Dalmation tune

Have you heard Tea for the Tillerman?

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.

 

Anyway. 

 

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 

                                                                       somewhere. 

 

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, 

       Crucially,

           takes his hands off to accept the tea. 

Near window 27

I really don’t know clouds at all

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’s illusions 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

Near window 26

Chicken Goujons

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.

Near Window 25

To all of you, wherever you are,

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.

Near window 24

Ghost flies

I am standing on the stairs to the attic with my left foot above my right foot and my left fingers touching the raised pattern of the wallpaper in the dark. I am waiting for my eyes to adjust to the gloom and it smells like mothballs and misery and misheard arguments in here. I am frightened of the attic. It is dark and dusty and filled with the ghosts of a hundred dead flies who’ve met their ends in its many spiders webs. or met it batting their heads against uncomprehending glass trying to reach the outside. Or perhaps they met it somehow else. Don’t come up here, whisper the ghost flies, it’s a trap.

But I go up anyway. Step by unsteady step like I am 5 and 105 alternately with each one. The flies are nervous they hover about my ears with a tinny something. Like a telegraph pole in a field, humming discontent.

I can smell the inside binding of bleak house curling down the stairs like I’ve fallen asleep with it over my face in the garden on a summer evening. I can smell burning.

The door at the top of the stairs has a face and he looks distraught that I might dare to grasp his handle. He is worried. He twists his wooden mouth as if to say “this isn’t wise” and I whisper into the dust that “I am not wise” and twist the handle. The flies hold their breath, the door is unhappy, the dust sips loudly on his cinema Diet Coke and i can hear the rustle of his hand in the popcorn. Here comes the jump scare. My heart has run a marathon in three steps and is safely situated 26 miles down the road in Helmsley and then

And then

Nothing much, really. The door swings inward to the hallway and a shaft of morning sunlight breaks into the stairwell revealing the dust for what he is. A moth makes a break for downstairs. On one side by two windows the dessicated carcasses of my companions shift in the draft. Behind me the door inches closer to its frame, his face set in consternation and worry. On the other side of the attic a shadow shifts it’s weight taking over a little extra space than usual. A photo album twitches it’s memory on the shelf. The flies are still worried but I don’t think they mean anything by it. You would be worried too if you found yourself at the site of your own demise.

The door closes. The shadow shifts. The pages flutter. The flies hum. The sun: dims.

The flies r silent. Hush listen here it comes.

You r hovering behind my shoulder to get the best shot of it as it swells. The music has taken on that pastiche of Hitchcock, all tight strings and tension. The light dims a little and we hard cut to my face backlit by the sunshine, and you wonder at the directorial choice of setting this movie in the day time and then it dawns on you that things that come out at night can be explained away by low light and superstition. In the day time things are harder to chalk down to an overactive imagination. I am walking down the corridor and you are hiding your face behind a cushion. Then suddenly the music stops with a bang. There’s the jump scare come late.

“Its only the door slamming” I say to the flies, but the flies whisper amongst them self that the door closed quietly earlier. You’re sitting there saying the same thing. I can’t hear you though, so I just keep walking towards the other side of the attic, the other room. It gets dimmer and dimmer. The music is gone now, we’ve got no score but the sound of socked feet on carpet creaking intermittently with the age of the boards. Please don’t, whisper the ghost flies. Shhh, says I.

The mirror on the wall of the hallway glints in response to my shh. I thought I heard it sigh. I thought I heard it whisper that I’d come up here to die. But perhaps I’d only heard another whisper of the flies. I put my hand on the frame of the attic bedroom door and poke my head over the threshold. It is like making the sign of the cross. I announce my presence. One bed is already made but another has been slept in. The wall paper peels revealing dreams papered over through the years. As My feet cross the boundary of the room it is like someone’s out their hands over my ears. The flies have stopped their pleading. I can hear only the breaking waves of my own blood flow against the flood barriers of the self.

My shadow shifts its weight in the corner and I pick up a picture from the bedside table.

You’re on the edge of your seat.

My shadow shifts again as I move around the room and I sit on the made up bed and look uncritically at the crumpled linen of the other. It’s just been slept in — just left.

On the floor is a photograph face down and I pick it up. The ghost flies clamour at the doorway, light dims.

Near Window 20

Time

This morning I said I’d get up, but I didn’t. I said I’d do work but I didn’t. I said I’d do a lot of things but I haven’t.

Instead I put on this song and danced in my room around the sunsquare, like the breeze coming in through the window, like hot coffee in the air.

Arm over arm dancing in euphoria thinking of all the times I’ve moved like this with someone else and realising that I much prefer moving like this by myself. Reason no.1 to be thankful.

Reason number two is that the song speaks to me so. About the way it feels to be inside, all these days as just one long day. Too much time to do anything, not enough time to get things done. All times are now, there is no now only always, there is no always except for…. except for what?

Time keeps on coming

I’ve been all around

I’ll keep on running

‘Til time catches on

I’ve been on the run

Except I’m not running. I’m inside. Windows flung wide.

Arms waving, body rippling like it’s underwater, legs out at an angle, sweeping under to project a leap to the corner of the room, I spin to face my audience of plants. They wave in the breeze, or in enjoyment, I don’t care which, I think it is the latter. The song becomes all songs, becomes heartbeat. Outside of my window I hear people cooking, I hear children in trouble, I hear a shower, I hear laughing. I do not hear my blackbird, still. They all make the song, the song becomes all of them.

My hair raises from its roots like I’m in antigravity. My arms become the boughs of a great weeping willow, my legs the swift river. My heart the beating hand of time striking my sternum as though to reverberate the ribs, my lungs the caged leaves , my mouth a furnace, my eyes two lonely headlamps on the shooters hill road. Fading, melting, passing through.

The song comes to an end and I am out of breath. I put it in again. Leaping like billy Elliot but badly, floorboards creaking slightly, carpet ruckled. I wonder if my sisters remember how I used to refuse to dance the steps they choreographed on our carpet, where moving from one flower to another was a significant move. It reminds me still of dancing to one ariana grande song on the dance dance revolution machine. It reminds me still of standing under a whole flock of swallows murmuring as they go to bed.

I don’t know if you’ve seen it, they move in the air like fish in water, a shifting mass of feathery bodies moving like one body. A murmur. My heart murmurs. My mouth murmurs, the radio murmurs. Paris murmurs. My body is my body and is a thousand swallows taking flight, a line of flight from the self beyond the wall. The french road for wall is mur. A double wall is a murmur. The music is a mur, I am a mur, together we murmur as swallows do. as I do. As moving is. As dancing does.

This time last year mum and I saw one at the quoits, the sky stained blue purple in sunset, the water rippling beneath like soft percussion, the wind still and the two of us holding our breath. When they feel overhead we wanted to spin under them, run with them, dance with them.

As the final notes play out through the speaker, the wind rattles the plants to make a rousing applause, a standing ovation, even the dead ivy on the sill rustles his brown leaves in appreciation.

Near Window 19: Far Window

Now I wander in confusion (4,6) – Megan Courtman

A window in Devon

I cried when I saw my crumpled crosswords.

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.

Near Window 17

The body is a cathedral

It is easter week.

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.

Disclaimer: took this snap a long time before confinement. Don’t start thinking I’d take my lapsed self out to mass during confinement when I haven’t been in about 10 years ✌️

Near Window 11

… an interesting question.

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.

Of his video essays « what would be the soundtrack to my life? An interesting question » is my fave on YouTube – I’d urge u to watch it. It’s only about 5 minutes long.

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.

Near Window 10

Atlantis

Outside the window a blackbird is singing with such tenacity and gusto that I feel like crying. In the drawing evening, i have Henry Jamison’s new record on. The blackbird outside sings as though to accompany him. I am listening to him sing like the world is ending, or like it’s beginning. I’m not sure if I’m talking about Jamison, or the blackbird.

I wasn’t going to write today, but Henry Jamison released a new song: “Atlantis” that pulled me out from my hungover stupor and forced me to put pen to paper.

His 2019 album, Gloria Duplex, soundtracked the summer of last year, with “Boys” and “True North” being stand our favourites; but the truth is there isn’t a song on that album I don’t like. Lyrically Gloria Duplex addresses contemporary themes of toxic masculinity, what it means to be a man, and to be a person existing under capitalism. The form of Gloria Duplex mirrors the lyrical narrative too, in becoming so much more than just another folk record with a guy and his guitar. But today’s Near Window isn’t about Gloria Duplex, it’s about “Atlantis”, a track released not more than half a day ago at the time of writing. Where Gloria Duplex’s production soared into an ocean of sound, and samples, and really pushed at the boundaries of what a folk record could be, “Atlantis – Demo” brings Jamison down to the ground. Mostly because it’s a demo, but also because of the close miced nature of Jamisons voice, and the soft fragility of the song’s phrasing.

The track opens with a harmonica playing a single note, reminding me implicitly of lonely midnight scenes in prison movies, a lone prisoner against a barred window, the drawing dusk encroaching on the single cell, and the sound of a harmonica soaring upwards.

This is an interesting image to open with, considering Jamison wrote “Atlantis” on the second day of confinement. It really speaks to a sense of isolation, of the world crumbling outside the windows.

The song opens anxiously:

Helicopters overhead

I wonder where they’re going?

“What do you know about power?” She said

All there is worth knowing.

Yet the melody and lilting guitar betray a kind of jaded apathy in the face of this, that is reflected in “I used to think I could Change the world”. I am torn between describing the melody as apathetic, or as being indicative of us all having been lulled into a sense of false security. The dual chord progressions, and the steady pendulum swing of the tempo; it all comes around again, it’s relentless, there’s nothing you can do.

But then comes the chorus, which feels like a complete rebuttal of this:

That’s how Atlantis fell

Into the rising sea

Everyone looking around saying

“Hey, no, don’t look at me!”

These lines are angry, exasperated. They speak, not only to a sense of climate anxiety (in using the myth of Atlantis) but also to the general apathy we all feel. No one has the answers, but there’s always something to be done. “Hey no don’t look at me” is so indicative of the way many leaders initially responded to the current crisis (I’m looking at Boris Johnson here). The image of the sea rising so relentless too, no one reaching out to help, everyone holding their hands to themselves. I’m not sure if this is truly the experience of people down on the ground. I’ve seen more kindness and experienced more community in the last few weeks than I’ve seen in a long time. But the apathy at the situation is palpable, as is the desire not to be apathetic. Jamison seems to be reiterating a point: if we fall – when we fall – no one will know what to do. It’s our job to help each other, even if we don’t have any answers.

The second verse, in Jamison’s typical stream of consciousness lyrical style, has further detached itself from the events happening around them. “Over my head”, “didn’t get a word”, “something about apocalypse”. The rising tide of the melody builds for a chorus that he follows with a second look at me:

Hey, no, don’t look at me!

Look at me.

Don’t look for answers here, but please god don’t stop looking at me. It reminds me of the “imagine” video – each and everyone of those influential faces getting off on appearing to do something without doing anything. Don’t come to me for help, but please do watch me perform some vocal acrobatics on one of the most overplayed songs of the 20th century.

Sitting at my kitchen table in the drawing in of a Parisian dusk, alone, save the blackbird singing so sweetly on the chimney pot opposite. As Jamison’s lonely harmonica rises into the air, the blackbird joins him in giving voice to anxiety and apathy in equal measure. The sound of both together makes me feel nostalgic, and sad, and worried. I close my eyes and sink into Jamison’s generous harmonies, and sumptuous production. I feel swept into the momentum, carried along by it: I completely buy into it’s feeling of isolation and detachment.

But it’s a song of two voices. The isolated voice of the verses, complacent, and detached; and the angry, anxious and warning voice of the chorus. On his Instagram, Jamison says that the song is a kind of protest:

Against complacency in the face of the worlds immense challenges, against the feeling in [him] (and many others) that there’s nothing we can really do after all.

The song has a mythic quality to it. Like it’s come to us from a time outside our own. A myth transcending the fabric of the world, to offer a warning, and to show us what has happened is what could happen. It’s not a message of hope, but it’s a message of knowledge: Beware

“That’s how Atlantis fell”