“Traditional”

It’s almost October.

You know what that means. It means damp, russet leaves underfoot and a chill in the air like a whisper telling you to make vegetable soup. It means zipping up jackets and debating whether or not you need to wear a beanie. It means gratefully pulling on your Uggs on the way out the door because they have once again become borderline acceptable, like they do every year around the time Starbucks brings out the pumpkin spice latte. It means cold fingers and early dusk and thick, knitted jumpers that feel like inanimate hugs.

I like Autumn, and I particularly like October. There is something magical about Halloween; I love that the tradition has lasted to the present day. I love the pumpkin-carving and the skeletons and the ghosts and the fireworks. I love the idea of a holiday that involves death in such a harmless way, a traditional, cultural celebration that’s a little macabre but ultimately unthreatening.

A couple of years ago, I visited family in Spain and brought with me some cartoon Halloween stickers for the kids. They were packs with the usual cast of characters – an arched cat, a laughing witch, a cheery pumpkin – and I gave them out to the younger children because it was about this same time of year, and in my experience all little kids love stickers.

Quick as a flash their dad was right there, taking them back from the children and shuffling them into a neat pile as if he were taking cards from gambling addicts about to play a game of poker. I stared at him, wondering if he intended to save them for later. Maybe he was afraid they would stick them on the dashboard of his car?

Instead, he turned, held them out to me, and stiffly said, “Thank you, but we don’t celebrate pagan holidays.”

I took them from him wordlessly and stared in disbelief as he got into the car and they drove away, a huddle of forlorn faces looking longingly out the back window at the contraband stickers in my hand.

I think about that quite a bit around this time of year, especially as the houses in my area start to get creative with their front garden decor. Some put motion-activated sensors at their gates so that anyone passing through hears rattling chains and ghoulish moans. Plastic ravens are twist-tied to trees, and small stuffed ghosties made from ping-pong balls and tissue paper dangle from invisible string. There are candles and cobwebs and paper decorations in the windows. It’s like a creepy Christmas. I LOVE it, and so do the kids. I would hate to see the tradition of trick-or-treating die away.

Last year in Spain there was a lot of controversy, because some of the traditional Three Wise Men parades that happen every January were… modified. They were adapted; secularised slightly in an professed attempt to make it more inclusive. The staunch Catholics were, of course, up in arms about it. They complained about there being a lack of respect for tradition and how it shouldn’t matter that it’s a Catholic tradition, because it’s part of the culture, and it’s for the children after all, and why can’t people just enjoy it?

Personally, I agree that traditions are important. They’re cultural touchstones. Even if the root of the tradition is something to give pause (I’m not sure American Thanksgiving is as wholesome as the name suggests, and Valentine’s Day celebrates the execution of a saint), the traditions themselves bring people together. I remember the magic of the Three Wise Men when I was a child. I remember them throwing fistfuls of sweets into the crowds, I remember the jeweled robes and the pageboys and the music and the sparkling lights. I LOVED it. I certainly didn’t stop to think about the religious undertones, in much the same way as I was largely oblivious to the pagan history of Samhain when I dressed up for Halloween.

As I listened to the Catholics on the television banging on about how people needed to think of the children and respect the beauty of tradition, I thought about the Halloween stickers. I thought about how intolerant that man had been with what amounted to a silly symbol of a strange and wonderful tradition. I wondered why people feel so threatened by beliefs other than their own, and why sometimes we can’t just allow ourselves to enjoy things that aren’t hurting anyone.

It would be nice for people to respect the beauty of tradition, but I would happily settle for people just learning to respect each other.

Childish Things

When I was a wee slip of a four year old, I remember visiting a friend and following him upstairs to a room that contained a giant cardboard box. It was long, and lay on its side, and easily took up at least half of all available floorspace in the small, book-lined room. In hindsight I suppose it had originally housed a fridge. My friend walked around to the back of the box and called for me to follow him.

I remember looking at it with all the healthy skepticism a four year old can muster. It didn’t look like anything special. In fact, it looked like it might have fallen victim to some sort of cardboard-consuming moth – it was riddled with tiny holes – but other than that it looked entirely unremarkable. I picked my way warily over stacks of books to find a small door that had been choppily cut out of the back of the box, just large enough for a small child to squeeze through without too much trouble. A flap of cardboard had been clumsily taped to the top, and this makeshift door was suddenly pushed up to reveal my friend’s face emerging from the darkness within.

“Come ON!” He said, in that urgent way children sometimes have of making the unimportant seem entirely time-sensitive. He crawled out and tried to pull me down to the floor. “Go IN!”

Dubiously I crouched and lifted up the cardboard flap. I crawled into the gloom and felt soft blankets give way beneath my palms and my knees.

“Lie down on your back!” I heard my friend’s muffled order from outside the box. “You’re in space now!”

I lay down on the blanket as instructed and looked up to find…

Space.

What had looked like a perforated box from the outside was utterly transformed on the inside. The holes were small, and numerous, and they let in just enough light to look like hundreds of stars. I felt safe in there with my gaze turned upward, my chubby child fingers roaming over the invisible blankets. It was a warm, muffled cocoon of cardboard. It was a magical box that had suddenly and efficiently transported me to deep space.

I love this memory, because for me there is so much childhood wrapped up in that instant; that abrupt suspension of disbelief, that willingness to go with the game, that ability to fully enjoy the moment no matter how small, and to make stars out of holes in a cardboard box.

The imagination of a child is so powerful. It carves adventures out of nothing and crafts stories out of nowhere. Everything makes sense; nothing is too fantastical. How can it be when they are learning so much about the world? They are being asked to learn and understand any number of mad-sounding things, what’s one more? There are giraffes, and aardvarks, and elephants… why not unicorns? Why not dragons?

As we grow, we lose a lot of our imagination. We get worried and stressed and bogged down in never-ending to-do lists. Sometimes it can be really hard to just submerge yourself in a moment and enjoy it for what it is. The word ‘fun’ has so many connotations attached; it’s supposed to be spontaneous and frivolous and silly and it drags with it a sort of blue-skies-and-primary-colours aura reminiscent of beach balls and bouncing castles. What adult has time for that on a daily basis? We’re busy people! We have work to do and people to take care of and events to plan and activities to take part in and coffee to consume!

Over time, for the most part, that aimless, pointless fun gets squeezed out of our day-to-day. It gets relegated to holidays or long weekends. It gets saved for boozy nights with friends. We get too self-conscious for silliness. Once we’ve learned to anticipate outcomes, it can be very hard to relax into the simple act of making a mess without worrying about the clean-up.

I think when you’re an adult, simple fun can get paradoxically difficult.

I also think that imagination and creativity is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it wastes away.

When we’re small we make jelly, and scones, and chocolate rice-krispie buns topped with smarties. We marble Play-Doh until the many colours come together to form a single uniform shade of murky brown. We finger paint. We make sandcastles. We twist skinny horses out of pipe-cleaners, and make butterfly paintings by lobbing paint on a page and then folding it over and pressing it down. We make daisy chains, and dance in our living rooms and it doesn’t matter that the daisy chain isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t matter that our sandcastle will be washed away by the tide, and it doesn’t matter that our dancing looks ridiculous, and it certainly doesn’t matter that the Play-Doh is brown because that just means we can make a big Play-Doh bear out of it.

I’m not saying we should put aside life and responsibility and live as adult toddlers for a week, but I think there are lessons to be learned from our past selves. Children really understand how to live in the moment in a way that we forget as we grow into adults. They understand that things don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful, and that sometimes a big mess is a small price to pay for half an hour of laughter. When we were children, we didn’t always need reasons to do the things we did. We didn’t run around the playground because it made us healthier. We didn’t make each move carefully strategising five steps ahead.  Our reasons could be as flimsy as “because I feel like it” or “because I want to.”

I know that as adults we are expected to put away our childish things. We have to be responsible, and practical. We have a lot of things cluttering up our heads and it feels like there’s barely time to do the things we have to do, much less the things we want to do.

I’m just not sure we should put away all our childish things. I think it does us good to channel our inner child sometimes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to attend a solo dance party in my living room.

…Because I feel like it!

 

 

The Best Things Come in Small Packages

I have an unfortunate bedtime habit.

It takes me what feels like twelve thousand years to get to sleep, and I would rather have my skin peeled from me in strips than lie in the dark with my thoughts, so instead I have a habit of propping my phone on its side and scrolling mindlessly through r/politics or the Aliexpress app on my phone until I fall asleep, one fingertip still pressed to the screen.

(You might be able to guess where I’m going with this…)

On more than one occasion I have woken up having purchased some truly ridiculous items are not in any way necessary to my life: a stamped metal 3D puzzle of C3PO; ten identical tongue bars; a clockwork mouse; a set of enamel dinosaur pins; 30 whale-shaped bookmarks…

…And when I say ‘on more than one occasion,’ what I really mean is ‘regularly enough that I know to check my orders first thing in the morning in case I need to cancel anything.’

If you’ve ever used Aliexpress then you know that this is not the end of the world. Most items cost under $3, and truthfully the worst that can happen is that they unexpectedly arrive two months later, like badly-packaged surprise presents to myself. They arrive wrapped in what look like black bin bags that have been hurriedly repurposed, with curiously vague, Google-translated descriptions on the custom notes such as “needle beauty” (tweezers), “claws” (hair clips), and “stationery cat” (cat stickers).

The postman who delivers these questionable acquisitions to my door is an energetic man who bounds in and out of each building with superfluous energy, cheerfully swinging his crossbody satchel like a young, fit, baby-faced Santa Claus. Instead of ringing my doorbell, he often just hollers, “HELLOOOOO!” and waits for me to appear before whipping out some small lumpy package and handing it to me. It’s a loud and interesting interaction that often breaks up my day.

So, here I must rewind and explain that about two months ago I ordered a space hopper. That part is a long story so to shorten it I will just say two things:

  • This was only a half-asleep purchase; I did in fact sort of kind of maybe mean to buy a space hopper. I probably wouldn’t have bought it while wide awake but the fact remains that I made no move to cancel this order.
  • It was not for actual space hopping, it was for a craft project*.

By the time it arrived I had forgotten I had ever ordered it.

Last week, the postman bellowed his usual greeting and I popped my head out the door only to see him pull an irregularly shaped, flat, floppy package from his satchel. He handed it to me and, in an attempt to remember what it might possibly be, I flipped it over and read the description aloud:

“Toy balls.”

Except that even as I started reading it, my eyes had already jumped ahead to the next word. I could tell it was going to sound wrong. I suddenly remembered the space hopper, but I had already started reading and didn’t feel like I could really stop mid-word. My reluctance to finish the phrase slowed my speech down considerably, and so it wound up sounding more like:

“Toyyy….. baaaaaaallllllls……”

Followed by an awkward silence that stretched between us the way the Sahara desert stretches between the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

I looked up and locked eyes with the postman over this limp black bin bag. He slowly nodded in amused sympathy.

“We were wondering down at the post office what that could possibly be, alright!” He said, eventually, when the awkward moment had stretched for so long that time had lost all meaning and we had simply become two blushing inanimate objects in an uncomfortable still life.

My mind flashed through a series of possibilities as to how this might play out. Should I open the package so he could see it wasn’t anything questionable? I could, but then I would have to unfold and reveal a lurid pink space hopper. And then I would have to explain the space hopper, which honestly almost makes me sound more insane than if I’d ordered something vague but kinky all the way from China. Or worse, he might think the space hopper itself was for vague but kinky purposes…

At this point we had been staring at each other for so long I was starting to feel like we had unwittingly entered into a relationship, so I just squeaked, “Thanks!” and dashed back inside with my “toy balls”.

I am now avoiding the postman, and I am also avoiding Aliexpress at night because clearly I cannot be trusted with late-night purchases or people.

Such is life.

Happy Friday, guys.

*The space hopper was too small for my craft project, and so was gifted to a small child who can actually use it for hopping.

 

“Relationships are Hard Work”

“Relationships are hard work.”

How many times would you say you’ve heard that phrase in your life? People say it to each other all the time; over coffee, over cocktails, in the middle of long, exasperated venting sessions and at the end of despairing exclamations. I’ve said it, and I’ve heard it, and every time there’s a nod of understanding and agreement, because it’s just vague enough to sound accurate.

Recently though, I’ve come to realise that the phrase isn’t specific enough to be true.

It’s a bit like when people say, “Well, sure we fight, but all couples fight.”

I always nod. They both sound pretty straightforward, but the truth is that actually they’re blanket statements broad enough to cover a multitude of realities, and I think we sometimes don’t realise that until far too late.

I was once in a really unhealthy relationship.

I remember the feeling of being stuck in the Swamp of Sadness that was my life at that point, the feeling of our relationship being an endless slog. It would be okay, and then slowly it would be less okay, and then not okay at all, and then terrible, and then there would be an explosive argument with tears and shouting and accusations and apologies…

And then we would be back to the start of the cycle and things would be okay again for a short while. You know, before it all went south – again – like it did every time. Everything felt difficult. If I tried to fix things or communicate why I was so unhappy I was “picking a fight” or ruining everything with my “complaining.” If I kept quiet in an attempt to keep the peace, then I had to swallow down so much resentment I almost choked on it, and everything was tainted by the knowledge that it was fake. All of it. Our smiles were fake, because they were smiles papering over the fact that things weren’t okay. Our memories were fake, because the thread of misery was there running through them all like the long, lit fuse of a bomb leading to inevitable destruction. I loved him, but it hurt, and it was hard, and I felt like I was pouring myself into a pit with no bottom, losing myself in suffocating darkness.

Every time I burst into frustrated tears, mired in this misery, I would say these two phrases over and over to myself like a mantra:

“Relationships are hard work.”

“All couples fight.”

These two phrases reassured me, they consoled me, they made me feel less alone… but they were so undefined. They were elastic phrases that stretched and stretched until I felt they covered my experiences. I know for a fact that they cover many more. 

Since then, there’s been a lot of life happening. I’ve been careful to keep my eyes wide open, and I still hear those phrases but now, for me, they have definitions.

Relationships are hard work. They’re hard work because they involve being less selfish, and always taking someone else into consideration. They’re hard work because they involve thoughtfulness and respect and kindness towards somebody else and as human beings we don’t always feel that way inclined. Sometimes we’re tired or grumpy or we’ve had a bad day or we’re in pain and we want to snap at anyone who looks at us sideways, and on those days it’s work to rise above it. They’re hard work because you have to do things for someone else, and sometimes they’re things you don’t want to do. They’re hard work because maybe they have a habit that drives you up the wall and back down the other side but you love them, so you work to ignore it. They’re hard work because all of your time is no longer your own and you have to learn to compromise. They’re hard work because life is full of unforeseen bumps in the road and sometimes you will have to carry the slack, and sometimes they will have to do the same. They’re hard work, but they’re not slavery. It’s not supposed to be constant misery. It’s not supposed to be something you put your all into without getting anything back.

Relationships are hard work but if you have it right, they’re hard work that you enjoy and get paid well for. 

It’s hard work that’s worth the effort. Your payment comes in the form of receiving the same effort from your partner; you’re repaid in support and respect and love and kindness and thoughtfulness. You’re repaid in knowing that someone has your back, that you’ve got a teammate in this Life Race and that you guys meet in the middle.

Which brings us to the second phrase.

“All couples fight.”

This is such a strange phrase. Let’s change it to, ‘All couples disagree.’ I think that’s a fair statement. All couples disagree. I think it’s also fair to say that all couples can get pretty heated when they’re disagreeing about something important to them, so I guess you could call that a fight.

I think that the word ‘fight’ has something more aggressive to it though. The word ‘fight’ makes me think of shouting, name-calling, throwing things and losing control, and if that’s the definition then no, I don’t think all couples fight. All couples can have disagreements, discussions, even arguments… but fights? Fights that are verbal altercations that end with one or both people crying, or someone having to apologise for having said something purposely hurtful out of anger? If this is something that happens regularly in your relationship, that’s a problem. If that’s what you mean when you say, “We fight, but all couples fight,” then you need to reassess. Not all couples fight dirty. Not all couples fight like that. That kind of unhappiness should only happen extremely rarely, if ever. The basic respect that you have for each other as people shouldn’t slip just because you have strong feelings about opposing views. You can be frustrated and angry and upset and still mindful of what you’re saying. 

If you’re angry and you lash out and say something that’s hurtful – even if it’s untrue – you’re not only hurting them. Once you’ve said something, you can never unsay it. They can never unhear it. You can apologise, but that doesn’t erase it. I really think that’s something more people could keep in mind. Sharp words hurt both of you. They chip away at what’s between you until there’s nothing left.

When I think about Past Me, I feel both sympathetic and annoyed.

I feel sympathy because she was so confused, and so miserable, and trying so hard in such futile ways. I feel sympathy because she didn’t know any better, and she was so, so in love. I feel sympathy because I know she did her best, even if her best was a disastrous emotional mess.

I feel annoyed because it took her so long to read the writing on the wall. It took her so painfully long to dig up the last scrap of her confidence from wherever it had been buried. It took her so long to realise that their relationship wasn’t a winding path, but a closed loop that wouldn’t – couldn’t – go anywhere. It took her so long to stop believing the nonsense.

Nonsense like, “relationships are hard work.”

Nonsense like, “all couples fight.”

 

DISCLAIMER: This is what I’ve learned from personal experience and that is none of this is to say I have it all figured out, because I don’t. I wish I did. If I had it all figured out I would be living on a private island somewhere with a small herd of pet alpacas and maybe a beehive so I could have a continuous supply of honey. I would never have any unpleasantness in my life, everything would be easy, every day would be sunny, and I would never have to consider the pros and cons of having cereal for dinner for the third day in a row.

Life Skills Unlocked: Being a Girl

I can still remember the exact moment when I decided that being a girl was bullshit.

I had spent my first few formative years generally unfazed by gender roles. Sure, I had to wear horrendous dresses on special occasions, and that seemed unfair. My brother wore shirts and shorts and ran around like a loon while I wore dresses with collars that could have doubled as bibs and faced instant restrictions.

“Don’t sit like that.”

“Don’t get dirty.”

“No, you can’t climb trees in a dress.”

My best friend was a boy we’ll call P, and together we would spend afternoons watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and made dramatic explosion sounds as we mashed his Micro Machines into the carpet. We rollerskated in the church carpark beside his home, falling hard and getting back up again, wincing when we had to brush the grit and gravel out of our grazes.

As we grew older, things started to feel different. I remember trying not to be upset when P’s older brothers told me I couldn’t play football with them because I was a girl*. I didn’t really understand it at the time. We were the same, after all. I could do all the things P could do. I could do some of those things better than P could. I didn’t understand being made to sit on the sidelines – literally – to watch the boys. It annoyed me.

I spent long summer evenings scrabbling in the dirt with my brother and our friend A, making a ‘den’ in the bushes by the train tracks. We cleared the area with all the finesse of adolescent gorillas, then swept it clear of leaves with “brushes” made from branches. We dug seats into the slope of the earth, and sat under the canopy of Rowan trees to talk about films or music or school or cartoons. I didn’t feel any different most of the time…

But still.

I noticed that in general there were expectations of me that didn’t extend to my brother. I was expected to be quieter. More patient. More obedient. More gentle. More pleasant. I couldn’t sit cross-legged or sprawled out on the floor, I had to sit with my knees together. I couldn’t laugh as hard. I couldn’t shout as loud. My clothes were less comfortable. My pockets were smaller.

It annoyed me.

For a long time I thought it was because my brother was younger than me. I thought maybe he was allowed to have more fun because he was the baby. It didn’t cross my mind that he was allowed to have more fun because he was a boy.

I was sent to an all-girls school. I collected worms at break time. I made friends with the groundskeeper and followed him around until my teacher, probably concerned about impropriety, pulled me away and told me off. I made friends with a quiet French girl with an apple orchard in her garden, and spent a lot of time after school hanging upside down from the trees until my head felt both heavy and light at the same time.

I started to notice double standards. When boys talked about each other they were “venting”. When girls did it they were “gossiping.” When guys did something funny but malicious it was “banter.” If a girl did it she was “being a bitch.” The expectations I’d noticed when I was younger seemed to spread. The clothes got tighter and less comfortable. Some of the pockets disappeared altogether.

And then one day, I woke up feeling terrible. Every part of me hurt, and I felt heavy and sad, as if I’d had an awful nightmare that I couldn’t quite remember but that had left behind an emotional hangover of epic proportions. After breakfast I still felt strange. I went to the bathroom and closed the door. Taking a deep breath, I pulled my trousers down and found blood. Just… a lot of blood. I stared blankly at it. I didn’t know where it had come from or why it was there. I supposed I was probably dying. I didn’t know what to do, so I cleaned it up as best I could and then carefully folded up some toilet paper and put it in my underwear.

I walked around in a haze for about five minutes, wondering how I should break the news to my parents. I was pretty resigned to this fate of death by unexplained blood loss; my main concern was how to bring it up with my mother. Eventually I decided I had to tell her, and I caught her elbow as she was going up the stairs.

“Something is wrong with me,” I said.

“What?”

“There’s blood…” I trailed off uncomfortably.

She looked at me and then pulled me to the bathroom, where she told me that actually this is just something that happens and handed me a sanitary pad from the top of her wardrobe.

My mind was exploding. This was a thing? I had always thought bleeding was bad, but now I was being told that sometimes bleeding was just a normal occurrence. I unwrapped the sanitary pad and stared at it. It looked like it had been cut out of a baby’s nappy. I put it in my underwear. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there. I tried not to cry.

Half an hour later, I was out on the street, bursting with questions for my mother. Why did this happen? Why hadn’t it happened before? When would this happen again? How long does it go on for?

She was very matter of fact with me. She said it would last a few days.

“A few days?!”

She said it would happen every month.

Every month?!”

Every month for the rest of forever, pretty much.

“FOREVER?!?!?!”

She told me not to make a big deal out of it, that it happened to everyone. That made me feel better, briefly, until she added, “Well, not to boys. Only to girls.”

And as I walked uncomfortably down the street with tears of self-pity pouring down my face, trying to absorb the fact that I was going to be in pain and bleeding for a few days every. single. month. for the rest of my life. I just remember thinking:

‘It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not FAIR.’

…Which was a succinct representation of how I felt at the time, but if I’d had the vocabulary back then, it would simply have been:

‘Being a girl is bullshit.’

‘Being a girl is BULLSHIT. What kind of a hellish design flaw is that? I have to be okay with feeling like my insides are being pulled out of me with a rusty coat hanger every month like clockwork for about the next four decades? I have to be uncomfortable and in pain and bleeding almost 500 times in my life and I have to expect it, and prepare for it? And I can’t even go swimming because of the weird nappy thing, and who the hell designed this anyway because I HATE it, this thick, squishy, crunchy piece of plastic that makes me feel like I’m walking around with a pool noodle between my thighs. And the reason I have to deal with this blight on my life is so that one day I can experience the “miracle of childbirth,” which is to say that someday I will get to feel like I’m being ripped apart as I squeeze something larger than my own head out of myself? Am I crazy to think it is TOTAL BULLSHIT that boys don’t have to deal with any part of this? Who came up with this plan anyway?’

I watched boys my age running around, blissfully ignorant of my predicament, and I burned with jealousy. I lay in bed that night crying, thinking, ‘I just want to be a boy. Can I just be a boy? Please make me a boy. I just want to be a boy.‘ If I’d known about people being transgender at the time I think I would have jumped on that in a heartbeat, such was the level of my distress. I felt incredibly hard done by. All along someone had been picking teams and somehow, without my noticing, I felt like I’d ended up on the wrong one.

And then… adolescence. And breasts. And boys. And when I was sixteen walking home from a temp job, a man in his thirties stopped his car in the middle of traffic to jump out and give me his number and I felt simultaneously flattered – because I had never felt pretty before – and frightened. I bumbled my way through this part of my life by testing limits and pushing boundaries. Can I do this? Yes. And this? Yes. And this? No, too far. Okay, roll it back, let’s go back to the beginning.

I came to terms with things eventually. I discovered the soothing effects of maximum strength ibuprofen, and the undetectable magic of tampons. Later still, I came to recognise the wonderful world of back-to-back-to-back birth control packets, which allowed me to live my dream of almost never having to deal with the horror of periods. I grew past the age of having to wear dresses and reached an age of actually wanting to wear them every so often. I developed a fondness for eyeliner.

I still prefer jeans to dresses, though. I still think girls get a raw deal biologically speaking. I miss Micro Machines, especially the ones that changed colour in the bathtub. I miss baggy cargo pants with multiple pockets. I have feminine moments, but I suppose for the most part many would call me a tomboy. I don’t keep up with the Kardashians, but I like to keep up with rugby and romcoms and Formula 1. I like glitter, but I don’t like bows. Yesterday I made a tray of blondies because baking is my therapy, and the day before that I spent six hours taking sixteen ball bearings apart, cleaning them, degreasing them, lubricating them and then putting them back together. I’ve kissed some boys. I’ve kissed some girls.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think there’s a right way to be a girl. Or a boy, for that matter. I am who I am, and no knees-together seated situation in a floral dress is going to change that. On balance, I may like traditionally “masculine” things more than “feminine” things a lot of the time, but who decided on those categories anyway?

The idea of “being a girl” brings with it a whole wheelbarrow’s worth of stereotypes. Being a girl means being sugar and spice and all things nice (because that’s what little girls are made of), and wearing pink and frilly things and ribbons and bows and manicures and elegance and ladylike behaviour and a slim figure and a sweet voice and a pleasing manner and NO POCKETS and uncomfortable clothes and no-make-up make-up and being a smart (but not too smart), clean and tidy human who always looks lovely and is kindness personified.

The whole idea of “being a girl” is bullshit if you buy into those tropes and compare them to the freedom of boys to be comfortable and have roomy pockets and be loud and adventurous and competitive.

Happily, it turns out that you can be a girl without any of that. Or with only some of that, if you prefer. OR all of it if that’s what makes you happy! You can pick and choose your interests, your lover, your wardrobe, your life. You can mix it up and try all the different forms of being a girl if that brings you joy. You can be flexible. Despite how it may have seemed to a younger me, there are no rules. That’s the great thing about it; it’s all optional!

Except periods.

Unfortunately, those are still pretty mandatory.

 

*To this day there are few things that make my blood pressure spike as much as when guys go silent or hold their tongue because I’ve suddenly joined the group, saying “Oh… I don’t want to say… I mean, there are ladies present.” WHAT IS THAT? As if somehow because I have different genitals I couldn’t possibly hear a sex joke without swooning, or allow my tiny delicate ears to hear an interesting story without thinking those involved are perverted deviants. Is there anything more obnoxious? It’s like the adult verbal equivalent of a ‘BOYS ONLY’ club…

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Hamilton: The Experience

We took our velvet-covered, straight-backed seats and looked around the auditorium. People streamed in the doorways, ribbons of colour; no narrow demographic here. They were young, old, white, black, businessmen in suits and ties, and purple-haired teenagers in leggings and grimy converse runners.

A lady in her mid-fifties took the seat next to mine. A woman with an asymmetric pixie cut and severe black glasses sat in the row in front. I leaned back and enjoyed the slow wooden percussion of seats being pulled down, the rustle of people settling in, ready for the show. Behind us, a girl in her twenties bounced into her seat clutching a bag of merchandise, her parents behind her beaming with joy. The lights dimmed. The theatre quietened. The music kicked in.

As the opening song came to an end, I was already twitching in my seat. The girl behind us had turned into a musical echo, muttering every lyric just slightly out of time. Her words, breathed out in an awed whisper just loud enough to be heard over the music from the stage, were distracting to the point of physical discomfort. When the closing line of “ALEXANDER HAMILTON!” was parroted behind us in a hissed, urgent whisper, my shoulders snapped up into a defensive posture of displeasure.

There was a blessed millisecond of silence.

I rolled my shoulders, trying to coax them back down from my earlobes.

The auditorium erupted into ecstatic applause. The girl, unfettered by the roar of noise around her, leapt to her feet and proceeded to give a standing ovation of rapturous enthusiasm.

“WHOOOOOOOOO!” She bellowed. “WHOOOOOOO! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

My fingernails dug into the velvet pile. I resisted the urge to grab her plastic bag of merchandise and pull it over her head.

The next song started and she sat back down, leaning all the way forward until her face came to a stop unsettlingly close to Scrubs’ ear. She whispered her way through the next song, pausing at:

“I was seeking an accelerated course of study
When I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours;
I may have punched him… it’s a blur, sir.
He handles the financials?”
“You punched the bursar?”
“Yes!”
It’s no exaggeration to say she almost choked with laughter.
The rest of the song alternated between whispered rapping and hysterical laughter at every mildly amusing line. At one point, unable to restrain myself any longer, I turned in my seat to stare at this Hamiloonie. Her lips were parted and her eyes were shining – shining! – with euphoria. She looked for all the world like one of those children you see in the Disneyworld ads, with the slow-motion fireworks reflected in their eyeballs as their mouths form tiny Os of wonder.
 
Giving her up as a lost cause, I turned my gaze to her parents, who were smiling adoringly at their (presumably only) child as she clutched her bag of Hamilton t-shirts and pins and phone covers and booklets and muttered along in hushed tones that were not nearly hushed enough for anybody in a five seat radius. I narrowed my eyes. I tried to glare daggers. I tried to glare daggers with inscriptions on them that read, ‘CONTROL YOUR CHILD. CONTROL YOUR ADULT CHILD BEFORE I STRANGLE HER WITH A HAMILTON LANYARD.”
 
They didn’t blink. They deflected my eyeball daggers with a strong force-field of love for their daughter, ignorance of my plight and stratospheric levels of self-absorption.
 
By ‘You’ll Be Back,’ my boiling rage had turned to a simmer. Her delirious laughter had dulled my senses and a small and uncharitable part of me had started to believe she wasn’t all there. ‘Poor thing,’ I thought, tilting my head away from the mumbling so that I looked like a King Charles Spaniel with a neck deformity. ‘This is probably her one supervised day out from the musical addiction rehab facility.
 
Her enthusiasm for each and every line of the performance was both commendable and impressive, but it was (unfortunately) definitely not infectious.
 
As somebody who had purchased tickets for this show over a year in advance, and who had listened to the soundtrack multiple times, I considered myself, you know, a fan. I think Hamilton is an extremely well-crafted musical! The lyrics are sharp, the melodies are catchy, and the characters are memorable. All of this to say, I didn’t enter the Victoria Palace Theatre with an indifferent attitude. I arrived ready to enjoy myself.
 
I was not ready, however, for the back of my head to be pummeled by the waves of exhilaration coming off this girl in the seat behind us. I was not ready to simultaneously experience Hamilton: The Musical and also Hamilton: The Breathily-Whispered Performance From a Seated Position in the Upper Balcony. I was not ready to have the amusement of every mildly funny line cut through with screaming, manic laughter, or to have every tender scene building up to a moment of sorrow hijacked by loud, hacking sobs.
 
When we reached the interval, Scrubs and I practically sprinted to the relative tranquility of the corridor – the only place we could find blissful silence – to shakily recover from the assault on our senses.
 
I started the second half of the musical in a dull, numb stage of acceptance. Clearly there was no saving this experience. I thought about asking her to be quiet, but one look at her face told me I couldn’t bring myself to be the one to pull her down from her personal Nirvana. From the looks I shared with the middle-aged lady beside me, I obviously wasn’t the only one with the same thought. During particularly enthusiastic mumbling from the back, she glanced at the girl, raised her eyebrows at me and shrugged her shoulders. ‘At least she’s enjoying herself,‘ I could hear her thinking.
 
I shrugged back, a silent gesture encompassing a multitude of emotions.
Towards the end of the play, (SPOILER ALERT) Alexander’s life comes to its inevitable end. You know it’s coming from the moment the play begins and still, it’s sad. It gets pretty emotional. When I listen to the soundtrack, I often skip over the ending because I don’t want to feel heartbroken for Eliza Hamilton.
 
On this occasion skipping the ending wasn’t really an option.
 
This time the sniffles started long before the sad notes kicked in. Our friend from the row behind was suffering well before anything tragic had taken place. As the music slowed and things started to take a dark turn, the sniffles grew to whimpers, and by the time an emotional blow had actually been dealt, the whimpers had become full, seat-clutching, body-wracking sobs. Her howls of sadness were punctured only by gasps as she desperately inhaled so as not to drown on her own tears.
 
I tried – I swear to God I tried – to stop myself, but I couldn’t help it.
 
I started to giggle.
 
And then I couldn’t stop.
 
My shoulders shook as I bit down on my lip in an attempt to stifle the laughter. I covered half my face with my hand, stealing a glance at the lovely woman beside me to see how she was faring. To my relief, she was just far enough away from the girl to have escaped this latest explosion of emotion. She was absorbed in the musical, her eyes wide and glinting with tears.
 
A keening wail erupted behind me. I snorted with laughter, then swallowed it down awkwardly in an attempt to make it sound like a choking sob. I was desperate to hide my laughter because it felt disrespectful, like giggling at a wake.
 
Unfortunately, it was a relentless assault; the girl was inconsolable.
 
If she had been Eliza Hamilton herself, she could not have been more earnestly devastated by Alexander’s death. Each sound, each distraught utterance from behind us sent me into a fresh wave of convulsions. I hunched over, hiding my face, hoping my shaking shoulders just made me look like any other member of the audience overcome with emotion, weeping into my hands.
 
Honestly I think my hysteria was partly fueled by the relief of knowing that our ordeal was almost over.
 
I turned away from the lady beside me – hoping to spare her the realisation that I was in fits of giggles – only to bump shaking shoulders with Scrubs, who by now was himself silently laughing into a tightly clenched fist. I looked up at him, he looked down at me, and that was a mistake of course, like throwing petrol on a fire. It only made things that much worse. I started crying with laughter from the effort of hiding it. There we were, both of us in tears, surrounded by people crying from actual emotion.
 
I felt like a terrible person.
 
By the time the cast had taken their bows and left the stage (to a standing ovation – they really were amazing), Scrubs and I were desperate to escape. We left the building in a sort of traumatised silence, breathing the night air in with gulping breaths, afraid to say a word until we’d left the theatre far behind us.
We decompressed with some wine and late-night pizza in the only place we found open. There was less discussion about the musical itself than there was about that girl’s slow but relentless goal to drive us all the way around the bend and back again. The show was great, but it just could not compete with the drama taking place in the row behind us.
Now that some time has passed, what did I think of Hamilton the Musical?
It was an experience.

The Upside of Adulting

I walk around town aimlessly.

I do that sometimes. I don’t much like going for scenic walks by myself; I don’t like to be left alone with my thoughts. I would much rather be distracted by the eyecatching chaos of capitalism. So I head into town and I wander around running my hand over sequin scales and plush velvet and thick, cosy cashmere. I stumble up and down streets until my legs get tired, with nowhere particular in mind and earphones on to block any potential social interaction with the international sign for ‘BUSY’. I walk around town aimlessly, and sometimes I stumble on treasures.

Usually these are food-related, because I am a hungry hippo in the body of a short brunette.

On Thursday, it was a 1kg jar of Nutella.

The lid on the jar says “Start your day with Nutella!” and I have been diligently following this excellent nutritional advice. Who am I to argue with dietary guidance from a jar of chocolate spread? It may not physically be good for me, but every morning I pull out a teaspoon, dig it into the jar, shove it in my mouth and smile. I’m an adult, and one of the great things about being an adult is that I can choose to have Nutella for breakfast. 

Sometimes adulting has an upside!

 

*This is not a sponsored post. I absolutely wish. Can you imagine anything sweeter (pun intended) than a Nutella sponsorship? I would never be able to donate blood again because I would have Nutella running through my veins instead. Good for my mood, bad for my health.

 

The Sticking Point

I don’t know if you have ever heard of the Bodies exhibition. 

It is an exhibition of real human bodies – dissected, plastificated – which has been touring the world for years now, and I visited it when it happened to be in Madrid, Spain. It was astonishing; human anatomy as I had never seen it. Maps of blood vessels and arteries, stiffened and displayed between slabs of clear acrylic. Skeletons in motion. Muscles, lungs, and other organs exposed to my curious eyes in a way that seemed slightly indecent. I kept having to remind myself that once upon a time these were people, real people. They had lived and loved and laughed and died and somehow they had ended up here, frozen forever in a frisbee-throwing pose or sliced into sections for intrigued spectators. A modern side-show.

Although I was much younger then, I still remember the black fabric-draped tent in one corner of the hall. A sign by the doorway warned those with sensitive dispositions to turn away. I passed the sign with barely a glance and entered into a long, narrow, spotlit room with numerous glass containers forming a line down the centre. Each glass container held one unborn human, from visible embryo to fully-formed baby. A sign on the wall explained that each specimen had been donated after a miscarriage. The room was sombre and silent, and I remember feeling a wave of sadness for the parents, and the amount of potential happiness and life that had died only to be preserved forever in these glass canisters.

I walked along the rows, reading the signs and looking at these unborn babies. The first few look like tadpoles. Then indistinct shapes with clouded eyes. Then embryos that looked like they might become baby rabbits. As I continued down the row of glass canisters I could see the development, the growth, the unfolding of a new human. The last one looked just like a newborn baby. It had hair, and fingernails. It floated, suspended in the solution, and the circumstances that had led to me standing there, looking this unborn boy in the face struck me as both grotesque and strangely serene, fascinating and utterly depressing.

I tell you all this because I want you to appreciate that I understand what is at stake. I am not ignorant of the facts. I am not blind to the sadness of the situation. I know what an unborn baby looks like; I have seen it with my own eyes.

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In 1983, in an Ireland where abortion was already illegal, a constitutional subsection was voted in giving the unborn an equal right to life to the pregnant woman carrying it. This was intended to safeguard the unborn against any possible ramifications of the Roe vs Wade ruling across the pond. Making abortions extra illegal seemed important in a Catholic Ireland where people still could not buy condoms without a prescription*.

One week from now, Ireland will be asked to vote on whether to remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

The no campaign has, as you can probably imagine, been extremely organised and well-funded. Their message is simple, and blunt, and effective: if you vote no, you are saving  babies. If you vote yes, you are paving the way to eugenics, and voting for the mass murder of innocents. They mention the decreased number of people born with disabilities in societies with legalised abortion. They discuss ‘contraceptive abortions’ borne solely of convenience. They talk of babies yawning and sucking their thumbs in the womb. They speak of women who have had abortions and later regretted it. 

The yes campaign for this referendum has been scattered, divided, and comparatively disorganised. I don’t think this is a problem with the campaign, as much as it is a problem with the issue at hand; there are many different reasons why people might vote yes, and not all of them mesh well with others.

Some will vote yes because they agree with the idea of legal abortion being accessible.

Some will vote yes because they trust women to make the best decision for themselves and their situation.

Some will vote yes because they find it hypocritical that Ireland continues to outlaw abortion*, while legalising travel to the UK for the same purpose.

Some will vote yes because they think it inhumane that a couple dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality must travel abroad if they want an early termination.

Some will vote yes because they don’t want anyone else – or they themselves – to become the next Savita.

Some will vote yes because they think rape victims should not have to carry a resulting pregnancy against their will.

Some will vote yes because they believe the lives of living, loving, thinking, breathing adult women should not be equal in value to that of ‘the unborn,’ because ‘the unborn’ is very vague; is that the unborn, newly fertilised egg? Is it the unborn embryo, bean-sized, dependent on the mother? Is it the 25-week old unborn baby? Is it all of the above? If it is not, then where is the line? The placement of that line is controversial and, depending on the individual, can be based on personal, religious or scientific reasons.

Some will vote yes for all of the above reasons, and some for a combination of only some of the above.

“We can’t focus on the hard cases,” is something I’ve heard often in the run-up to this referendum. “Not when 95% of abortions are not hard cases. Not when most abortions are done for the sake of convenience.”

I have feelings about this perception that women are getting abortions the same way they’d get their nails done. I have feelings about it, but for me it’s not the main issue.

The sticking point, for me, is this:

What if I’m that woman?

What if my wanted, yearned for, unborn baby is diagnosed with some awful condition that means that although I might carry it to term, he or she will die, suffering, within seconds, minutes, hours of being born? What if I have to endure nine months of well-meaning questions from strangers, each kindly remark about an impossible future cutting through me like a knife through my soul? What if I want an abortion to save my unborn baby (and yes, myself) the suffering? Would you think it fair and reasonable that I should have to fly to England, where I would then – like so many other women – have to make decisions about where to go, where to stay, and what to do so far from home with the remains of my very much wanted, heartrendingly loved child?

And what if I am raped? It doesn’t matter by who. An old friend. A man in a dark alleyway. A relative. A stranger with a knife at my throat. I am raped and now I am pregnant. I am already struggling to cope with this awful thing that has happened to me, and now I am pregnant with a daily reminder. Crying, I confide in you. I tell you that I can’t do this. That I’m not mentally strong enough. That perhaps I can overcome sexual assault but I cannot overcome it if I have to carry within my body the result of this rape for the better part of a year. Would you think it fair and reasonable that I should have no choice?

And what if I am diagnosed with cancer, and I am pregnant, and I want to live? What if my doctor tells me that because I am not at imminent, immediate risk of dying, they will have to work around my pregnancy, give me treatment that is less effective, but also less likely to kill my unborn baby? What if they tell me that early, aggressive treatment will cure me but that I cannot access this treatment unless I get a termination abroad? Because my life is equal to that of my ten-week old developing foetus, they cannot harm it any more than they can intentionally harm me. Never mind that inaction will indirectly harm me. Legally, their hands are tied. I must be dying, and not only dying in a long-term manner; I must be dying enough to warrant intervention. What if the time it takes me to carry this pregnancy to term is the time the cancer needs to become terminal? What if I don’t want to take that risk? Would you think it fair and reasonable that I not have a say? 

I have spoken about this to people who are thinking of voting no, and they pat me on the arm and say, in what is meant to be a reassuring tone of voice, “Stop worrying about these things. They almost definitely will never happen to you. The chances are so, so small. These “hard cases” only happen to about 1000 women every year.” And every time I hear this I feel frustrated and upset that I have not managed to communicate my point effectively. 

I’m not worried that it will happen to me.

It’s not about me.

It’s about you.

It’s about you, and how you would react to my being in these situations. It’s about how you would feel if it were someone you know. It’s about whether the needle on your moral compass starts to shake with uncertainty if that one ‘hard case’ is you, or your mother, or your sister, or your best friend, or your cousin, or your daughter. If I become a “hard case” – or, God forbid, you – what does it matter to either of us how many other people are trapped in this same private hell? What does it matter if it is five? Or fifty? Or a hundred? Or a thousand?

It’s about the women that this is happening to right now along the length and breadth of the country. As I am to my friends and family, those women are to others. They are loved. They have people around them who are impacted by their joys and sorrows. Their tragedies unfurl like drops of ink in water, dispersing and turning everything around them a shade darker.

It’s about why the statistics and percentages and numbers of ‘hard cases’ don’t make a difference to me. I don’t think there should even be one couple crying, leaving the ashes of their baby in Liverpool because they can’t afford to courier the remains home. I don’t think there should even be one victim of rape forced to sacrifice their health – mental or physical or both – to carry the resulting unwanted pregnancy to term. They should have the choice to do what they feel is best for their lives.  We should have the compassion to allow them to make that choice.

In one week, Ireland will be asked to vote on whether we should remove the 8th amendment from the constitution.

I will be voting yes.

*Condoms and other forms of contraception were fully illegal until 1980, and then legal only with a prescription until as late as 1985. 

**Abortion currently carries a 14 year prison sentence.

Over and Under

Here is something I’ve noticed lately:

When my confidence is up, my clothes change.

Not the basic fundamentals – I am still a jeans-and-baggy-jumper girl whatever the weather – but the colours shift alarmingly. The black, navy and grey that dominate my wardrobe in the winter months give way to appallingly eyecatching colours. Suddenly I find baby blue garments nestling conspicuously next to the navy, or a vibrant pink sweater appears, garishly singular amongst all the black.

Even though I’m the one who bought them, they still catch me off guard. Most days I see them and quickly slide the hangers over to hide the cocky colours from view. I reach for the baggy navy jumper and the jeans.

Some days, though… Some days I reach for the pink. I pull it over my head and I feel like a softer version of myself. The colour smooths out my rougher edges and tones down the harshness in my head.

It’s hard to be a prickly badass in baby pink.

In my mind, the different hues have attitudes, and the attitudes permeate the wearer. Baby pink, for example, is non-confrontational and gentle and feminine. Yellow is a particularly arrogant colour. Orange is exhibitionist. Red is confidence and sex, kneaded together, squeezed, and distilled into a colour. Lilac is unthreatening. White is eye-poppingly self-assured. Deep purple is heavy-lidded desire, thick and syrupy. I tend towards the cooler end of the spectrum; the blues and greens that make me feel like a human waiting room. ‘Be calm,’ they say. ‘Be cool.’ The clothes are simple. No weird straps here. No highlighter hues or trendy cut outs. No ribbons, no ruffles, no prints.

My underwear drawer, on the other hand, is like a pride parade.

There are yellow lingerie sets, there are sets with cut-outs, there are purple, red, blue sets. There are sets that take fifteen minutes to get into, because it takes me that long to figure out which straps go where. There are sets that are definitely less rather than more, and others that require a full battalion of accessories. There are even sets with (whisper it) ruffles. I don’t care. I love them all. My underwear drawer is a safe place. These are the hidden things, the secret moods, the shimmering, playful undercurrents that lie beneath the black.

I’m sure that a psychologist would have a field day with this sartorial metaphor, or the way I reach for things without thinking, my mind a blissful blank, only to later realise my mood exactly matched what I wore that day, over and under.

For now, I’ll keep an eye on my wardrobe. The occasional pink jumper is okay, but if I start wearing vibrant prints….

Call for help.

**DISCLAIMER: These are just the ways colours make me feel; I’ve never looked at other people and felt any way at all about the colours they’re wearing except to think they look pretty!

Without You

I am not cool.

I don’t have a cool accent, I don’t wear cool clothes, I don’t know how to order cool drinks at Starbucks and I don’t listen to cool music. If I ever decide to hop onto a trend-driven bandwagon, it’s usually not until long after it’s departed, around the time that it starts to disappear over the horizon.

I love miming the high notes in The Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), and repeating the relentless rhymes of Best of All Possible Worlds (Kris Kristofferson). I bounce around the house to the staccato energy of Crocodile Rock (Elton John), and sway to the slow sadness of Vienna (Billy Joel). I care more about lyrics than melodies, but will unironically enjoy the hell out of Uncle John From Jamaica (Vengaboys) or If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Backstreet Boys) on the same day that I listen to Curse Me Good (The Heavy) or Julie London’s smoky version of Cry Me a River.

My musical palate is completely uncomplicated by coolness. If it suits my mood I like it, and if I like it I learn it, and it’s about as simple as that. Years and years later, hearing the opening strains of a song will still cause me to regurgitate the words like some strange form of musical muscle memory. Without knowing that I know them, the words will pour out of my mouth. Songs are so strongly tied to feelings for me that familiar tunes are like disembodied time travel.

Scrubs is not of the same musical persuasion. Scrubs likes music that I don’t understand, that barely has lyrics, that runs into the next tune with no warning. He likes music with psychedelic background graphics that remind me of early Windows screensavers. He likes the kind of music that was made for dark places with neon lights and people who don’t like to dance or sing karaoke. 

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In 2015, Scrubs and I linked up with a few of our friends to go to Vegas. We spent a week there, lying by the pool and running between air conditioned buildings in choked sprints, spending money on blackjack and laughing at superstitious craps players. Our first weekend there we had bought passes for Electric Daisy Carnival, a dance music festival that takes over the Las Vegas Speedway and turns it into an awesome, heart-bursting multi-coloured wonderland. I had stumbled on a trailer for it a year before and thought it was something both of us might enjoy; Scrubs would like the music and I would like… everything else. 

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Walking into EDC was mind-blowing. It was a sprawling, glittering fairground full of smiling, beautiful people. I left Scrubs in a tent called Neon Garden full of sombre-looking people bobbing their heads to moody tunes and went exploring. I visited the giant dandelion seeds and the colour-changing caterpillar. I cheered for two strangers getting married in the chapel. I watched a girl hula-hoop for what seemed like hours and exchanged kandi (plastic bracelets) with a bouncing girl in a turquoise tutu.

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I loved it. I loved the people who were so obviously having the time of their lives. I loved the vibe of pure happiness around the place. I loved the costumes and the crazy installations and the art cars. I loved exploring the different sections and getting lost and somehow finding people again among the multitudes.

And I even loved some of the music.

On the first night, I dragged Scrubs to Circuit Grounds to watch Fatboy Slim. I love Fatboy Slim. Something about him makes me happy deep in my bones. I’m not sure if it’s the unabashedly awful shirts he wears, or the fact that he doesn’t try to be anybody other than who he is, or the fact that he’s a bit older than the average headliner, or the fact that he just seems to enjoy what he does so damn much… My glittery rainbow hi-tops barely touched the ground for his entire set. 

The next night I made a beeline for the main stage, Kinetic Fields, to listen to Avicii.

For someone who largely doesn’t understand (or even really like) EDM, Avicii was my happy place. For once my tonally deaf ears could differentiate between songs. That set made me so happy. The wholesome lyrics that made me want to hug the stranger next to me, the crowd thousands strong calling them out at the top of their lungs, and the drops that made the mass of people move as one made me understand why people loved EDM. The voice of Etta James boomed out over the speakers, led into Levels, and I was in a blur of bouncing, kaleidoscopic colour.

He finished his set with a song that I had listened to on repeat for the year that I spent living in Germany.

I tried to carry the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.
I hope I get a chance to travel the world, but I don’t have any plans.
I wish that I could stay forever this young, not afraid to close my eyes,
Life’s a game made for everyone, and love is the prize.

So wake me up when it’s all over,
When I’m wiser and I’m older,
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost.

That song and The Nights (He said “One day you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember”) are such bittersweet songs. The lyrics are enough to bring on a minor existential crisis, but the tune is so thumpingly upbeat there’s no time to wallow, so instead you’re left with a distilled reminder to focus and hold on to the important things in life. That night I got such a buzz from just being there and bouncing along to the beat. I didn’t know anything about Avicii other than the lyrics of his songs and that was enough.

Three years later, when I heard that he had died this week it really knocked me. That happens to me sometimes; I feel pummeled by seemingly random events. I blame my mood. Or what I ate that day. Or the weather.

Really it could be anything.

Regardless, it made me truly sad to think that the world is minus one talented and introverted Tim Bergling. I thought about the fact that, waving away all the touring and the music, he was just a 28 year old guy. I clicked on his instagram, where there’s a photo of him and his dad, and another of his dog, Liam. I thought about how upset his family must be. I thought about how confused his dog must be. I just felt… deeply sad.

And so despite not being a fan of dance music, or even really of Avicii, I find myself writing this blog post about a person I have never met or had any connection to outside of listening to a few of his songs on Spotify and seeing him at EDC. I find myself thinking how strange – but also how powerful – music is to link people up like this, forging gossamer-thin strands of connection between strangers at festivals who might never speak to each other, and between audiences and headliners who never see individual faces but instead just one giant, constantly moving wave of people. I think of all the people who have their own important memories associated with certain songs, and how songs create webs of thoughts and feelings and remembrances that span across the globe, and how the people who created those songs will only ever know about the smallest sliver of a fraction of them.

It’s sort of… sad?

Amazing, but sad.

I hope Tim found some peace for himself in the last two years without the constant touring. Avicii, thanks for bridging the musical gap between me and Scrubs. Thanks for bringing so many people together to bellow along with the powerful voice of Etta James. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for making EDM accessible to everyone, including those of us who don’t know a bass from a treble.