Dreamt I was on the side of a road sitting on a curb. It was twilight so the sky was dark but still full of purples and pinks and everything was turning into silhouettes. I got up to get where I was going in a hurry and passed a car with a woman in it. She’d parked on the shoulder and was leaning out of the window looking up with her chin resting on her arms like she’d been there awhile. Like she’d lost something up there and was trying to find it. I asked if she needed help. No answer. She just started talking about the sky and UFOs and wondered if the moon tastes savoury or sweet and if a coyote’s howl is actually a laugh and why does everything have a name. Then an animal started laughing in the distance. She got out of the car, threw me the keys and bolted into the bushes towards the sound. I looked down at my hand and her car keys were made out of pretzel. One of them was half-eaten. I woke up hungry. And curious. Which I guess is exactly the point.
Just over here contemplating how expectations and norms are all constructs built by others to serve their own interests and living life instead as a blank canvas with inner voice as muse and guide will always be a truer and purer path to the infinite universal wisdom already inside of us and how the only way back to it is comprehensive unlearning and intentional silence but I’m aaalso contemplating whether I should make quesadillas or salmon with dijon tonight.
Lately, all the words have been stuck inside. Packed into my brain like sardines marinating in their own salty brine. No room for the air to get in and loosen them up. No words or description at all. Like grabbing a passing thought in your fist and examining it as it lays in your palm. You can see its colour and shape and feel its temperature against your skin, but you don’t know what it is yet. What it’s made of. Its material. And so the words don’t come to define it. They’re lodged inside. Its isness hasn’t revealed itself yet. You’re just looking at this thing, this thing that is something but is also nothing, holding it, sitting with it, watching the light sparkle on it, knowing that it’s worthy of holding even if the isness never becomes yours to define.
We were never in control. We never knew. We built a world fast and loud in all our supposed knowing. Mistaking our progress for power and control. Waiting for peace always just at the end of our ambitions. We didn’t know it was already here. Just paved over. The dirt-trodden path to our deepest wisdom was too slow beneath our hurried feet.
But then. An end. A beginning. We were exiled back into stillness, stripped of our defenses. The outside world got quiet, we quieted too. A silence we didn’t recognise. It was excruciating. We suffered. Resisted. The unknown. Loss. Anxiety and fear. Ever-ceasing power. We gripped it so tight in desperation that our clenched hands quivered and bled. We still couldn’t hold onto it. It slipped through our fingers and fell crashing back into the Earth. The sound it made was an alarm. We mistook it for an explosion.
In our forced surrender we started to notice. Things we hadn’t before thought or felt. What was dormant awakened.
Our growth felt like pain and our surrender felt like defeat. But the wound was actually a cure. The assault an intervention.
The force that came to destroy us had saved us.
The sound it made was an alarm.
Three and a half years in this flat. The longest I’ve lived at any one place since leaving home at eighteen. I’ve grown used to the way the rickety sash windows rattle in the faintest of wind and the ashy smell of the neighbour’s fireplace as it travels through these old vents.
Ten years on this Great island. Long enough to become British. Not just in nationality or legal status, but in thought, speech, spirit, even in physicality, in the way I move through the world, my reflexes. Like I was given some strange nylon to wear upon arrival and it’s been on me so long it just feels like my skin. What was once so unfamiliar now lives in my cells.
There’s so much to say about belonging to two places. About loving people on two different sides of an ocean. A blessing. A curse. A privilege. A bipartite state of being. No words convey the duality of this evolution. Where the person I was back then over there and the person I am now here are somehow exactly the same and yet entirely different.
This place is in me now. Of me. I am it and it is me. It can never leave me. It can never cast me off. Nor can I shed it. No matter where I go or how far I am from it, it’s the nylon I can never take off. Never want to take off. It goes with me. There is no distance. Where I am it is.
Why do we always ask people what they do? What’s their job? Are they married? Do they have kids? A house? Where’d they go to school? Do they make good money? We want answers to these questions first in order to form an opinion of who we think they are, if they’re being successful in life and if they’re worthy of our time and attention. But how could someone’s material circumstances, their resume, trophy case or photo album every really tell us who they are and what they’re worth? Somewhere down the line we stopped asking the questions that matter.
Why aren’t we asking instead what keeps them up at night? How do they want to be remembered? What makes them weep and what’s their biggest fear? What books changed their life? What’s the biggest sacrifice they ever made for someone? Are they as scared of regret as you are? Do they come alive at the thought of making art or feel God when they’re alone on a quiet street? Have they ever saved someone’s life, and if so, how did it feel?
Instead of asking someone’s occupational status, why don’t we ask them the status of their heart. The content of their soul. Look into their eyes and ask what they hope for more than anything else in the world. What they live for. What they’d die for. And why.
But asking the right questions requires bravery. Requires us to suspend judgement. Requires us to be vulnerable. To face our own truths as we ask them of theirs. But it’s what we’re here for; the breaking down of walls, the excavation of our humanity, the unlearning. In order to see the value in another’s truths, we must first see the value in our own. We must first be brave. Let’s be brave.
I used to wish I was a morning person. To awaken with a fury, ready to own the day, moving at pace towards all of its untainted possibilities. But now I don’t resist my natural affinity for the night. Perhaps it’s a predetermined state of being. As programmed into us as our DNA. We can try to fight it, but it seems to be that we’re either moved more by the purity and hopefulness of a new dawn or we’re drawn to the mystery and intrigue of night. Not yet tomorrow though no longer today, when all goes dark and quiet, danger feels closer, a sense of urgency awakens the mind, and a sunset brings our imagination to life more than a sunrise ever could.
You enter the Castle grounds at dusk as the lights of the Round Tower gleam against a lavender sky, and walking through the ancient wooden doors that have fretted and warped under the weight of ancient stone, you emerge into the nave of the chapel as the strings of the orchestra begin to strum and the choral soprano of the boys choir travels through the transept like an echo through a canyon, and when tears fill the corners of your eyes as the violins shriek their mighty cry, you look to the ceiling to keep them from spilling over, when you see those pillars, those centuries-old gothic giants holding up the crests of Garter Knights and sheltering the final resting places of Kings and Queens and your feet feel as if they’ll rise from the floor as it all ends with the celebratory Old Hundredth and a rapturous wave of ovation, and spilling out of those medieval doors back into the ghostyard of monarchs, you pause for a breath before leaving the moment, the seraphic notes still ringing in your ears, your skin tingling with alertness, and you thank the universe for the existence of sounds so pure and transcendent they lift your very soul out of stagnancy and make clear how it feels to feel with every flesh and bone and gut of you.
I used to write here often, but I haven’t in a while. Not any real words at least. A year exactly. Since I first started this book. I’ve been saving all of the words. Plucking them out of my subconscious and laying them down like bricks. Labouring to build a path as I trudge down it. It’s a dimly lit path with no signposts. All that exists is the next word, the next step in front of me and the sound of my unsteady foot lumbering forward into an unknown. Because you don’t know that the words will take you anywhere. You keep typing, keep reaching in the dark for something to anchor you, hoping that if you fall you’ll do so silently, so that no one will hear the thunderous roar of your failure. You don’t know anything. The only certainty is showing up, tapping on the keys and trusting that the right words will come. No one is forcing it, it isn’t life or death, and yet, sometimes it feels as necessary to survival as the next breath. And so on you write, and on you wander down the shadowy path, surrendering to what could possibly be found along the way.
Aren’t we all just here to save each other?
To put pressure on the wounds and stitch up the flesh and mop up the blood that seeps out of each other’s lives like rainwater from a potted plant; to help sew what’s torn, ice what’s bruised, fill what’s cracked.
Aren’t we all just here to lower ourselves to the bloodstained ground, look one another in the eyes, humbled and present, and whisper “I feel it too.”
And as we kneel there together, gripping each other’s hands for dear life and feeling each laceration as if they were our own, we hear the faint sound of music; not yet loud enough to dance, but not quiet enough to sit still. We lean against one another as we push upwards against the weight of our mutual pain, steadied by our closeness and lifted by our oneness.
We limp slowly and hopefully toward the distant sound, side by side, the drops of blood becoming smaller and the pain becoming lesser as we walk, subtle hip shaking moving us forward as we step out of the shadows, soon to dance wildly like dandelion spores in the sunlight.