Fifteen-year-old delusions and tea

When I was fifteen I read about Sylvia Plath writing in her cold flat in London, the water pipes freezing on the outside of the building because it was such a harsh winter (one of the coldest in centuries). I used to think this sounded intriguing and I daydreamed about sitting in a cold flat somewhere in the UK, typing away with fingerless mittens and drinking lots of tea. I now realise that fifteen is a delusional age.

This is the coldest it’s been in London all winter. It doesn’t compare to the minus 20 degrees and snow hammering my hometown at the moment, but it is still quite an unfortunate time for the heating in the studio to break down. So here I am typing away wearing layers of woolly jumpers, my scarf, several socks and I’m still freezing. The only thing that makes it a bit more bearable is to drink lots and lots of tea. It’s not exactly lovely or glamorous or even that interesting, but then again not many things you idolise when you’re fifteen will be.

I have learned one thing though. Tea is great.

Image by Padurariu Alexandru.

Two things on a grey Saturday in January

Anais Nin writing from Paris in 1939.

Monday war was not certain, but anguish was in the air like a poisonous fog. The calm too, the calm before the catastrophe. yesterday in the street I saw the headlines: Warsaw bombed. Now it means war. We can no longer hope for a revolution in Germany which would put an end to the war. One cannot read the signs on restaurants and movies or cafés. Rain. People colliding in the darkness. The punishment. Selfishness grown too big. The personal and historical problems insoluble because of selfishness. The world problems insoluble because of selfishness. Duality and schizophrenia everywhere. The death instinct stronger than the life instinct. Panic. A million people turned criminal because of their weakness, capable only of hatred. A million people knowing only hatred, envy and fear. War was certain. A war of horror and blackness. The drama for years enclosed within human beings, now enacted wholesale, open nightmares, secret obsessions with power, cruelty, corruption. So much corruption can only end in bloodshed. I see all this as I walk the streets, and i do not feel a part of the crime, but I will have to share in the punishment.

Hari Kunzru writing yesterday in The Guardian.

Today I feel tired. I feel depressed and afraid. Above all I feel old. Somehow this attack, with its mix of the grotesquely familiar and the unforeseen, has brought home to me in a way other recent atrocities have not, how much of my life has now been lived inside this war trapped in its logic of permanent emergency. I never want to see another man kneeling in an orange jumpsuit. I never want to stand in another security line wondering if today will be the day. I am hollowed out by disgust. I am worn down by outrage. I want to get off the damn bus.

Of course I can’t. None of us can. The war will go on until it doesn’t, until it runs out of fuel and the historians take over, arguing about who or what won. I no longer expect to see an end in my lifetime. It will take a generation, and many enormous geopolitical shifts, before the wheels of this juggernaut shudder to a halt. Until there are no more self-dramatising young men who prefer the abstraction of death to living a meaningful life, until there are no more wealthy pious bigots to fund them, until there are no more disenfranchised migrants pressed against the border fence and no more hard-faced “realists” eager to turn the war dial up to 11, this will go on and we will have to live through it.

Those of us who want to short-circuit the logic of confrontation have our work cut out. Even if the French keep their nerve, even if the state and people do not succumb to this bloody provocation, we still have to distinguish our position from compromise. Mumblings about “respect” and “avoiding giving offence” seem cowardly and dishonourable. And compromise with the jihadi position is meaningless: the jihadi is absolute because otherwise he is nothing. Without the childish simplicity of binary logic, all his power and glamour leak away, and he becomes just another lost boy, picking up a gun in the hope that it will have the answer written on the barrel.

But refusing to compromise with the jihadi does not mean becoming his mirror. When I’m stupid enough to switch on cable news here in New York, the optics are different but I hear much that is familiar. Big hair and bright teeth instead of black flags and balaclavas, but the same parochialism, the same arrogance, the same atavistic lust for violence, the same pathetic need for good guys and bad guys, to be on the winning team.

So much changes and yet so little changes. I feel sad and I feel tired too.

Modern aches and pains

This is quite a heavy post. I will talk about death. Just scroll down if this isn’t what you’d like to read about at the moment.

Earlier this year I had my heart tested. I was healthy, but anxious, my pulse rising rapidly at the sight of a doctor. Just the thought of my heart beating fast was enough to scare me. This humbling experience made me realise a couple of things; the NHS is pretty amazing; our minds can cause us a lot of heartache.

This happened after a period when everything felt so dark I started to wonder what the point really was. During this time a small voice popped up in my head every now and then. “You’re going to die today,” it said. Now this wasn’t a voice as in “who is that in the room speaking to me”, it was more like a premonition, my subconscious playing a joke on me… let’s see if she believes this. I was standing in the shower – “you’re going to die”, I was doing a live report on radio “you’re going to die.”

These constant thoughts of death and dying was making everyday life tiresome, especially since my life was otherwise going pretty well. If you had looked in from the outside you’d had wondered what all the fuss was about. I was newly married with my first book out. I should have been happy. But as most of us know, shoulds don’t really work when it comes to happiness or mental wellbeing.

I know that contemplating death is sometimes encouraged by Buddhists and Stoics. Their reasoning is that if you’re aware of death then you will appreciate living more. What’s better than staring the reality of what being alive really means in the face? Well I can easily come up with many things that are better than thinking about death all the time – ice cream, kittens, fallen eyelashes on your fingertips, kissing, a rainy day, deadlines… pretty much everything. Although that doesn’t mean I think the Buddhists and Stoics are wrong in this instance, it was my own thinking that had become a bit warped.

xfv4Ek6qRre3Ud7p9row_sylwiabartyzel_unsplash_08

Over the last fifteen months I’ve slowly climbed my way out of that valley. I stopped eating gluten (which seems to be what people do now days when they’re depressed), I started doing things (that helped a lot). I got better, happier. I started to feel more like myself again. The voice in my head stopped babbling as much.

And now I realise that during the times in my life when death has seemed like the only thing I can think about I’ve not been living fully. I’ve stopped taking risks, pursing dreams, doing things because they’re fun and I’ve become afraid. Maybe this voice was just a part of me asking “are you living fully right now, are you doing your best to get the most out of your life?”

This mood has struck me two times before. Once when I was nine and couldn’t fall asleep because all I could think about was getting or having cancer. Once after I’d moved back to Helsinki after an Erasmus year filled with infatuations, friendships and parties and it felt like my life had ended. Fear and change can cause this, fear and change that leads to me spending a lot of time by myself trying to think myself better. But just thinking isn’t going to help. Doing will help. Talking will help. Loving, laughing and living, those are the things that will help.

*I’m no expert on mental health, I’m just sharing my story. If you stumble across this on the internet because you feel like this or if you feel depressed, talk to someone (see your doctor or a counsellor), ask for help.

Top image by Yume, second image by Sylwia Bartyzel.

On the night of the election

We woke up at three in the morning, the sky was an industrial orange, heavy clouds reflecting all of London’s lights. The sound of thunder seeped into our dreams and woke us up with a start, heavy rain, thunder claps loud enough to make the whole building shake, purple flashes lighting up the sky, a plane in the distance. It’s the second time this summer a thunder storm has sat right over our house, the second time I’ve seen a storm like this up close. The air held a hint of release.

We checked our phones. The first results were in, Scotland was voting no. The storm moved on, but the rumbling echoed around us. I worried about my computer being plugged in and data being wiped out. I wondered about Scotland. I fell asleep.

This morning it was clear. There will be no independence. A million and a half bright hopes, a million and a half people wanting a different future. Today they woke up to the grey same-old. Perhaps it’s for the best, because after the sparkling change, the parties, the energy would have fizzled out, like it always does when real life seeps back into idealism. There would have been disappointment, confusion, tension, polarisation.

Big, bright change almost always means that someone will suffer. Some are more revolutionary than I am. I just want as many people as possible to live a comfortable, happy life.

In Scotland 85 percent of those who can vote, voted. People cared. If they can keep caring that will be the most important outcome of this election.

Some thoughts on apartment nostalgia

A couple of days ago I started thinking about the flat in Notting Hill where Gerry and I stayed for a summer. It was quite an annoying time, we were in-between flats, most of our belongings were stored in a metal box somewhere far away in the industrial badlands of North London. We had to commute for over an hour in cramped tube carriages to get to the studio. I didn’t know many people in Notting Hill. I often felt lost and lonely and very underdressed.

But a couple of days ago that strange thing I’m going to call “apartment nostalgia” hit me. I tend to get this a couple of years after I’ve moved from a place. I doesn’t happen with all of the places I’ve lived in, but it seems to happen to the flats and places where I didn’t feel totally comfortable.

This is what I remember now.

Notting Hill

It was a flat full of light on a lazy side street with leafy trees and eccentric neighbours. The summer was warm and the air often rain-heavy and soft. I used to lay on the bed by the window, with the blind half open, reading Anna Karenina.

The sash windows were creaky and difficult to open. If you looked out you could spy on the mad neighbour with an astro turfed balcony full of bright plastic flowers and pink plastic flamingoes.

It was often quiet. At night we only heard the wind rustling in the trees. There was an amazing shower and a small kitchen where we cooked expensive food from the local Sainsburys. I wrote a book in that flat. It wasn’t a very good book and it’s now only forgotten kilobytes on an old harddrive. But during a couple of months its pages were strewn out on the carpet on the floor in that flat.

We put all our books in the built in book shelf on one wall even though we only lived there for a couple of months. When it was time to leave there were many things to carry and pack down and the man with a van didn’t show up and then he did, but pretended he was someone else because he’d kept Gerry waiting.

We spent a summer in that flat between the royal wedding and the riots. I didn’t like it very much back then, but now it feels like a magical kind of place.

Montgomery House, Manchester

Montgomery House

I lived there for a month. It was a cold, mouldy brick mansion that according to local hearsay had once been a young offenders institution or a Victorian mental asylum. Now it was a tired hall for students who couldn’t afford to pay very much in rent. I was interning at the BBC. I was 20.

My room was small and there was water dripping from the window. I’d bought all my bedding from Primark in one mad rush after having spent the first night sleeping underneath my winter coat. I didn’t have any internet and spent the evenings reading trashy novels and playing solitaire. The other students sharing my kitchen came from Norway, Africa and South London. I didn’t speak to many of them. The kitchen had mice. I mainly ate blueberry cereal with lots of milk that turned purple and sweet.

The common room was always cold and had the same birthday party decorations blue-tacked to the windows and walls during the whole month I lived there.

Almost every day I took the bus into town. One early morning I walked and was told off because I’d crossed through the most dangerous parts of Manchester. It felt pretty safe to me.

A year earlier I had dated a boy who lived in the same halls and I thought about how funny it is that we sometimes return to the places where we’ve been, even though we never planned it or thought about returning. Life sometimes gives you a sneak peek of what’s to come.

Now it makes me feel a bit nostalgic. Perhaps I just miss the freedom of that month. Of coming back to the city where I’d spent a very happy year, not knowing anyone anymore and no one knowing me. My time was completely my own. It was a good month. I spent it walking around the city discovering new places. I spent it eating cold cereal for dinner and dreaming about the months to come.

Do you feel nostalgic about any of the places you’ve lived in? I’d love to hear your stories.