Sunday, March 26, 2017

Absolute Beginners

I had never written you an unsent letter. My essays were my unsent letters. They were formalised affairs with broader themes, but I wrote them with you in mind, like Montaigne to La Boétie. I wrote them to heal and accept what had happened because I suppose in spite of everything, I had always hoped that you loved me more.

I have now returned to my home and I see that you're checking in, more and more. Again, I'm left to consider whether there's anything left to say. Are there any more poetics? Do I have any further revelations, anything you need to know? Do I want a dialogue? Perhaps, but I can't guarantee that I won't be destroyed by it.

For the months that I've known it was you, I've wondered what was the point of your readership, but then I remember how much you loved my writing. You swooned over it in chunky paragraphs, saying that my musical writing should be prescribed reading from the age of 14. Perhaps you are curious, perhaps you miss my universe.

I once wrote of my suspicion of those who didn't write, as if those who failed to write failed to remember. Now I've returned to my room, with stacks upon stacks of filled notebooks, creaking with dust and melancholy. I wrote to find an acceptable truth, but it meant distorting all I knew to create a narrative where I was the victim who cared more.

When they announced that the hostel was probably going to shut down, I used my sentimental reputation to patronise the feelings of others. In a heated discussion with a dear friend, I predicted a future where we all dispersed and they'd wipe out memories of the life we shared together. Teary-eyed, she swore at me and stormed out of the kitchen.

After that confrontation, I realised that I have challenged the sentimentality of others for as long as I can remember. In the most natural and subversive tactic, I've boasted that I'm prepared for their forthcoming betrayal. It's unfeeling and I'm not entirely clear why I do it. Perhaps it's an attempt to deceptively obtain an undertaking that they do care, some evidence I can take down for later use.

Otherwise, I often find myself sitting across from the heartbroken, counselling the sentimental. They yearn for a familiar face and dialogue. I speak of loss authoritatively and I encourage them to write it out. I speak, mindful of the lyrics of Paul Weller, "you can lose a lifetime thinking of it and lose an era daydreaming like I do..."

We can lose an era when we begin to contemplate our consequence. I can't begin to know of mine, but I will say that I cherish those qualities I inherited from you: the unyielding energy and enthusiasm for creative projects, the fascination for musical anecdotes, the desire to research weird subcultures.

It would have been cool to share all that with you, but it's alright. I can explore all that with the people who can be here now.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Desire Lines

I used to count how many cities I had visited since he'd left. I last counted nine, but I know there have been many more since then. Perhaps when I got to 10, 15 or 20 cities, I would lose that compulsion to report to him. I would no longer stumble over those various reminders that'd compel me to reach out, swooning with some references that only he would understand. Perhaps, then, I might have seen enough to convince me that there was more to life than that love.

The on-road associations used to rattle in my chest until I communicated them to him. It was the same even when we knew each other, I'd rush to tell him all I had seen in Stockholm or Budapest, all the neon, the cheap vinyl and all the model buildings, poorly constructed in balsa wood. It'd all be filtered through his tastes and persuasions, because I had lovingly retained all that he told me. All reports would be met with the same remark: "That's awesome! I wish I could have been there with you!"

He used to say that a lot to me. In fact, he used to say it every day. It started when he declined going to Tower of London with me. Instead, I went alone, quietly resigned to the dynamic that would always exist between us. He would always decline any prospect of a tacky adventure, citing lack of time and logistical difficulties. I would always go forth unbegrudgingly, earphones in place, prepared to tell him every detail of the day's mission when we reconvened that night. It was an operation that was on his terms, but then I was always prepared to accept whatever was offered to me.

In our last conversation, I detected a tone that almost resembled rage: "Look, if there was anybody in the world that I could spend time with, it'd be you, OK? But I just don't have the time." It's perhaps one of the most familiar components of any friendship I've ever had, this ambiguous sense of unrequitedness. It carries on from the first friends I ever had, refusing to come with me to Scienceworks to Laur's handwritten letter, explaining she doesn't want to go out with me on weekends because she's more of a "stay-at-home kinda girl". When Gav flaked out on going to a Smiths night at Ding Dong, my disappointment overshadowed any joy that had preceded it. My hope managed to fracture the love I would historically value most.

I tend to forget those days when they relented: they went out, they actually did what I wanted, the things I had dreamt of. There are three particular days which seem eerily similar to one another, even though they happened in 2006, 2012 and 2016. On two out of the three occasions, they would scald me for being "unable to walk down street properly". On each of the occasions, we would eat at a cafe and they would openly yearn for some other girl. They'd be distant and distracted, irritable and pissed off. As we walked down High Holborn on the third occasion, the familiarity of it overcame me. I choked out that had to leave and for the first time ever, I volunteered to be alone.

The friends that remain want to shake me, they want to rid of my desire to make associations, to create reports for these people who simply don't care. They want to rid me of a plague that consumes me, that occupies my heart in lieu of any functional attachment. When I'm challenged on the subject, I say that the difficulty is that he never actually mistreated me, the greatest brutality was his silence. I begrudge others for so much less, but in this instance, he's left with me with enough evidence to suggest that he would have wanted to have been here, he would have wanted to hear all about it, still. I suppose it's up to me to choose how to reconcile those proclamations alongside the fundamental truth that he could have been here if he wanted to be.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Walls

Ross and I posed for the photograph at reception, holding defaced playing cards to our fringes. It was the night that the party suddenly relocated to reception and then they explained: "We didn't want you to miss out!" As the night rolled on, we sat together, attempting to deduce whatever was scrawled in pencil on our cards. We often failed to retain whatever clues we had just been given and so the game drew on endlessly with exasperated cries of frustration from those who knew the answer was LIME. It was one of those loud games I'd only ever watch in silence, looking up at the kitchen's security camera but that night, I was pulled in and included.

I saw that photograph again last night. Alex had sent it to me during the night but it was a photograph of a print. He typed across it: "You made my wall :D" Last winter, he had spent his nights with me, sitting up, discussing music, writing, politics, love and grief. We spent some time in the daylight too, walking around Primrose Hill and Regent's Park, recalling how we had once been loved. We agonised how we wish those that we loved would reach out, how we wish they'd somehow change their minds. I reiterated all the stilted advice I had been given, all the advice that I could never really accept. I said that despite everything, we would even yearn for this very moment in time. But much like my stilted advice, I'm not sure if he ever really believed me.

I don't own a desk here but I often find myself falling asleep and dreaming of them in fantastical settings. I've often yearned for a place to be alone, a place where I can sit and research and write without anyone asking why I am writing anything down. It never seems to be a particularly popular pastime, to think and reflect. This morning, I was reminded of my own desk and how much I missed my wall with all its photographs and emblems of love and loss. Everything from John Lennon Guy's threepence to a photochrom of Chillon Castle in Vevey. I had thought so much of the physicality of desk that I forgot what it meant to look up from it, to think and to miss.

I have recreated a similar sort of space next to my bed in the rave cave. I can't properly write there but each day I look up and see the 7" inch record of John Leyton's Johnny Remember Me. There's Kayln's drawing of a sleeping fox on grid paper and Laur's blueprint of the Tokyo Disneyland Castle. There is a scrap of paper featuring handwritten Kaseva lyrics, lovingly translated from Finnish to English by Olli, the night-time successor of Alex. I get emotional whenever I think of the mere gesture: the handwriting, how the lyrics squarely reflect my grief, the pain caused by the physicality of love lost.

One of the greatest pains of existing as a sentimentalist is that regardless of any advice to the contrary, you live with this perpetual feeling of unrequitedness. You insist that you care more because you write and remember and reach out. Yet I have carelessly discarded those who have been reckless with my heart, I have establised a willingness to overwrite memories, to freely destroy the legacy of music held fast in time. I recently wrote that "I am in this conflict of wanting to remember and wanting to forget, wanting to reveal and wanting to obscure". I want to write for you constantly, but I am troubled by the thought that you don't write for me.

I try to adopt a gracious and grateful mindset. I am moved to learn that I am remembered, that my friends wish to look up from their desks and see me. I am moved that they relocate their parties and transcribe lyrics, they draw foxes that screech in the night streets of Bloomsbury and they make me food most nights, in the knowledge that I don't bother with that sort of stuff anymore. They make it clear to me that this is not an unrequited friendship. They make it known that they love and remember, in the same way that I love and remember.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sentimentalists

I often contemplate the irony of how a sentimentalist could exist in a hostel, a place where you are expected to connect and let go each day. I've always struggled to effectively manage the memories of those I've lost, but now I live in the wake of hundreds of such losses. The memories of departing guests and colleagues attach themselves to the physicality of this place, these rooms where memories are being written over each other, again and again.

The sentimentalists of the hostel fantasise about old guests returning. It happened to a colleague a few weeks ago as he dragged me to the reception computer and pointed at the screen: "She's coming, she's actually coming!" You felt and knew that relief in his cry could only be the result of months of pining and daydreaming. It's a sentiment that I could closely identify with, but I have to remind myself that the guest that I Iong for will never return, as much as I yearn for it endlessly.

One such guest returned. Not for me, not for anyone, specifically. He lived with us last winter and his hostel lover was once my colleague. She has long since left. As I sat at reception, I watched him look at the details of the corridor, the doorframes and the window sills. His reminiscence was largely silent. "Les fantômes restent ici..." I remarked. He didn't appear to be pained by it at all. He headed out with the new staff, unperturbed, dancing and drinking and then staggering back home to tell me all about it.

Others have returned. You take them in a sweeping hug and you asked them about life on the outside. Those who remain in London describe dodgy landlords and a leaking roof, mould and damp and flat mates from hell. Those who stay for a few hours tend to get sad at the changes, the unfamiliar staff and the rearranged furniture. Those who return and actually stay get easily entrenched in the microdynamics of the group. There are crushes and hookups and tensions that exist and disintegrate and the rest of the world falls away somehow.

When they leave, some say they will visit. Some say they will be in touch but it is never like it is when you simply exist together, living and talking and loving and laughing for hours upon hours each day. I write down the quotes that make me cackle maniacally, almost developing a moment by moment sense of sentimentality. We squeal at each other when we enter the room, scooping each other up, dazzled by this sense of gratitude that we actually exist together in this space and time.

When I long for him to be here, I have to remind myself: "He could have been here if he'd wanted to be..." It's a sentence that really touches upon what it means to be present with a person, to sit and to live and breathe with them without guilt or distraction. You can lose a life, squandering your love and energy on somebody who decided to be present with someone else. The challenge is to solely devote yourself to those who choose to be with you now, to reconcile yourself with the risk that despite your love, one day, you might lose them too.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Locks II

I lived in constant fear of him finding my diaries. It was a fear that only ever increased with age. I started filling notebooks as an 8 year old and by the age of 25, I was running out of places to hide them. At first, I insisted on diaries fitted with a cheap tin lock, convinced that this would successfully deter his obsessive attempts to violate my work. Once he tampered with them with manicure scissors, I realised that it was preferable just to ask my dad to lock up my writings in the filing cabinet. Those notebooks remained inaccessible to me and they are locked up still, with pages unfilled.

I would later type up stories, encrypted with passwords on Microsoft Word and Creative Writer. I once failed to do so and it resulted in him going through my piece, changing all the nouns to HAM. It was a reference to the name he obsessively called me, much to the amusement of my mother. Despite my efforts, that familiar scene materialised all too frequently: his standing over me with book wide open in hand, reading out loud, only stopping to obnoxiously cackle in my face. The memory of it is more painful than any other aspect of his systematic routine of verbal and physical abuse. Now I have been free of it for six years, I never stop asking myself why I wasn't protected, but he was.

I have been reminded of that aspect of my past in recent times, when friends ask me why I publish such personal details in essays online. I start to feel emotional and defensive, in much the same way I did then. It makes me suspect that I must have been encouraged to stop writing as a child, if only to stop that destructive routine that had emerged with my brother. I can't articulate why I still wrote obsessively, but I am moved by the thought that I persisted in light of such fear. The irony now is that the external publication of such work is my only hope of redress. Instead of the routine humiliation that once came with exposure, I am now comforted by the readership. It is my only sign that there might be a willingness to acknowledge the extent of my pain. There might be some unspoken remorse.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Blackout

I had developed this plan to cut out online living, in the vain hope of productivity and creative glory. The goal was to disconnect and focus on writing a script about the lyrical themes that appeared in Freddie Mercury's earliest compositions. I took a stream of consciousness approach involving a Parker fountain pen, dark purple ink and a grey thatched square notebook from Bookbinders Design. Paragraphs were dense, clean and unrevised, reading more like an academic thesis than a script for radio.

I broke my commitment to the blackout constantly, simply because I wanted to see his name in bold in my inbox, I wanted to read another message. I'd give him reports of my progress: "I'm still in 1969." He jokingly remarked that he thought he was actually hearing more from me now since I'd made that declaration to refrain from contact. He mocked me gently for it, only to make the bittersweet remark: "There's something very painful knowing that you can't contact someone if you wanted to, even if you normally don't contact them all the time."

We shared this mutual sense of urgency, this heady sense that we not only had to share many millions of stories, songs and ideas, but we had to do it as quickly as possible. It's a dynamic that I've since felt at the hostel, this intense connection and desire to convey everything well before check out. Despite all that, I've always characterised myself as a person who has had difficulties in being present. I had always figured that joy comes with meaning and meaning comes with retrospect, away and alone, at a desk.

I had assumed that my in-house best friend had learned everything there was to know, but then it was revealed that he knew nothing about radio, nothing of the blog, nothing of the writing. I kept on thinking about how odd it was that he didn't know, that in spite of all our time together, that once central and obsessive feature of my personality was no longer apparent. I then remember being struck by the existential quality of that connection. I remarked upon it at the time, that I was filled by this sense that I would only ever truly appreciate that connection in that very moment: "I've never been able to feel so present..."

Ambition tends to fall away with people like that. Hopes, ideas and plans tend to get temporarily suspended in the shadow of such a connection and I don't think it's a bad thing, necessarily. I like to think that it is because we are already fulfilling a more innate ambition to connect. There are many reasons that we create, but there is an essential component of it that suggests that we create to be remembered. When you connect with people like that, you have this vague sense of hope that you might be remembered forever.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Metaphors

I remember a time when I wrote and he replied. I wrote to him during his work hours, delivering news of triggers and associations as if he were still here: reports of the fridge door having fallen off its hinges and a photo of "breadcake", a piece of white bread with some candles impaled in it. He wouldn't reply as often as he used to, but he would claim that he sent messages that I never received. When I did receive a reply, he was polite but distant, half-heartedly entertaining my stupid stories about a life which could only really be described as Fawlty Towers meets The Young Ones. I knew that he hated it here and I knew he would never return after he left.

I mourned his physical and emotional absence. His replies lacked the kind of warmth and personal interest I had grown accustomed to. I dreamt up this metaphor of being partially submerged in a raging river. I would cling onto a rock to save myself from being carried away in the torrent. He was like that rock, inadvertently shaped like a handle, not purposefully doing anything to encourage me to hold on, but still providing a means for me to cling and hope. The river represented other hostel encounters and the existence of other possibilities that I purposefully avoided. I held my head above water, still feeling that pressure to accept his choice, to let go and move on.

I dwelled on that scene, describing it to Don, a short-term guest who had the tendency to veer our every conversation into the realms of intense romantic trauma. Don had the noble intention to keep our conversation light, but we were genuinely incapable of small talk and so he still found himself there with me at reception, extolling brutal therapy til the early hours of the morning. I'll never forget how he described what was happening to me, he said it was akin to a kind of haemorrhage: "You are used to having this daily exchange and now it's like you are losing your life force. You are bleeding everywhere. You are getting nothing back anymore..."

To anybody who had any kind of distance from the situation, the sudden and complete lack of responsiveness was to be expected. I could never really accept it, however, relying upon prior assurances that we would always have access to one another. He would always respond to me. In light of that, we had always discussed concepts like legacy and consequence, perhaps as a subconscious attempt to help me manage those future triggers and associations that would plague me. I'm now left to consider the veracity of all these grandiose assurances and I don't know how to reconcile any of it: "I won't be able to listen to music without thinking of you..."

Notebooks need to be filled. Essays, songs and unsent letters need to be written. It will eventually manifest in kindness, clarity and indifference. Most importantly, I have to continuously remind myself that although there might be silence, but the dialogue which I share with Missy Laur provides the kind of space and patience necessary to wring out any plague. It was surreal to have her sit across from me in receptipm, as so many others had done before. I described Don's vivid metaphor to her. I added that her insight had always managed to make me feel so alive, so together. I felt so gratified that she knew it too: "Of course! I am your dialysis machine."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

BFF

It's a phrase that's haunted me for some time: "But you were the best friend that I ever had..." It was one of the more sincere moments in a teary goodbye, where the motives for his invariable return to her remained unclear. I felt for him in that moment, because I realised that in spite of all that he had won, he would suffer a significant loss too. Our discussions about Brazilian garage music, 1980s Garfield cartoons and parental hoarding were these static artefacts now, to be wiped with the passage of time. For that reason, I did my best to record what I could, in the hopes that despite the silence, I would honour and preserve a connection that, for historical purposes, never existed.

I have been contemplating what it means to lose a male best friend, since I have recently had to endure the departure of a long-term guest at the hostel. It was a departure that we both anticipated, but I could never adequately prepare myself for the loss of that connection. It lasted ten months and during that time, I felt desperately gratified when he arrived each Sunday night for another week. We were always thrilled to reconvene, as we were forever poised to share twangy songs over our respective pints of milk. We were looking up opalised inlays on guitar frets when I first acknowledged how hard it would be to lose him: "Who else would possibly do this with me?" In spite of all of the months of emotional preparation, I knew that I would grieve badly (and he probably wouldn't...).

In any loss of a male best friend, I mourn for the conversations we could have shared, but more than anything, I miss the musical analysis. I never lose their taste and my mind is calibrated to identify every song that would have resonated with them. Such associations bombard me and depending on the situation, I rarely share such recommendations, interring such ideas into an imaginary vault. I used to reach out with such recommendations and my greatest ever loss used to do the same, when he would send me a link to a new Smiths boxset or a photograph of handcrafted Totoro profiteroles. I refrained from reaching out to him after a great many years, finally realising that when he told me anything about his life, it made me hysterical with grief. I never came to terms with the idea that these were the lives we had committed to.

I now wait for text messages from my hostel best friend, forever reconciling his stories that most of his text messages never get through due to a network fault. The messages that do arrive are cold, sparse and undetailed. He is busy. He is always busy. These messages never acknowledge any of the plans we dreamt up, going to the Grant Museum or Crystal Palace. Yet I still believe receiving a text will fill me and I wait for it like a drug addict vying for their next hit. I am heartbroken when the drug is heavily diluted with undistilled water. I look for signs of memory, I look for signs of a regard, but like before, I instinctively know that I have been wiped.

I am less inclined to contemplate the loss of a female best friend. I recall the severity of the pain I felt, when my primary school best friend of seven years no longer wanted to have anything to do with me. I grieved when my high school best friend closed off from me, devoting the sum of her energy to her first boyfriend. I struggled when my university best friend wrote a list of all the things she hated about me on her LiveJournal, effectively starting a discussion group with various contributors who all felt the same way. The source of the grief comes from the suggestion that female friends are designed to outlast their male counterparts, by virtue of the fact that a romantic relationship is a contract where feelings must rescind upon expiration of the term.

I feel more disappointed in the loss of those female friends, but I feel less inclined to honour the dimensions of that grief. There is no complexity in their dishonour, there is never any confusion in the sense that a choice needs to be made. I just have been left to decode the distance, forever always convincing myself that the weary excuses to reschedule are merely coincidental matters. I am still sore about the most recent loss and I often recall being locked out, sitting and crying on my front doorstep in the early hours of the evening. My mobile glowed hot on the side of my face as she admitted that she had been deliberately distant. Her guilt manifested itself when she looked across her bedroom and saw all the gifts I had bought for her. She said it reminded her of how much I knew her and how much I loved her.

When I asked why she became distant, she said she resented the fact that I didn't move to London to pursue my dreams. It was a slash across my gut: all those hours you spoke freely, you were actually being judged. I have never managed to adequately express how much it broke my heart but I live with the disappointment and irony of it each day that I am here. She promised to love and restore the friendship, to cultivate it back to its former glory. It's just the same as it ever was, really. The vagueness and the silence, her oblique tweets that I don't understand. I never reach out, I never ask why. I will do nothing to fix this thing she destroyed.

I sit with my friends now in the warm shade of Russell Square. We take photos of each other and say absurd, misheard things that rarely make sense. I say: "You will think of me when we are no longer friends, when you see those big fuffed up pigeons aggressively pursuing those lady pigeons..." My new male best friend is incensed: "How can you say that? That's a horrible thing to say..." But it seems like no amount of love can ever make up for the inevitability of loss. It might happen in the silence, it might happen in their limp regard, but you will feel it in any case... and you will long for that time when they cared.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Check Out

I always said that the last time I partied was in the basement bar of a Brisbane hostel in 2008. We chewed on sugary pink frost and danced among crowds that were familiar, yet eroding each night. We kissed strangers and posed for photographs, mouths wide, arms intertwined. We staggered through the night streets together because he promised that he would show me the most beautiful grand piano in the city. It was in the foyer of a 5-star hotel and when he found the front door was locked, he used a credit card to disengage the latch. It was about 4am when a concierge interrupted his playing and we were asked to leave.

Living and working in a London hostel, I've continued to use that metaphor of the constantly eroding social scene. We have this communal consciousness of our timelines which overlap. At reception, there is a vast collage of photographs, portraits of people we don't recognise, at parties we never attended. They wear bedsheets as togas and hold cans of beer aloft, as if they have won some sort of trophy. We remark on this wall each day and how this place must have held so much significance to them, but now the memory exists as a complete abstraction to us.

This morning, I said goodbye to one of my closest friends and work colleagues here, my other Swedish friend, Malin. Last night, we talked about how we had hoped and wished that these links would be preserved, a Facebook message would be exchanged every so often, a meeting would be arranged in a New York bakery. We agreed that we couldn't know the legacy of this time. We couldn't rely on the idea of enduring friendships that go on to exist well beyond this place. For the sake of my heart though, I imagine it will all last forever.

I write in the knowledge that I will soon need to say goodbye to the most important person here. We try to take advantage of our last nights together. We reconvene each night in the kitchen to drink mugs of cold milk together. He accompanies me on my Epiphone Dot while I sing Tom Petty, Ricky Nelson and George Harrison songs. We rarely venture into the cold London night, but when we do we remark on how odd it is that we have never been on the tube or the bus together.

When Malin decided to leave, she told me how the hostel had become a shrine to memories of an earlier time. Each space seemed to be full of stories of consequence, everywhere represented a connection with someone who had left. She predicted a similar sense of loss and association would occur for me, when what happened seems to overshadow any hope for a future connection. I keep on asking those who have decided to leave whether I will ever really know when it is time to go. They assured me that the desire to go becomes so apparent that it is overwhelming. Obsessive dreams of home seem to overtake anything London has to offer.

I try to take advantage of the moments I have left here, all the while thinking of how I can manage that inevitable, but no less immense sense of loss. There's a part of me that feels that I will stay here and mourn for them forever.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Occupation

Ricardo would sit across from me when everything was quiet and dark. Everyone in the kitchen had stopped creating their messes, everyone in the lounge room had abandoned their epic film. He would ask me questions about love, lust and attachment, pausing to listen to my theories and then clarifying his own view. There would never be any embarrassment between us, we would merely attempt to describe an irrational attitude.

I would tell him things that I only ever clarified in morning pages, how the great lovers reflect certain passions like music, writing or creative projects, all things that continue to exist within myself. It's a moment that rang out, that second he asked me, "But doesn't it make you angry that they still occupy so much of your heart?" I felt such relief when I responded, "But they don't. They don't occupy any part of me any more."

I don't know when they left me, but I think I accepted that it was absurd to grieve, it was foolish to yearn when the present moment opened up so many more possibilities. They still exist in the ether though, as remorseless yet cowardly ghosts in stories. They are one dimensional figures with detailed and finite tastes and persuasions. I make careless declarations, "Of course I still love them, I will always love them... it's just that I've grown committed to those friends who stay, those who ultimately choose to be with me."