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.
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.
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.
I started out 2017 by setting an intention for the year, embodied in a mantra. Instead of resolutions, which are often brought on by guilt and rarely kept, defining a mantra is a way of keeping a ‘fil rouge’ or gentle guidance throughout the year. When the clarity of the new year starts to fade in months long past January, it’s useful to have a small chant, or inner wisdom to defer to.
Last year, whilst basking in the sunshine on the Andaman coast, I set ‘strong core’ as my words for 2017. It came from a yoga session (as these things tend to do), when Adriene was talking about how having a strong core enables you to do what you want to be able to do: climb mountains, carry your neighbour’s shopping bags, stand tall. But ‘strong core’ was nothing to do with flat abs (although they would also be nice). Strong core was about working, concentrating and succeeding at a few core things: love, work and studies. I knew that 2017 would be a crazy busy year for me: it was my final year of my MA degree, my career was taking off, work trips were on the table. At home, Carlos was due to finish his PhD and we were planning for this to be our final year in Switzerland. I needed to be prepared for a lot of hard work and a lot of change. And I knew I could only succeed if I leave other things, those not core to the mission, to the side. That doesn’t mean that these were the only things I could do, it was more a question of where I could focus my energy.
Yet I find mantras often only reveal why they were chosen until after they have been used. Looking back on 2017 is like looking back at a storm, or even a wild, powerful, all consuming hurricane. There were small respites in the storm, but the next mushrooming and heavy cloud was always on the horizon. ‘Strong core’ was about being the solid tree trunk, and not being uprooted. Many beautiful and successful things were a result of the storm, and my strong core was just as much supported by myself as by loved ones. But there was no doubt that it was an intense year with moments of fierce stress. My friend Trish often signs off texts with ‘Hang in there!’. Strong core was very much about hanging in there, and maintaining a sense that at some point the storm would be die down, and that work could later start on sorting, regenerating and growing.
The beginning of this year has involved a lot of sorting out the mess from after the storm. As we prepare to leave the country, we are downsizing accumulated possessions (shedding debris in a sense), dealing with paperwork, ending contracts, closing chapters. My new year is not a perfectly instagrammable picture of fresh white snow, or a blank new page. Instead, I’m living through a transition phase, not quite autumn, not quite winter, not quite spring, nor summer. White snow covered in pine needles, leaves, and storm debris.
Yesterday, a week into 2018, my mantra for the year came to me (doing yoga, again, as these things often happen): ‘honour your inner teacher’. I don’t know exactly why this is the right mantra for 2018, but it seems to fit. The year ahead is uncertain, it is about change, adventure and growth. It seems natural that I need to make space to hear and listen to whatever is to be learnt from the experiences ahead.
Here is a picture of me, embracing 2017, in the warm Andaman sea. A very welcome, special holiday, to celebrate a marriage (a late honeymoon), and a huge year.
The second half of 2016 felt like the fast lane. Working full time and studying part-time, my brain felt pushed, electrified, frazzled. I got to the end of the year, guilty about how many times I had dropped the ball with friends, about how many invitations I had turned out. Guilty about how I couldn’t manage to maintain a conversation about anything too far beyond the boundaries of the humanitarian sector. And guilty about procrastinating in my little time off, for lack of creativity or energy. No time for blogging, no mental space for creation.
The final days of 2016 were slow, sweet and quiet. I rolled out my dusty yoga mat and started to reconnect with the untended corners of my self and work through the kinks of stress. I’ve done the occasional yoga class for years, but never often enough to notice any change, or to reap more than small moments of calm. Every time I did it though, I heard a voice in my head ‘you should do this more often, you should do this more often‘.
So, I thought, as the New Year grew closer, what if I did do this more often? What if I did it every day? For 31 days? For 100 days? For a year? What would happen if I could turn down the constant whirring of my mind, shut off the demands of the day, and carve out some quiet, every, single, day?
I didn’t want to make a resolution, as resolutions inevitably fail. But I signed up to Yoga with Adriene’s January challenge, with 31 days of yoga videos. Each video, complete with a theme, emotional or inspirational, arrived in my inbox every morning. As I packed to leave on my holiday, I fitted my mat into my suitcase, along with some extra t-shirts and leggings. And suddenly I was off, and I was practicing yoga every day.
I practiced in my hotel room at 11pm after 24 hours of flying, when all I wanted to do was shower and sleep. I practiced on a balcony overlooking the Andaman sea. I practiced in the torrential tropical rain, under a giant wooden roof, in a class taught by a fierce Thai teacher. I practiced in the corner of a treetop hut, between the bed and the door, in one of the oldest rainforests in the world. I practiced on the 24th floor in my hotel room, over-looking the sun setting on Bangkok. And then I came home, and I kept going. Before work, between essay writing, last thing before bed.
Some days, all I could manage was 15 minutes of a slow, relaxed practice. Other days, 40/50 minutes of something stronger. Most days, somewhere in between. Some curious things started to happen. Instead of hearing the voice in my head ‘you should do this more often, you should do this more often‘, the voice became quieter, with less to say. I began to see change, a little more strength, better posture. I felt the millennial plague of needing to reach for my phone lessen. It became easier to listen. Easier to remember who I am, who I want to be.
Now it’s February the 14th, which means I’m 45 days in. This weekend, I went to the mountains with friends, and a few of us practiced together. My friend Tamara even took pictures of me: pictures that reveal postures to improve, feet turned slightly wrong, shoulders to relax.
I intend to keep going, both with Adriene, and with some classes. Hopefully, this will help me glide through 2017, with a little more rhythm, a little more peace, and a lot more deep breaths.
I received your letter today and you’re right friend, our blog has been ‘napping’ and our brains have been doing the exact opposite. A number of times over the past months since I last posted I have felt that I should be writing something, yet I couldn’t find the words to form a suitably coherent line of thought on the page that didn’t concern itself with my studies or the weighty contemplations that come with seeing in another year.
But it’s okay to have taken the time away from writing; if you can’t get the words out, that’s okay, leave it to one side and come back to it another time. Saying that, a few ideas have come to mind recently since I took a break from student teacher demands and shut the books away for a couple weeks and I hope to make something of them before my focus is drawn in and it all begins again next week.
So in preface to those posts, here’s what I’ve been listening to today :
I saw a clip today whilst procrastinating and scrolling through the realms of misspent time on social media and it made me smile with such intensity I was near tears.
It made me want to raise a fist and exclaim: “yes, go you! This girl is on to it!” because I so admire her honest, youthful feminist attitude to gender stereotyping and how they explicitly affect her at such a young age. Daisy hits the nail on the head when she says: ‘Everyone thinks girls should just be pretty, and boys should just be adventurous…I think this is wrong, why should boys and girls clothes even be separated because we’re just as good as each other?’ Amen sister.
Where the boys’ slogan on a tshirt reads “Think Outside The Box” and the girls’ tshirt reads “Hey” Daisy doesn’t even know what sort of inspiration she as a young girl is supposed to get from wearing a tshirt with the slogan “hey”: ‘What is that even supposed to mean…I don’t get it…what does it inspire you to do?’
My favourite part of the clip is where we see young activist Daisy with sheer joy, giggles and silliness take a stand against the separation of the clothes in the supermarket: ‘I want to be adventurous, and I think girls want to be heroes so I’m going to put them (the tshirts) in the girls section’ and off she goes; so bold, high-five Daisy.
Seeing such a reaction in a young girl is such a wonderful way to engage people in thinking about how we raise our children and the accepted labels and expectations we have for our boys and girls.
I’m reading a book that I picked up on a little bookshop in London on my birthday by Irish writer Emer O’Toole titled ‘Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently ’. This book caught my attention in the same way this clip has done so today, and both are adding to the development of my own views on gender and exploring what it means to ‘act like a girl’. I think it is very important for me to think about this not only on a personal level as a woman in the twenty first century but also the impact that my attitudes towards gender and equality will equate in my professional practice as a teacher.
To watch the trailer for ‘Captain Fantastic’ having seen the film last night, I am reminded of the poignant beauty of the endeavour which Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife set out to accomplish by raising their family off-grid and by a very different set of rules which challenge twenty-first century Western sensibilities. The film is raw and thought provoking, it nods to the human darkness and the teetering knife edge of sanity (a nod to the mother’s bipolar disorder) and crafts a tale of independent, stripped back to nature life where a father is raising his children to be “philosopher kings”. Ben Cash is either “the best father in the world or the worst” and both are possibilities as the film unfolds and we watch as the ideologies and honest truths of the Cash family life are challenged by necessary and unavoidable clashes with modern social norms and expectations.
Love and the extremities to which man will go to cultivate and defend what he believes to be right and important are central to this film. The children are raised to fend and fight for themselves, their thinking is informed and highly intelligent because they are challenged and engaged, reading Middlemarch and discussing Marxism and Noam Chomsky round the fire at night. We really see their natural spiritedness through their creativity and musicality where in one particularly poignant scene the family sing and dance around a funeral pyre on a cliff top to celebrate life, death, and love.
The film is soulful but also grates on you, you leave feeling divided about Cash’s parenting and the extent to which his love and determination borders manic extremism and potentially abusive situations, such as creating a ‘mission’ for the family to “free the food” from a supermarket; things are unravelling at the seams and the Cash family way of life entirely is called into question during the whole film. Is Ben Cash and the children’s sense of reality skewed, or are we as an audience being asked to wonder what makes our accepted social reality ‘the right way’ to view the world?
‘Captain Fantastic is not a sugary sweet ‘hippie’ tale of peace, love, and harmony and I think that the writer/director Matt Ross thoughtfully explores the adventure and possibility that life can take you on. The film is an exposition of the extent to which one can truly remove oneself from social norms and yet see the bigger picture and relate to world as a whole through negotiation and open mindedness of what is right.
I left the cinema with divided sympathies and my head a whirr of thought and wonder. ‘Captain Fantastic’ reminded me of people I met and befriended living in Byron Bay, Australia where many people choose to try to live off grid and ‘alternative’ lifestyles. The culture-clash when I first encountered some of the people in this hippie paradise subsided when I let my guard down and stopped feeling like I had to defend myself and the way that I knew life to be. In opening my mind to other ways of educating oneself and of interacting with the world, I took in new perspectives and had a re-think, which I know was a very healthy and beneficial process to go through.
When watching ‘Captain Fantastic’ I smiled thinking of my barefooted bohemian friends. The film struck my fancy on first glance not only because it reminded me of people and ways of life which I came across whilst living in Australia, but also because of my current position at the beginning of my teacher training and the insight it gave into childhood, education, and the wonderful hope for raising children to take on the world as “philosopher kings”, bringing power to the people and sticking it to the man.