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 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 12

A visitor

Hot water thrumming into a red mug, news on, Corona Virus is said 17 times in the first 7 minutes, sun coming gently into the courtyard like a friend placing their hand on your elbow at a party to let you know they’re there.

Last night I dreamed I went clubbing. Last night I dreamed a trumpeter and a trombone player jumped into a river and were swept away by it whilst playing happy birthday. Last night I dreamed of breakfast cereal. Last night I dreamed of hillsides and mountains, last night I dreamed of you, and I wonder what you’re doing, and how your mum is, and if everything is alright. Last night I dreamed blossom petals fell from a really big tree and I danced in them the way Winona Ryder dances in the snow in Edward Scissorhands. Last night I dreamed I smoked a cigarette. Last night I dreamed of clouds.

Cold water thrumming into a cup. News on. 421 dead today in France, then some words I don’t understand, everyone is upset and they speak too fast and our internet is broken and the sun is shining and I can’t see any trees from here and the blackbird hasn’t sung once today. 

I am so bored. 

Just what is it that you want to do?

We Want 2 b free 2 do what we want to do & we wanna get loaded n we wanna have a good time so that’s what we’re gonna do we’re gonna have a gd time we’re gna have a party

Away baby let’s go

Clink of a bottle on the rim of a glass. The microwave dings. The music starts and stops and starts again. We drew in Mario. I imagined a feather fluttering and then out again. A fly came to visit yesterday afternoon, a clandestine rendezvous, I had nothing to offer him but a cracker, not knowing what flies like, and not wanting to share the Cointreau.


Bonjour monsieur fly, say I, would you like to stay for a cracker? The fly whizzes around the room in response which I take to be the affirmative and I leave him a cracker on the table and I say what do u think about the state of the economy? The fly whizzes around the room which I think means what does it matter if the capitalist framework tanks? Perhaps that will mean that we can build something new from its ashes. So I say very astute monsieur fly, are u sure u don’t want a tea? And he whizzes around the room, which I take to be the negative, which is good bc I was only being polite and I actually cba to make a tea. So I say have you read the Hunchback of Notre Dame? I’m reading it and it’s very good. You’re probably the only person who has managed to see the Birdseye view Hugo talks of in chapter 3 – do you think it beautiful? The fly lands on the curtain and says Paris is most beautiful when seen from the air in high spring, when the rooftops range away from you like the ragged edges of a hastily cut hem and the freshness of the morning distills the air so that it looks like heaven. The bells, when they ring, sound like angels calling. Before anyone is awake but the baker, before the smog cloud has risen to the roof of the sky, before sound is born, that is when Paris is most beautiful. I look at the fly on the curtain, I do not agree. oh no, Monsieur fly, says I, oh no. Paris is most beautiful when it is alive and awake and full of people. When the boulangerie lady says “Avec Ceci?” When the bus driver is grumpy. When there are children laughing. When there are verres on terrasse. When it is alive and breathing and full like a hive buzzing making honey and it rumbles like an old machine. Paris breathes, Paris murmurs, Paris shrieks and cries and howls and roars. She is not only beautiful when she sings. The fly looks disgruntled and boops himself into the window as if to say What would u know? You’re in here and not out there. There is no Paris for u anymore. Only these walls and these windows and your closest boulangerie. Paris is mine and it is always quiet now and I like it that way. I think monsieur fly has rather outstayed his welcome. Fuck you monsieur fly. He boops the window again, takes another turn of the room, and then quite without warning he zooms past my head and out of the window as if to say: fuck you, too. He didn’t even touch his cracker.

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 5

Night Mail

I’m a letter writer. I write letters when I’m angry, or sad, or overjoyed, to the person who is the source of this emotion. I never send them. I wrote a letter about Rodin’s the Kiss to a boy I’d kissed some time ago, but I lost it when my computer caught a virus, and I regret never sending it. Not because the feeling should have been shared (though according to Near Window 3 they maybe should have been) but because it was a really really good bit of writing.

Anyway – On Twitter I’ve made a new friend, and in a quite delightfully 2008 way I’ve actually never met them. I feel like I’m on Tumblr, and I’m tagging everything #softgrunge and reblogging In-n-out burger pics and writing (really fucking awful) poetry.

It’s been decided (by us) that we’re going to be correspondents. Tbh I don’t have any literary letter writers in mind when I imagine these correspondences, but there’s something very french about it, and being in France that seems very fitting. So I googled “famous letter writers” and what turned up was a list of Very French women. I’m going to write letters and give myself a pen name like Celeste Du Ciel or Marianne La Beurre or something like that that is cool and classic but also really stupid.

As always I’ve been reading some Auden, because I love him, and some Betjeman because my mum loves him. Obviously there’s some Larkin smattered there, because I’ve been going on about Larkin since 2010 and I don’t think I’ll stop, but mostly it’s been Auden, today.

It’s funny the conversation of correspondence came up now, when I was reading “Night Mail” today. It’s an old favourite, and if you’ve not read it I’d suggest doing so. They made a film Night Mail too, in 1936, in a relative boom of documentary film making. It follows the post from London to Aberdeen on the Postal Express train over an evening. Opening like a Hitchcock feature, and giving me shades of A Brief Encounter. It even stops at Bletchley (the next town on in that film). The RP voices dating it absolutely, and following 1/2 a million letters through control rooms and station towers and men in big breeches pulling tall levers and accompanied by a score and the familiar click-clatter of steam trains and tracks. The heavy roar of a train passing, the high cry of its whistle.

Men are at work on the tracks, jumping back, soot etched and pipe sharing, tobacco in the breast pocket of work shirts, grins splintering conversations like coughs. Hush – silence – roar – shouts – gone. Steam in the trains wake like an after image, a ghost train, a sun flare on the retinas.

Then we flow through gliding Englishness, fields turned watery slipping past like a dream, the sky glimpsed through telegraph wires, windows glinting, clouds shifting, and a newspaper dropped into dry grass, picked up by a man whose name goes unspoken and who walks back to his farm. A slow pace of life I Reese t’es at speed by communication running a country long. Two countries long.

It’s a lovely piece of cinema. It catches a period of life where the pace had accelerated, but not quite taken flight. watt and Wrights film documents hundreds of thousands of letters being sorted, by men in small quarters churning them into sacks and lobbing them off the train to the relavent postmen.

Our letters will ride no trains and traverse no physical geography. They will hurtle at speed through wires and space, scraps of code restructuring one language for another and deconstructing meaning to re-upload it seamlessly and instantaneously with the other. Instant letters. Perhaps we should not read them until they arrive some time later, so as to give the impression of the real thing. Maybe when we’re all dead in the future, some alien species will find one of our hard drives and try to learn about humans from our letters in the way we try to learn about ancient homosapiens and Neanderthals from cave drawings and buried rubbish in the form of archaeology.

At the end of the film Night Mail, the narrator reads Auden’s “Night Mail” to accompany the trains last stretch of journey, amping the metre to match the trains pacing. Footage of tracks spliced with billowing steam, looming cities, approaching cranes, white bob rabbit tales fleeing, dawn breaking through a square of sky and final the trains slow slide into arrival.

What better romantic connection than trains and letters? Both connecting people over distance like arterial links between brain and heart.

Auden’s last lines are lovely:

They continue their dreams,

But shall wake soon and hope for letters,

And none will hear the postman’s knock

Without a quickening of the heart,

For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

I hope I always write letters even if I never send them. I hope when I die someone reads them and imagines a romantic life full of tortured and impassioned thoughts never shared. Ha, no, not really. I hope someone reads them and thinks they’re lovely. Here’s to writing letters, and receiving them, and to riding on trains after we’ve all come out of quarantine ✌️

Near window 4

Solstice: through circumstance […] location takes a different meaning

I have listened to this playlist for about an hour so you should probably put it on and just lie down somewhere for a while and listen to it. Ur welcome. It also goes quite nicely with what ur about to read so it comes recommended by me.

Recently, a friend sent me a message about circumstance giving location a different meaning. I’d made a video about a day in the life of my confinement (near window 2) and sent it to him because he’s a film maker (a good one) and you can look at his work here.

He said: while I get a really interesting lens into your space and world, through circumstance then location takes on a different meaning.

I’m confined in one room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. From front door to bath tub(the back of the flat) it is 23 small steps or 16 big ones end to end. It’s five medium sized steps wide. The main room has two big windows that look out into a courtyard. Through it I am treated to a square of sky within which the theatre of spring weather is being enacted. Today is the first day of spring.

My friend, Joe, said that in the film I’d made I’d given him a lens into my world. It’s a small one, but then the world itself is small now, being as how we can have a normally paced conversation an ocean apart. my world in Paris enters into his in Ohio. A splinter in space time, a shard through the earth to layer us: one apartment over another, a Parisian sky playing on a screen in an American house. Playing perhaps on countless screens out there. I dunno, maybe, though most probably not. Most of the content we make goes mostly Unwatched like that guy who made a video of the streets of Tokyo in the rain and all it was was a view of what it might be like to walk in those streets at nightfall in a storm. I watch that video to feel calm. A lens from Paris to Tokyo. Being read by you, wherever you are. Two lenses now. Maybe more. Where you are, where I am now, where the guy in Tokyo was.

In the quite frankly beautiful book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos by John Berger he says that “the notion of life as lived, is a story being told”. Action is Narrative, everything you do is narrative, it’s just that in order to see the true thread of narrative that runs through the core of your life you forget the minutiae of existence and remember just the big stuff. The film I sent my friend was just the minutiae: a cloud billowing over the neighbours roof, steam billowing from freshly brewed tea, pretending to be in a jungle pushing through my potted fern, my hand in the sun, my right eye.

The narrative doesn’t really exist in the moment though, not until the day is done and you sum up the course of its action. What have I done today, you think, as you slip into bed and close your eyes thrumming with the energy of being and the anticipation of dreaming. Just like characters in novels aren’t themselves aware that they are narrative devices, neither are you. To be aware of your narrative is to see yourself from the outside, to split yourself in two: one you doing, the other observing. One in the lens, and one looking through it.

As I wrote in Near Window 1, what feels like forever ago, but was really only 3 days, I am living my life now at a decelerated pace, like a beautiful but very dull film. Confinement allows you to be outside of yourself in much the same way that a creative practice does (or maybe only if you lend yourself well to a creative practice). except confinement also lets you untether from yourself entirely. Robin Hobb wrote a series of books set in a world where there was a magic called the skill. It allowed you to disentangle yourself from your body and find things in the current, touch minds with others, and listen in the slipstream. The feeling for hobb’s characters was addictive, and she describes it as drifting away from yourself. I feel like this in confinement, looking out the window at the clouds or the windows ranged around me becomes an act of social distancing in itself, except I am distanced not from others but from myself. I unravelled today into thoughts about clouds, that had no structure, and thoughts about time that were pretty juvenile (it’s endless but it’s also finite oooh) and i spent a lot of time thinking about when to make the tortellini I was going to have for dinner (it was good and worth the thought).

Joe said: “through circumstance […] location takes a different meaning”

What is “location”? Where I am right now? Is the location just now, even, and so it is allwheres but only now and not everywhen. Is it space, or place, or something in between? My apartment layered over his at moment of opening the message. One day in the past layered of his in the present, layered over yours in my future when you stray upon this link in the arse end of a google search.

Part of the narrative of the film, near window 2, that I sent to Joe, was the sense of loss I feel at experiencing spring at a distance. Spring is my favourite season. I can feel the becomingness of it in the air, like every morning is Sunday, everything tastes like french orange juice, and smells like grass and muddy knees. I feel a huge disconnect within myself to be separated from it so. I feel like a pressed flower drying out in between the Bs of the Collins dictionary on your grandmothers top living room shelf. Somewhere between Banal and Boring. Of the spring, but separated from it. a bluebell perhaps, like the ones I won’t see at Pinsley Woods this year; or a crocus or a daffodil the likes of which never spring up in Paris, or perhaps a wild orchid like those trampled by workmen last spring by the Quoits. These r v niche references about flowers and places I know so plz put ur references in here – idk what flowers or places u like.

The circumstances mean that my new location is altered, and the relationship between my location and it’s surroundings must be reimagined in order to welcome the spring.

The narrative of spring is different for me now. To return to John Berger: a narrative is “ground anew in every story between the temporal and the timeless.” By putting a lens up to our lives we see it from the outside, and we see the trajectory of our own arrival at ourselves in the current circumstances and location. I am a bundle of 26 springs, wrapped in train journeys and the extended strings of my friendships.

In a way, the current circumstances have rendered location irrelevant, but it has made space and the way we interact with it paramount.

It takes 16 steps to walk the length of my apartment. 23 if I take little ones, yet I managed to make a two minute film of squares of light, green leaves, and linen sheets. The narrative of spring shifts as the lens of its telling changes. These images will be spring now as much as the first blackbird after a March shower, or the first bluebell in the shade.

Memphis – Public loss, public mourning.

Memphis is one of those cities where its history feels much too close to the surface. The blues seeps underneath your feet like a pulse, as though you were standing on the back of the beast, and the blues were its heartbeat. The ghosts of those gone by walk, ‘up union avenue’ or, can be found standing in rows, sitting on corners, writ large upon the pavements (or sidewalks as I become increasingly able to call them) unforgotten, and unforgetting. Elvis, Martin Luther King, BB King, William Sanderson, and countless others. I guess this is the case with all big cities, except in Memphis I feel like there’s a distinct lack of tourist activity which I found nowhere else, apart from maybe Jackson Mississippi which was even more of the same, but more down at heel.

I arrived in the early hours of a Sunday, sky tinged blue orange with heat, and a haze of humidity settling about the place as though to suffocate it before it awoke. Stepping down from the train my feet hit the red surface of the station platform, and tiny little clouds of dust kicked themselves up in small clouds, as though my arrival were causing an actual physical disturbance to the surrounding area. Green foliage so vivid that it looked more alive than any leaves I’d ever seen. The air hummed; with the train, with the sound of the city, with birdsong.

All over the hoardings surrounding the works being done on the town are the lyrics to songs which mention Memphis. “they’ve got catfish on the table, and Gospel in the air’, ‘if you love somebody enough, you’ll follow wherever they go, that’s how I got to Memphis’, ‘I’m going to Memphis where the beat is tough. Memphis, I can’t get enough’, ‘Memphis in June, a shady veranda under a Sunday blue sky’..… ‘Memphis’, I will be told later in a piano bar at around 2am, drunkenly, over someone butchering Mark Cohn, ‘is the most sung about song in the history of songs.’ All over the sidewalks, and on plaques on almost every corner are tiny little bits of information about streets, or buildings, as though the town itself were giving you a guided tour. The territory is suffused with the history of slavery, of emancipation, and of the fight for civil rights which is, as far as I have seen in my short time in the south, a battle still being fought.

I’m giving you all this information of my arrival, though, because I want you to understand what it felt like to step down off of a 9 hour train journey, onto an almost deserted train platform, to walk into a deserted waiting area that looked like it had been cut out of some old film about the south (think Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, or Driving Miss Daisy, or even something like Steel Magnolias.) Memphis felt, from the minute the train door swung back, like opening the dishwasher mid cycle letting in all the hot damp air, like dipping yourself in memory. Not necessarily in a hauntological sense, though. I keep thinking of that Ranciere line from Metamorphoses of the muses which goes something like ‘we should leave the ghosts alone for the time being, for they have a tendency to say too much for themselves’ which, at present, seems an apt sentiment to hold.

The ghosts of Memphis are… a different kind of ghost, I think. Rather they’re a kind of resonant energy, not hauntological in that they’re a nostalgia for a lost future, or even that they are in and of themselves nostalgic, but that the city feels like its full of the lives its lived, and uses them to propel itself forward, as opposed to engaging in the perpetual return of hauntology.

I have no personal connection to Memphis so perhaps this might be different if i did.

Mourning is an interesting turn of phrase, too, because Memphis itself is not sad. It is so full of joy in music, joy in being alive, in talking to each other, in reaching out and making connections. Yet, in all its southern hospitality, and kindness, I still feel the great weight of oppression, collective loss, and cultural grief when walking the streets, coupled with a strength in the face of adversity driven by the kindness of strangers, and the power of resurgence, and rebuilding evident in the pervasive culture of sound.

*

Memphis is defined by two great losses. The first, and perhaps the most culturally significant loss for African Americans in the 20th century (or maybe perhaps ever) was the assignation of Martin Luther King Junior at the Lorraine Motel Downtown. Here’s a man who symbolises the hope of a whole group of people; who symbolises strength, and calm in the wake of great oppression, violence, and racism; who offered opportunities for change, and for the reclamation of humanity in the eyes of the oppressors. For him to have been lost in Memphis, whilst fighting here for the rights of working people, and people of colour at the hands of a skinny white boy with a gun in a boarding house opposite leaves a mark that cannot be wiped away.

The museum tracks the oppression of people of African Americans in American society from the very beginning of the transatlantic slave trade in brutal detail. Laid out here are all the atrocities of white ownership, and of white supremacy for all to see. How anyone could fail here to see these as abysmal treatments of fellow humans is beyond me. Yet this great centre for knowledge, which not only details the very states of oppression, and how these have been overcome, but also offers a space specifically for artists of colour to exhibit their work, and for people to learn about this history in a way that does not feel like some kind of gore-porn meant to absolve you of white guilt, or punish you for these crimes, but merely ensure that you know about them.

In the museum’s final section you learn about MLK’s assassination, and his final “the mountain top” speech in which death plays very heavily to the forefront. ‘I may not get there with you, but you will make it to the promised land’. The promise of hope, and the feeling I had of his knowing his own matyrdom, was overwhelming. He was cut down at 39, cutdown looking out in the direction the bullet came, resolute, strong. What might the world have looked like had he not died? I think he knew, I think he knew he might have to be the sacrificial lamb for the movement. His final speech, the mountaintop speech:

‘Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’

He knew.

Yet, I couldn’t help but think about how much hope had been born out of that loss. How the museum itself had sprung up in the wake of it. Full of knowledge, of learning, and of a promise that these rights will not be scaled back, and that one day, at some point, true equality will be afforded to all.

Even blues, the city’s beating heart, winding out of the cities open doors, and down its gridded streets, flashing in neon reds and yellows and greens, smoky and rousing, was born out of the grief and mourning of the transatlantic slave trade; a translation of traditional west African music, made blues, made Jazz.

All of this, the rebirth of the motel from the ashes, bearing the hope of MLK’s words; the continual rebirth of blues; the cyclical return of the 8 bar format; to be lost in the music; are public losses, mutual experiences of grief that are played out accessibly in public spaces, so that no barriers of personhood have been transgressed. The civil rights museum, and the bars on Beale offer a public space within which to process that loss. The museum offers knowledge, recollection, memory, and understanding as ways in which to process; where Beale offers joy found in the darkest of spaces, and finding it at the bottom of beer bottles.

Compare this to the experience I had at Graceland, though, and its an entirely different story. For ‘some reason I cannot explain’, Graceland had become a symbol of my recovery. Perhaps because I listened to Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ almost exclusively last summer when I was chronically depressed. for Paul Simon ‘had reason to believe, we all will be received at Graceland’ and so, upon my arrival in Memphis, I sought out that white pillared house in order to be received warmly and safely there. The ‘ghosts and empty sockets’ of my transatlantic journey, which itself symbolises my recovery, really, bearing me on to those musical gates. In a way, Graceland, had become a symbolic kind of heaven.

I arrived to some kind of Disneyland frontage, plastic-y and devoid of personhood, a diner called Gladys’, sticky floors, ‘Suspicious Minds’ being tannoyed out over the place tinnily like they’d trapped Elvis in the speaker and made him sing Suspicious minds every hour on the hour for the rest of eternity. This was, to me, not the promised land I had hoped for, but a corralling ground filled with hundreds if not thousands, of middle aged white couples coming to see Elvis’ house, take some photos, and tick it off the itinerary.

I don’t really know what I had expected, but this wasn’t it.

In a direct contrast to the uplifting presentation of collective loss presented in a public space in which there is enough space and time afforded to you in order to absorb the weight of those losses for yourself, this was the loss of a single man who, whilst yes, very talented, hadn’t really changed the world. I have never been, myself, much of an Elvis fan. I can bop along to blue suede shoes as much as the next girl, and Always on my Mind does make me cry; but that’s about as far as it goes.

I felt like an intruder, not on the enjoyment of the other people wearing their headphones and milling between their timed spots from room to room, but an intruder on one man’s private space. They had hooked up the TVs to all play one clip from Elvis’ interviews in which he says “the greatest times of my life have been with my family. I just can’t wait to go home.’ And here we all were, in our thousands, milling about in his home, his bolthole, gawping at his things, hearing about how he made peanut butter and banana sandwiches that ended up contributing to his weight gain, seeing videos in which he is so clearly off his face and self medicating against some kind of issue, and only hearing about how the public loved him. I couldn’t shake this horrible feeling that he had been an incredibly sad man. That despite it all; the fame, the planes, the cars, the house, something wasn’t quite alright with Elvis himself, and we were all intruding on his rest.

Unlike in the Civil Rights museum there was no opportunity to feel inspired by achievement, or to feel motivated to enact the changes you want to see in the world. No. I felt dirty, like i’d spied on him getting changed, or peeked under his death shroud and found rotting flesh. I was in my group of audio tourers and accidentally getting in the way of their selfies in the Jungle Room, and their snaps of his grave. Feeling more and more like I had walked into a nightmare, where I felt like something was very very wrong and nobody else did.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I really do think it has a lot to do with the difference between public and private space, and the ways in which minorities experience loss, and the ways in which the oppressor experiences it collectively. There was a consumptive quality to the way in which Graceland was set out that wasn’t present in the CRM. Those at Graceland wanted to bite a bit off and take it home, I felt like if they could have stolen it all in their tote bags they would have done. If they could’ve gotten into his grave and taken a bit of him back they would’ve. I sat in the meditation garden for a while before I realised that they’d buried him there, and that every twenty minutes another group comes a long to snap a photo of the words ‘Elvis Presley’ written there. I didn’t look at the grave myself, so I don’t know what it says there.

When does public grieving become possessive?

We saw it in 2016 when so many celebrities fell to the wayside of age and disease; David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Carrie Fisher’s mum. The possessive nature of loss, even when that loss is not personal, but cultural. Elvis’ loss has no direct ramifications on the lives of “fans”, and so the performance of grief in the space of his home becomes disconnected from the ways in which we process real loss within the sphere of our personal connections.

In answer to the question: public grief becomes possessive or consumptive when there is no opportunity for regrowth, or for the cycle to begin, or for progression to be made.

Memphis lives and dies in an 8 bar cycle, again and again repeating the refrain. one song ends allowing the next one to begin. I felt this in the Civil Rights Museum, too, that MLK’s death was incendiary to the movement, allowing greater progressions, allowing more steps to be taken towards the promised land. (I also wondered if he knew. If he had foreseen it somehow, that he would take up the shroud of Matyrdom for the cause he was fighting for). Such a great tragedy, but still the things that spring up in his wake are new refrains, new modes of strength against oppression, new modes of breaking the system.

Graceland, on the other hand, festers. No longer home, nor hearth, nor safe space away from the world; but a highly trafficked tomb to excess, spent to alleviate what seems to me to be a hole unable to be filled by possessions, or drugs, or peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

If he wanders the halls of his home, I bet he’s yelling ‘fuck off’ as loud as he can.

*

I have been writing this in view of the Mississippi River, and gazing out at it from the city side you could believe that it hasn’t changed in 100 years. It has. It’s certainly a much more inclusive city than it seems to have been, and being majority non-white, the focus on African American culture is higher than anywhere else I’ve been whilst I’ve been in America. Yet, it seems evident to me after visiting the CRM that the fight that was fought here in the ‘60s, and countless years before that, and many subsequently still needs fighting; in Memphis, throughout America, and throughout the world.

It is important, too, to remember that we are all complicit in perpetuating injustices so long as we continue to try to ‘just get by’ without rocking the boat too much. By saying ‘I will stand up later’. The greatest stumbling block for African American’s in the fight for civil rights, according to MLK himself in his letter from Birmingham Jail is not ‘the white citizen’s counsellor, or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.’

The fight I saw in the CRM, all the people going out of their way, putting their lives and livelihoods at risk, coming together in order to help each other and themselves is something we need to pick up and use, especially now when the bellies of the unions have been ripped out. Whilst flying from New Orleans to Los Angeles I watched Knock Down the House on Netflix, chronicling the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a grass roots movement to take down a previously unopposed Democratic candidate in the Bronx.

She, and many other women like her, stood up in the face of oppression an adversity. Strong, working class, and fully representational of the communities they were standing in, and whilst only Ocasio-Cortez got through the barricades of the establishment, at least someone did.

There is so much we could be doing in the face of the great political tides of the now. In the face of classism, racism, sexism. institutional takedowns and lashbacks against establishment regimes that we are not collectively doing. We are many, they are few. I feel moved to be guilty. Guilty that I am not doing enough, and by not doing enough I am complicit in institutional oppression. More than this though, I feel motivated that one voice can change the world, if only everyone would get behind it.

This is not the time for mourning, though. Now is the time for action.

To end with Martin Luther King Junior:

The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” “If I do no stop to help [others] , what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

Snow Wonder

Sometimes when I gaze into my eyes I think they look like bottomless pits. Especially when I look at them in tube windows and they meld into the upside down version of me visible in the curve. They become void orbs gazing out of the blackness of the tube behind, distorted by speed, and the epitome of tunnel vision. Looking at myself looking at my phone I look like two Lemonheads joined at the tip, like an hourglass face in which my features trickle like sand between the two.

My face is as pale as the moon when its ghostly apparition appears through a smog cloud at Notting Hill Gate, where I am waiting for a post snow coach with the taste of Peroni in my mouth and an empty packet of tobacco taunting me from the left breast pocket of my snow damp denim jacket. Rag tag ghost trails of grey clouds scudding ineffectually across the smog ridden London sky. Detuned and starless.

I coughed so hard I cried at a traffic light and people asked me if I was alright as I stepped up to the bus stop and I was fine but looked a mess as usual.

Walked up to the driver as the hiss-put of the doors opening underscored my stumbling footsteps, I opened my hands. Here is my bus money.
Here is my damp coat and my damp book-filled pockets with Watership Down in one side and Celtic myths in the other, like they are segments of mushroom made to alter my dimensions at will. One side will make you larger.

Here is my cold fingered grip on the evening
Here is my empty handed reach for the night.

Here is my snow drift hair and snow drift smile and snow drift laugh and snow drift self and snow drift and snow drift and snow

It’s no wonder, they said.

Snow wonder.

Excerpts from journeys

1st January  2019

Birmingham to Oxford

Sometimes I’ll be doing something like riding a train homewards. gazing out of the window at the sun sinking lower into the horizon, listening to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ at the point where Bowie sounds like he’s going to cry, or like the very act of his singing is going to rip him open, and I think I’m going to cry, or rip myself open, and I wonder if I’m real at all.

In the distance, where low banked clouds look as though they’re blocking out the sun in its final death throws, shafts of light pierce through the gloaming clouds. In the blurred blueness of that middle distance, I seem to see iterations or reincarnations of myself dotted through the landscape. I am tree, I am river, I am field, I am hedgerow. I am out there, instead of in here. Even in here, in the train I mean, becomes less real as I push myself through the glass to be out there.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m gone from these places already, and that every visitation is simply a revisitation in the climb through my life. I meander in a pattern from my deathbed to my childhood and beck again – like how in Quantum Leap Sam Beckett leaps through the loop of his life where the tangles touch. Living isn’t about disentangling one’s life to make it straight and true like some kind of journey. Living a human life is about leaping from point to point, where the tangles meet – or at least I think so.

 

5th December 2018

Copenhagen – London

Flying alone is like leaving the world for a while. You exist on a simulated plain that is somehow disconnected from country, or nation. You are borderless, placeless, personless. Not in the same way that you are on a boat when you’re in international waters, and not in the same way as when you fly with friends. Flying alone is different.

Now, I am aware that I am still tracked with my passport, and it says who I am and where I came from, and which nation state I belong to – but there is something about the disconnect between one place and another that isn’t achieved through any other mode of travel. To do so alone is almost like disconnecting yourself entirely from one kind of music via your headphone jack, and into another.

To be alone in a place of hellos and goodbyes and final moments and first moments is to exempt yourself from the flurry of human experience for a while. In here, I am an other. I entered alone, saying no goodbyes, and I will arrive alone on the other side saying no hellos. In a way, I feel like I will be gestated within the belly of the plane and reborn on new soil – reterritorialised onto familiar terrain.

 

2nd December 2018

Stockholm to Malmö

Watching birds drop off of telegraph wires like flakes of it falling to the ground. Except not falling, but flying. I always used to think they looked like notes on staves and here they are disconnecting themselves from formalised tune and becoming free.

Flying music.

Open notes.

Denoted. De~noted.

Unmarked.

 

21st October 2018

London to Oxford

I hurtle away from the city like an arrow, reaching outwards over countryside as if shot from an inordinately large bow. I am tetherless. I know I will land at my destination and resume an old life, a life that has not been mine for what feels like millennia and, if I’m honest, could easily be mistaken for someone else’s.

This is a leap of faith.

I feel like I’m riding this train into the void. Nothing visible through the windows but the inky blackness of an October evening, stretching into infinity, or not stretching at all. I ride a wormhole home.

I don’t know if I know what I’m doing. Zips of light come out either side. Other trains, full of other people going to other places. We’re void dancing. Tight-rope walking over chasms.

I said a plaintive goodbye to an awful lot of people today. I had an eerie watchfulness whilst doing so, as though I were waiting for someone to jump out and say that I didn’t have to go. I didn’t have to leave. But I left anyway. As I was walking away from my house I thought I heard someone calling my name. Not a voice I recognised, but I still turned and looked back at it. Not my house anymore, thought I. Whilst this filled me with a modicum of happiness, for I have not been happy there – it is more the locale of the house itself which upset me, and I was reminded of all that I was leaving within that tiny little terrace on the outskirts of London suburbia. I entered into melancholia – nostalgia is a drug. Yet, I didn’t feel like I was leaving. I felt like I was going about my normal everyday life, wandering down to the bus stop to take me into town to see a friend, to laugh, and to have a final beer.

This was a day of finals. The final train, the final ticket, the final goodbye.

 

29 October 2017

London to Oxford

Sometimes I think that it is not I that moves, but the world instead, on some unseen track whirling beneath me. You don’t really get the same feeling in a car; you can see everyone else bumbling along in their cars in the same way that you are in yours, and it shatters the illusion.

In a train it is as though the countryside unfolds from the inner city. High rises collapsing away into suburbia, that too melting into hills and fields. The track that I travel on, unfurling from the front of the train, cuts a narrow furrow through the familiar green-brown countryside.

All at once, the hedge sided track bursts forth from the sky reflecting flood plains by the M25, untangles itself from the charred bones of industrial graveyards, and I am struck by the overarching sky. Every shade of blue encapsulated in a late autumn landscape. I come, this time, on the tail of the turning year. The last day of daylight saving time. Some leaves still cling to the bare branches of trees in a last-ditch attempt to fool the innocent onlookers that summer still reigns.

Yet there, standing alone in a field emulating some drab scare-crow, bare arms impeaching the sky: a leafless ash.