unto dust you shall return’ will have been repeated ad nauseum. Over and over again, the thumb, into the ash, to the forehead, in the sign of the cross. ‘Unto dust you shall return’. It feels, to me, like a cycle. An act of returning, or consumption, or rebirth – it’s a terrible tragedy; but the point of cathedrals is that they’re composite totalities: layered. This is a 12th century monument of religion, begun in 1160, finished in 1260. Then, following the revolution in the 1790s, the church was desecrated with much of its religious iconography destroyed. After that, Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831, and popular interest in the church was revived, and it was restored to its former glory. The church returns to dust, and will be reborn from those ashes.
Easter itself is a great festival of mourning, or at least when I was a practicing Catholic, that is how I approached it. A whole week of the year is dedicated to mourning those you’ve lost , to mourning a lost faith and perhaps finding it again, to mourning the loss of Jesus himself, sitting in a metaphorical garden of Gethsemane every Maundy Thursday repenting of your sins, and keeping a vigil. Good Friday is the ultimate day of mourning, you know what is coming, and it comes. Holy Saturday is mourning again. The tabernacle is empty, and you enter for mass to a dark and empty church, unlit candle in your hand, no music, nothing on the altar. By the end of the Mass, your candle has been re-lit. Hope flares in the darkness. Then of course comes the Sunday, and the rebirth – but whilst that is the important bit in Catholic Doctrine, I always felt that the motion of repentance, and of mourning before you are eventually forgiven was altogether more important. What does the Notre Dame repent for? What is it to be forgiven?
I feel struck by the fire at the Notre Dame, that it should come at a time that is so important for Catholics feels like it might be indicative of some other great change. ‘Where were you when the Notre Dame burned down?’ will be a question your children might ask you – ‘where were you?’ This Holy Week more people than ever will be thinking of the Notre Dame. The whole world watching as a single building is brought to dust.
How will the cathedral be reborn, though? If it took 100 years to build it, will it take that long to restore? Will it be possible to restore it?
I wonder, though, and this might be a bit of a reach, but I am reminded of watching Grenfell burn on the news in 2017. A pillar of fire stretching into the sunrise, with people throwing their children out of windows, and hammering at them – the level of human casualty at Grenfell was so much higher than I presume is at the Notre Dame (though may live to eat these words). It seems to me to be disingenuous, the level of mourning I am seeing globally for an empty building, compared to how quickly Grenfell has been forgotten by mainstream media. How quickly will the world raise money to restore this national monument to religion, and to imperialism – when there are still people, two years later, who haven’t been rehoused…
I am also put in mind of all of the monuments, and artefacts currently being destroyed across the world that haven’t been given a similar coverage – despite the fact that they were as significant culturally. I am thinking of the Palmyra, destroyed by fire in the Syrian civil war. Or Jonah’s Tomb in Iraq. All lost, all as significant as the Notre Dame. It is possible to mourn the loss of such an incredible symbol of Catholicism, whilst still remaining aware and remaining critical of our mourning when we fail to adequately mourn sites of equal significance elsewhere.
When we are reduced to dust, what have we left to rebuild? Should we rebuild it?
Some other small thoughts on burning and fire
Fire’s symbolic undertones range from a symbol of destruction, of knowledge, of sexuality, and of purification. It is all of them, enacted on a single building, creating a wound in culture.
What of the Water they’re pouring on it? Water is also such a symbol in the catholic faith. I crossed myself with holy water every Sunday upon entry into the church when I practised , I was baptised into the faith with holy water – symbolising purification, birth and the waters of the womb, spiritual cleansing.
In other words, I can’t shake the feeling that the Notre Dame burning down is meant to be deeply symbolic too. I don’t believe in god any more, or at least I don’t think that I do. I also do not practise as a catholic anymore – but there’s something about this happening on holy week that throws me off kilter, and makes me feel out of joint.
I think it’s very interesting that whilst I’ve been returning to the late 1990s and early 2000s through my writing, all of a sudden things that were popular then, are reappearing everywhere for me now – and I’m speaking specifically about popular things from between 1998, and 2003, rather than the general 1990s nostalgia that’s been pervading the current cultural production for the past few years now (do you know anyone who doesn’t own a pair of mom jeans now?)
This year, two albums are coming out that seem to be speaking to me from that time too. When Mum drove up to Yorkshire to give us the news that dad had died in 2002, we only had two albums in the car for the return journey. Dido’s No Angel, and David Gray’s White Ladder. These are now my ‘sad music’, so I only really listen to them when I’m in the mood for some catharsis. However, it is really interesting to me that Both David Gray, and Dido are releasing new albums now, that seem to rehash the techniques and styles of their previous ones, just as I’m delving into the history and happenings of that same time period. As though the universe were conspiring – or I was unwittingly bitten by some zeitgeist-like bug that is making me think I want to write about the early 2000s.
We’ve lived through a lot of cycles through culture, the re-birth of the 80s around 2008 where I happily bought a ra-ra skirt, wore a lot of frost pink lipstick, and was obsessed with synth-pop and British New Wave. The 90s/70s revival which we’ve been living through now: sliders, and mom jeans, and rave culture, and flares, and flannel – although grunge has been conspicuously absent. I wonder if we’re about to enter into a rebirth of early 00s culture. Whilst this could be quite funny (everyone is now thinking of low-rise jeans, and footless tights, and putting foundation on their lips instead of lipstick – I can feel it) I wonder if it is part of the seismic returning and recycling of culture that has come to define the last 50 or so years – and what will happen when we come to try and recreate the 10s? What will we re-appropriate for the new decade ahead, when a lot of the cultural expression has been recreation of old ideas, in music and fashion in particular?
I wonder if my current fixation on that period of time, being obsessed with my dad’s movements in the months preceding his death, the depths his depression took him, and the concomitant production of my own depression born out the fissures created by that trauma still resonating within ‘my life now’, are symptomatic of a return culturally to the products and feelings of the late 1990s, and early 200s. The twin voices of Dido and Gray, which are synonymous for me to the production of my own grief, and became a way of coping with that, are now present in the surface landscape again – spectral weathers from the deep. Yet their albums were produced at the same time as these feelings of inward reflection, and time travelling memory were brewing in me.
‘watch from the wings as the scenes we’re replaying’, Mark Fisher quotes Ian Curtis’ lines from ‘Decades’ by Joy Division, as an illustration of depressive ontology. In that we always return to the same simulations, ‘like a junky hooked on every kind of deadening high.’ Yet I think it is perhaps a little more pervasive than that – I am a depressive, but it is not just me cycling through the last five decades of cultural production. There seems to be almost a sense that everyone is saying ‘but there is nothing new to make.’ but there must be always something new – otherwise what is the point of it all? what are we doing?
Obviously, it seems to me that it’s just the production capital over all else, that drives the production and reproduction of old products. What is the point of making new things, if you can get people to buy something that’s already been made before, and call it retro. We’ve got tonnes of old radios at home. Dad used to refurbish them, patching up their bakelite, and replacing their valves. Yet, I’ve got a new Roberts digital radio that I was given for my 21st birthday, and it looks like the old ones, but functions like the new ones. ‘Classic Design’ you’ll say – yet everyone’s house is starting to look like a reproduction of some Swedish writer’s retreat in 1961, all midcentury modernism and pale woods. I went to the London Art Fair this year, and even there the Piper and the Nash paintings were in full force: so out of fashion about 15 years ago, and yet returning. Fisher says that Ian Curtis wrote with the iron certainty that everything we do is pre-scripted. I don’t know if that’s true – or if it’s just that everything we do has already been done, but we do it anyway just to be seen to be doing something. These are like the upward spirals I wrote of in ‘An Open Letter to a Lost Future’: a constant returning to the same moments, but layering them each time with new iterations of those moments.
This is the first time that the cultural return cycle has reproduced things that I remember from the first time around (which in their turn are probably just recycled from the time before and the time before and so on) – but it is odd to me, it doesn’t seem to bring about the happy nostalgia, which I saw described on The One Show as the newest business model of the coming year. They had cultural theorists there saying that nostalgia, as big business, points to a need for the country to feel safe within memories of childhood – like fully grown men building late 80s gaming rooms in their basements. It was comforting, they said, to return to the safety of youth, and the cultural pastimes of that time recreated that feeling of safety.
I don’t know that they do make me feel safe, though – they make me feel unsettled, caught in stasis, preserved artificially for testing later.
Perhaps the cyclical returning is more indicative of the pervasiveness of the will to live, though. I wondered if that’s what Mark Fisher was getting at when he wrote that ‘whatever you do, you can’t extinguish it, it keeps coming back.’ But then Mark died too, so the truth in that is sort of marred anyway – because quite clearly, with Mark, and Ian Curtis, and countless others, it can be. Maybe it’s not the life-will that is always returning, but some kind of force to keep us going as long as we must, until we needn’t anymore. That feels a little like i’m saying there’s something guiding it, and I’m not sure that I think there is, but I can’t work out why we’re repeating moments over and over. I remember watching K-PAX for the first time, where Prot says that, due to the expending and condensing of the universe – we’re doomed to repeat everything over, and over, and over again, in exactly the same way – so we’d better make sure we get it right the first time. But if we’re repeating it, always, then how do you know that this is the first time you’ve done it? How do you know that there isn’t an alternative to what you’re doing already? How do you know, that you’re not doomed to fuck it all up in the end anyway?
Fisher states that depression is just a way of looking at the world, which it is. But he also positions the state of depression as a production of capital – and I think that this cyclical returning is so clearly symptomatic of that. Jodi Dean spoke, in Mark Fisher’s Memorial Lecture, that so often an alternative to the production of capital in this way, is ignored because we can’t see the alternative. This is also symptomatic of a depressives way of addressing issues – or at least I have found it to be so. There’s an alternative, should I be able to think without the ontological lenses of depression obscuring everything – but I can’t, because I can only look through those lenses.
Dean spoke tirelessly of ways in which we can combat capital. She’s right, there are ways to combat it – and her Q&A, though battling people who seemed just so Goldsmiths about their approach to Marxism, and their etymological issues with the word ‘Comrade’ seeming to dominate the discourse, continually expressed that there are routes of exit, should we wish to ‘dice with death’ and undertake them, and the involve a radical dissection of our actions within capitalism, despite our raised voices decrying it.
My issues with Dean’s lecture aside, I think the core message, of coming together politically to mobilise against the machinations of capital is inherently positive, and entirely possible if we are to move against the dissociative slide towards the depressive. Depressives, inherently, isolate themselves. I know that I cut out the depressive sides of me, and give a sunny face to everybody else. Combating the depressive’s view of the world as something that cannot be changed will only come if we unionise depression. That sounds mad. But I wonder if there’s something in it. I’m not calling ‘depressives of the world unite’, or maybe I am… But the view that the world turns without care back onto things that have already happened, and that we cannot interfere with this cyclical returning is what capital relies upon. It has to. We have to remain hooked in, feeding off of the ‘safety’ message that monetised nostalgia is offering.
What if we didn’t?
The question: ‘Is there alternative’ from Mark’s Capitalist Realism relies upon us to answer it.