“Jet leg? Do you know what jet leg is?”
Let me assure you, dear paramedic,
This ain’t no ‘jet leg’
Home is only an hour behind
And no amount of sleepiness
Could make someone shake, judder, stiffen the way he just did
Or make the face he’s making now
Do you have any idea what this could be?”
The guessing game you never expect to play
In a hospital hallway
None of my guesses won the game
“Family we’ve found a large mass in his brain”
I need a bucket I need a bucket
“We operate tomorrow, side effects include death, paralysis, personality changes”
His phone rings
He raises his hand, “let me get this”
“Yea, yea, big aggressive tumour, my kind, you know…the hard ones”
I hadn’t noticed the red horns when I walked in the door
Intensive care is a precious commodity
Any wounds that family may have
Receive tough love
“Personality changes? No no, definitely not due to trauma, medication or surgery
Those will likely be permanent”
He said, of my husband of four years
Before swooping down the hall,
His scrubs flapping like a cape
He says, “this island is full of inbreeding.
Good job you’ll mix your genes with hers”, nodding at me
He hasn’t asked my name yet
But the chemo drugs he prescribes
Can cause infertility
Thank you first and foremost for drawing back here; drawing me back to creativity and expression and reminding why we set this up in the first place. I needed it, I’m having another “what is this life” moment and I’m re-evaluating my priorities and self goals in the short and long term.
You asked about my relationship with music, reconnecting with Music… the “experiment” as you put it. Well, here’s an update.
I bought a record player. My little red leather suitcase has pride of place in my living room, and often I sit on the the wooden floor basking in sunlight listening to vintage vinyl from Mum and Dad. Dreams do come true. Whole albums are listened to and time slows when I stop to take a moment to myself. I’ve bought new releases too, like ‘Hummingbird‘ by John Smith (the title track which I discovered using the app “Shazam” whilst standing in a music shop in Brighton in October).
Since June last year, I’ve taken action to strengthen my love affair with Music. I know you smiled when I told you that I joined an amateur musical theatre group, taking a leaf out of your book and treading the not-so-familiar boards recently in our 6 nights run of performances. I loved it. I loved being part of something and working together to create something real and concrete, feeling like part of a community. We rehearsed for months and it paid off, I made friends and it was great to have something in my life that wasn’t work but that required as much focus and attention.
I’ve been to more gigs! Lau in August (and in December) were a highlight, deepening my relationship with the Scottish music scene. What a night was had as part of the Edinburgh International Music Festival, a wealth of talent and experience right on my doorstep. I’ve since moved flat and am a mere stones throw from the Leith Theatre venue so I’m always keen to see what’s going on there, including seeing The Coral there a few months ago. That night seeing Lau sticks out in my memory too, because I had finally stepped away from an incredibly negative relationship and the release was empowering. I spent the whole evening either dancing freely with Fran or eyeballing the bartender over multiple gin and tonics (to much success thank you very much, and the lovely J and I are still in touch). It wouldn’t be my story if there wasn’t a little romance mixed up in the music, and again I know you’ll smile because you know it’s true.
A life goal was ticked off last summer too! Well, perhaps not a life goal but certainly something which I had longed for since childhood. Liam Gallagher, you brash, cool and tears-of-joy inducing rock-n-roll star. From way back when I used to sit at the foot of the stone staircase in our house in NB listening through the door to my older brother’s tape player blasting ‘Wonderwall‘ I have loved Oasis. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old but I knew all the words. You didn’t disappoint, and I thank Ellie for being there with me, our friendship having grown from teenage days spent in and out of Aberdeen pubs and venues with ‘underage’ stamps boldly emblazoned on the back of our hands and eyeliner scrawled around our eyes. Ellie forever introduces me to new music and she’s in on the “let’s just get out and about and see what happens” attitude I’m trying to channel. We’re off to see a French group called Juniore tomorrow through in Glasgow and I’ve been listening to them non-stop for days. Fem, French, indie pop, 1960s vibes…what’s not to like?
Finally, I’ve taught music lessons at school; successful, engaging, interesting music lessons with my class, another bow to my string of teaching every subject and teaching them well. Okay, I put that pressure on myself, no one is good at everything, but music is my thing, and I want that to come across. So, long may it continue.
In conclusion, the “experiment” was a success, and continues to be so. Skip out all the above if needs be, it worked. Re-visiting a neglected passion has enriched my life and in less than a year I’ve had so many positive experiences that it’s good to stop and take note of them. Life is for living, love and joy and you’ve reminded me so.
Last year, you posted about rekindling your relationship to music, tired of the playlist algorithms, and disenchanted. I’m curious, how did your experiment go?
Your post came to mind as I sit here on a bus on a Sunday evening, stuck in traffic on my way back to Panama city after a couple of days away for Easter. What should have been a 4 hour journey will probably turn out to be an 11 hour one; a combination of my lack of foresight and the infamous Panamanian traffic. The bus is moving at snail pace. Earlier it was a sweltering 34 degrees, and the AC absolutely battled (now luckily it has cooled down). Cumbia has been playing for a solid 6 hours, people are watching videos on their phones without using headphones, kids are whiney. It’s hectic, to say the least.
Luckily I have a charged phone and some headphones, and have spent the past few hours trawling through spotify, rediscovering some forgotten gems. My meanders took me to The Killers, and I decided to listen to Hot Fuss, the full album. Do you know how long it’s been since I sat and listened to an album? I have no clue. I have a feeling this is one of the things you said you missed. Sitting and listening to an album seems like it’s from another era.
From the first notes of ‘Jenny was a Friend of Mine’, I’m back in early 2005.
It’s February, a couple of weeks after my birthday, pitch black outside, and biting cold. I get home from school and there’s a package waiting for me, adorned with your distinct handwriting and stickers. I close my bedroom door, turn on my pink and purple ambiance lamps around my desk and sit on the little rattan chair under my bunk bed.
Inside the package is a birthday card, a letter, and two presents. The first is a multi-coloured wooden bead necklace from H&M kids. I’ve been wearing a lot of all-black these days, and a lot of black eyeliner. You assure me that wearing jewellery from the kids section is cool, in an ironic sort of way. I put it round my neck as a choker, and reapply some more eyeliner, just to make sure the irony is emphasised.
The second present is a copy of a new album, in one of those thin cases that came with the packs of 20 blank CDs. You’ve made a cover for it, including a couple of pictures of Orlando Bloom (of course), a mini vintage Star Wars poster, and a mini picture of the album cover, all lovingly collaged together, most likely on Paint.
‘It’s a new band called The Killers, I think you’ll like them. Happy 14th birthday!’
There on that cold winter night in early 2005, I listened to Hot Fuss for the first time, back-to-back. I spent most of the time thinking about my first real crush, and what I was going to say to him the next day at theatre rehearsals. Maybe something about this new band. Maybe I’d wear the new necklace. There was an excitement in my stomach that you can only ever really get from hearing music that you instantly love for the first time, from your first crush, from being 14, from that magic of early teenage-hood when you just can’t wait for something magic to ‘finally happen’ to your life.
14 years later, I’m on a bus traveling through Panama, trying to escape the cacophony around me. That brown paper package you sent me all those years ago is still providing instant transportation.
I’m writing to you sitting on my sofa following weeks of concentrated mulling and musings, tentative discussions with friends and family, and a longstanding sense of longing which has culminated in this outward expression to you for help.
Music, I feel so disconnected. There was a time when going out to local venues and planning trips to concerts and festivals was my world; I met friends and familiar faces, I felt part of something, my perception of the comings and goings around me heavily influenced by the tunes which I listened to and that I shared with others.
There was a time when I would have said that a similar music taste was the most important thing I would have looked for in a relationship with another person; whether platonic or romantic, a shared interest in albums and lyrics frequently sparked what at the time were such deep and meaningful conversations, and some of the bonds I made with friends were established, solidified and have continued to stand the test of time based in and around a shared interest in music.
However, Music, I feel like we haven’t been on the same level in quite some time.
I don’t blame you, this is all on me; I made way for other priorities to the point that gradually the threads which had woven back and forth between us became dusty and slack from neglect. I can trace back to when it happened, when I no longer felt the influence of friends, romantic attachments, boyfriends, or the current trend in the scene. I can identify key stages in the development and evolution of my music interest and taste, but also the warning signs for where it all started to get a little lost and lacking.
Don’t get me wrong Music, you have always been and do continue to be part of my life, but I just feel like I’ve allowed this relationship to become predictable and unadventurous. I’m sorry.
No one is really to blame. The introduction of online streaming was, I’ll admit, a significant factor in changing our relationship. I pretty much stopped buying hard copies of CDs and iTunes gradually stopped being able to compete and took a back seat to the oh so alluring appeal of free music available on demand. It’s all become to easy, I’ve been lulled into thinking this has been a positive progression, and it’s not, our relationships has lost it’s meaning don’t you think? You may be strangely pleased to know that I do not however pay for the privilege of accessing tracks offline, any time any place, but continue to be loyal to my trusty iPod Classic when I’m out and about, with its 160 GB of storage space that is almost full but rarely updated in the past 3 years. In my car, it’s as if things are frozen in time between us, since this is the only place where I can listen to the CDs I keep in a box under my bed.
So, the music which I listen to daily is either stuck in the recent past or recommended by an online system based on a record of my online listening history (creepy). None of this I think is conducive to a healthy, adult, evolving relationship with you Music, in the here and now.
What should I do? How can we reconnect?
The first step was admitting there is a problem, and I think for me it is a problem, because, I miss you. So, acknowledging the problem has led to finding the words to share my feelings about this and seek help from friends and family alike. I have an action plan now, because I want to be more present with you, I want to feel that you have more of an importance in my life and for this, I need to get out there more, I need to find ways to be involved. Step away from the passive relationship with the background noise and playlists created by someone else, some place else, and uploaded for all to dip into but never really engage with. Seek out the new; new albums to listen to from start to finish and then repeat, new experiences at gigs and venues and discover what’s happening in and around where I live, be part of the community and make connections. I used to take on the world like this, and I need to remember how excellent this was and how it made me feel.
I will be better.
P.S I may write to you again and tell you how I’ve been getting along, so watch this space.
When my friend Lotta emailed me two weeks before Easter to remind me that she would be travelling through Guatemala, Carlos and I jumped at the chance to join her in Antigua (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the central highlands of Guatemala).
We flew to Guatemala City on Palm Sunday, and went straight to Antigua. Our driver explained to us that the city was host to one of the biggest Easter processions in Latin America, and that dropping us off right in front of our hostel may be problematic; sure enough, as we arrived, the procession was actually going right past the door of our hostel, so we tried and failed to look inconspicuous with our backpacks as we made our way through the crowds.
The processions took place at least three times a day throughout the week, with some starting at three in the morning. Most of the processions started with men carrying incense, followed by lines of men dressed in purple robes. Groups of up to eighty men then carried huge wooden platforms with scenes of the Holy Week (such as Christ carrying the cross or the crucifixion), followed by a marching horn and flute band playing funeral marches. A similar procession would follow with groups of women dressed in white and black, carrying scenes of the Virgin Mary. It was obvious from the faces of those carrying the platforms that they were extremely heavy, and that the walk was a momentous spiritual experience. Despite the hundreds of people watching, the streets were often silent, save from solemn and slow drumming.
On Easter Friday, everyone in the procession was dressed in black, and the floats got larger and even more impressive.
Throughout the week, Antiguans lined the streets with carpets made from coloured sawdust, flower petals, pine needles and tropical fruits, as a symbol of the streets of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Each carpet was often the result of weeks of preparation in designing and creating large stencils and then hours of work on the spot. These carpets would exist for a few hours, often created in the wee hours of the morning, and then the processions would walk over them and reduce them to a messy mix of sawdust over the streets.
Besides the processions, Antigua is a beautiful colonial city, surrounded by volcanos and endless blue skies. Over Easter it was full of tourists (mainly Central Americans and US/European backpackers), but it’s no wonder why: there is an incredible amount of local handicraft for sale, and churches and streets to explore, the restaurants are excellent, and people are extremely friendly and open for a chat.
We spent the week mostly eating small tortillas filled with guacamole, cabbage, meat or fish, beans and chilli, walking around, buying beautiful handicrafts, exploring abandoned churches destroyed by earthquakes, and drinking hot chocolate sprinkled with chilli.
Three volcanos surround the city: the Volcán de Agua, the Volcán de Fuego and Acatenango. We decided to climb the Acatenango with an organised tour, and camp at the summit overnight. The Tropicana tour was extremely well organised, with incredible and serious guides, good food and equipment.
We knew that it would be a difficult climb and to prepare for almost freezing conditions at the top, but I definitely underestimated just how difficult and steep the hike would be, and most of all how affected I would be by the altitude. At times it was so heavy going that I would take five steps and stop to catch my breath. As we walked up, hundreds of Guatemalan families ran and practically skipped down the mountain, on their way down from Holy Monday mass at the summit.
By the time I had reached the campsite at about 3700 metres, I’d made all sorts of drastic promises to myself (to never climb above 3000 metres again, to never run a marathon, to never claim to like hiking ever again) and I collapsed into the tent, only to come out to throw up during the night. Tips for future Acatenango hikers: pack rehydration salts!
The descent the next day however was an entirely different experience. In a matter of a few hundred metres I started to feel more human, to notice the incredible eruptions of the Fuego volcano and the lava dribbling down the sides of the mountain. I stopped to observe the mountain flowers and even spotted a high altitude hummingbird. I was able to appreciate the different types of forest from the pine trees at the top to the dewy cloud forests and then agricultural lands. The descent almost made up for the trauma of the day before, and as usually is the case with this type of experience…it was worth it in the end.
All in all it was a beautiful week with friends and a great opportunity to explore a small corner of Guatemala. We hope to be back soon!
I haven’t written anything in a long time, other than a few letters to friends, and I despair slightly at my lacking correspondence because I can do better.
My lapse in creative writing could be put down to a new job, new town, new flat, “new chapter”…all excusable reasons not to write as much as they are possible experiences for which reflections and musings could flourish. Nevertheless, despite the intention to establish a “work life balance”, a feat which I have achieved to some extent, creative expression has been limited to lesson planning, setting up and reshuffling a classroom, and that one workshop I went to last month.
My dear Suzy has been writing with such a voracity and inspired fervour that on reading I came to the realisation that I had to take a step back from the “9-5” and take a leaf out of my little global adventurers book; I am starting to put pen to paper again!
I’ve dug out my notebook, filling up since we started this shared blog with sparks of ideas and opening sentences of stories which were left unfinished and as yet unpublished. Reading back over the pages, I can hear my voice in the words written down and I can feel to some extent the memory of the feelings I was trying to get across; confusion, admiration, love and friendship. But where to begin today? What do I want to write about/what do I actually feel like writing about?
Since this is a blog that I share with my great friend Suzy, it seems wise to think about what I want to tell Suzy. In the past, in fact occasionally even still, I would pour my heart out in a long-winded stream of consciousness scrawled on paper and send it off to Switzerland stamped and addressed, leaving me to patiently wait the response. Every thought that came to mind, stories about people I knew and what we were all up to, peppered with all manner of “girl talk” in the mix to make it interesting. So, I guess I could start by saying something suitable dramatic and loaded with gossip and intrigue:
Well Suzy, I’ve met someone new…
They say that when you’re not expecting it, that’s when it happens. I’ve always been sceptical of this phrase, it seems too neat and glib, and I still remain unconvinced by most sayings that start with “they say that…” But anyway, yeh, I’ve met someone when I was just out and about living life. I went to a gig with a friend, and danced, and met their friend and we got along pretty well. Simple as that, it was easy, relaxed and fun; there wasn’t lightning bolts and nervous chatter (much) but we have common interests and plenty to say.
It might come to nothing, a few dates and shared moments, back and forth text messages before one or the other of us fades and it comes to a natural end before it’s really begun. But that isn’t the attitude now is it? I should just feel the feelings, delight in the possibility of romance and enjoy the opportunities for these exciting possibilities to playout. That’s the way to do it, be optimistic and pull down the little bricks we build up around ourselves when life nudges us a little in the ribs; go with it, and let the good times roll in. Why not eh? It might even get beyond the first date, a fabulous one at that, and then where will we be?
If this were a handwritten letter to Suzy, I would go into every detail of the meeting…who said what…the what, where, when of the date etc. However, this is not a handwritten letter sent from one friend to another, and there are plenty things that should be kept between friends and not shared on the internet.
Oh those first six weeks of a relationship. Constant surprise, a lightness of heart, tinted vision. Those weeks when any small gesture will inevitably etch itself to the walls of one’s heart, as the indelible marks of our own personal romance.
Take that time we were driving through farmland in the south, looking for the infamous ‘La Frutera’ fruit truck. The forty minute detour was worth it, not just for the smoothie, but for almost eight minutes of absolute joy, Hector Lavoe’s ‘Vamos a Reír un Poco’, on the radio. Percussion against the dashboard, stars in my eyes.
Or the sight of a whale, out past La Perla, and two days later, seven dolphins jumping over each other on their way out of the San Juan Bay.
My hued glasses on, I secretly love your clichés: the way you can hear ‘Dura‘ blasting from at least one car driving by every day, and catch every word, even when the car windows are fully wound up. Dancing to Plan B in a dirty dark alleyway was one of the highlights of my weekend, but I also laughed at the poster in a bar that said ‘No reggaeton, no trap, no Despacito, no Marc Anthony’. And though the postcard palm trees have taken a hit recently, lop-sided and barren on one side, they remain resilient and lush on the other. A metaphor for life after a hurricane, perhaps.
Sometimes you make me feel like a second character in a magical realism novel. Take that Airbnb with the dock between the mangroves, and the view onto the rusty abandoned sugar mill. As we drove up, a half-naked, fully-tattooed, sinister-looking neighbour observed us. I felt slightly on edge, until he whistled, and a troupe of goats trotted down the road and into his gate. Or when I peeked through the window of a house in Old San Juan to try and find the source of some wonderful piano music, and I saw a woman standing by the piano, under a chandelier, dressed to the nines, with a white cockatoo on her shoulder.
I married one of your compatriots so it’s no surprise I’m attracted to your collective humour, but the open cheekiness still sometimes catches me out. On an sunset run through a suburban area, I crossed an elderly lady walking her small dog. I looked out of place and I expected her to stare me down, as she would have done back ‘home’. Instead, she gave me the cheekiest wink I’ve ever seen. Or when I went to buy soap from a shop down the road, and my mother-in-law introduced me to the lady at the counter ‘we used to go to middle school together’. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I used to check out the boys in her class!’.
I love the raging relentless wind over the old city: the wind of schooners and pirates, the rattles and whistles through the Spanish courtyards, the 17th century A.C. When I lie awake at night listening to the wind filing down the walls and the torrential rain appear from nowhere, I think about the previous inhabitants of these streets. Corsairs, scoundrels, hideaways, slaves, passersby. I think about the women who lived in these houses. Inevitably you get me thinking about my freedom and my existence, as any good lover should do.
There’s a leitmotif in my exchanges with family, acquaintances and friends, a response to any uncertainty, future plans or change: ‘Lo más importante, es que te guste‘ (the most important thing, is that you like it), I’ve heard, again and again. It’s so blatantly obvious, yet it’s never been repeated to me so blatantly explicitly. I’m still trying to understand the implications this little phrase could have on my life, my immediate and distant future. Now that its crept in, I’m not sure it can leave.
New loves teach you about old loves, old loves teach you about new loves, and love teaches you about yourself. These six weeks of uncertainty have most likely changed me more than a year of four seasons ever would. And for that, I’m eternally grateful for this time spent here, with the opportunity to drop everything, contemplate and investigate. Like a summer romance, we both know this will end eventually. Yet know, dear Borinquen, that a small part of me will forever be walking down the rainbow streets of Old San Juan, dodging drains and peeking into houses. Or running across the grass of the El Morro fort at sunset, trying not to get blown away. Peering into bromeliads to find a coquí. Playing dominos and drinking rum with guanábana juice.