Truth tellers

I’ve been watching a lot of stand up comedy lately; mostly to pacify my building anxiety about the masters thesis I’m procrastinating, and maybe a little bit so I didn’t just get my 3 year old a Netflix subscription. If I cancelled his subscription and spent that time working instead I’d probably be a much more functional human being right now, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

Maybe I should have been a comedian. I like attention, I’m pretty good at regurgitating my own words a hundred times over and not really getting bored of the sound of it, and I’m even pretty funny provided you give me a few months to prepare.

I’ve never actually even remotely considered the possibility of a career in comedy (if we discount this right now), primarily because I’m so terrible at improv. I often come up with hilarious ideas during conversation and proceed to convey them in the most bland, tone deaf way one could possibly imagine. And everyone falls silent, looking a bit perplexed. And then, three days later, while sitting on the toilet, I finally craft them into the masterpiece they were always destined to be. And the only one to witness it is the baby slug that has emerged from a crevice near my shower screen to be today’s sacrifice to the toilet gods. Because yes, barring written testimony, I will still be flushing it.

…Not because I care about the testimony, that would just probably demonstrate a level of consciousness I wouldn’t feel comfortable flushing down the toilet.

Maybe I should be conducting more thorough testing of the gastropods that find their way into my bathroom. Just what is the level of consciousness that I do feel comfortable flushing down the toilet?

There’s an idea of comedians as society’s truth-tellers. Because comedy allows us to broach difficult subjects in an accessible way, by relieving the tension of taboo with a punchline. It breaks our defenses so we can let new ideas in. Sometimes. Maybe. Or maybe not. Sometimes, maybe, the tension is relieved too quickly and we get to skirt around the discomfort entirely. Maybe the art of comedy is holding just enough tension to change you, without you actually thinking you’ve been changed. Transformation disguised as entertainment. What delicious subterfuge.

I’m crap at holding tension. I’m an all or nothing kinda gal. I’m either flirting with you with no intent to follow through, or I’m conceding wholeheartedly to make us all feel better. Maybe the art of comedy would be a useful hobby for me.

Impossible possibilities

One day, in the autumn of 2017, I was sitting in the cafe of the local library with my boyfriend and our few month old son. My coffee was too hot, we didn’t have much to say to each other, and I was scrolling through Facebook.

The world around me went quiet as I lighted upon a post from someone I’d stayed with in Texas, back in another life. I went still and silent for long enough that my boyfriend asked me what was up.

“Adam died.” I said, quietly confused and surprised by the words coming out of my mouth.

“Who’s Adam?”

Who’s Adam? Who is Adam? Who is Adam to me? Who am I to Adam? How do I categorise Adam? How do I answer this truthfully? How do I answer this accurately?

“You know, the guy I was…kind of…seeing for a bit in Austin.” I came up with.

“Well you weren’t really seeing him, were you?” he scoffed with a note of condescension and maybe defensiveness. He was right, though. I was not seeing him. That wasn’t remotely the right word. In reality I had probably spent less than a week staying with Adam and his housemates. Was I supposed to say the guy I had a fling with? The fucking holiday romance? Was I supposed to bypass that entirely and just say one of the people I stayed with? Someone I used to know? That all felt ridiculous. I needed something to portray the level of intimacy we’d shared; the multi-layered nature of our connection; the importance of our encounters on the trajectory of my life. And, honestly, in that moment, now that he was gone, I needed to feel like I had, in some way, at some time, mattered to him as much as he mattered to me. There wasn’t an adequate explanation for who Adam was.

Adam was the person I stayed up watching documentaries with until 5am the first night we met. Who I wordlessly exchanged dirty foot massages with long past 2am the night after that. Whose bedroom felt like the safest place I’d ever been. Who surprised, disarmed and utterly baffled me with the understated sincerity of his kindness toward me. Who shone a light on the absurd depths of my sense of unworthiness, and simultaneously made me feel worthy by association. Who pushed my boundaries in really uncomfortable, wholesome ways, with such expert grace and gentleness that the experience was enchanting. Who showed me what love could really be like, even though we were both in love with other people at the time. Adam was probably the best person I’d ever met. Adam was the person I most wanted to be like.

Over the next few days I quietly pondered how the news impacted my life in no tangible way whatsoever, yet gently rocked me at my core. How, if I ever returned to Austin, it would now be distinctly lacking. How there was no longer any place in the world I could go to find him. How his absence made the world worse, not just for me, but for so many people who knew and loved him. How, of all the people I knew, in a very objective sense, he was very close to the top of the list of people I would least want to die. How it didn’t change any of the memories I’d made with him. How, in many ways, he didn’t feel any more gone to me than he had been for the past two years, and that had never really bothered me. How, actually, I felt free to feel closer to him now. How, actually, he didn’t feel gone at all.

I also battled with my ‘right’ to grieve for him. And, even moreso, my ‘right’ to feel close to him. My ‘right’ to talk to the air around me as if he was there. My ‘right’ to feel guided by his non-corporeal energy.

And then I wandered through thoughts of destiny and fate. What if I hadn’t left Austin? What if I’d gone back? We wouldn’t have had a successful long term relationship, I was pretty sure of that, but what if I could have altered events just enough that he wouldn’t end up on that road in that car at the exact moment a drunk driver came along? Is that how much of a knife-edge we all live on? Or did all roads lead there for him?

Adam was an extraordinary human and, for that, he was blessed with the love and admiration of many people. To me, he was a full-spectral oasis of radiance in a desolate wasteland of disconnection and missed opportunity. To him, I have no doubt, I was just another person he chose to share some time with. It didn’t mean I didn’t matter to him, but the relative importance of me to his full, open-hearted life could never match his impact on my own.

For years now, I’ve sat with that understanding, and I’ve continued to feel close to him, and guided by him, and I’ve made sure to consciously allow that for myself despite the ever-creeping guilt when I think about the people who really lost him.

And he’s made my life better. Sometimes he plain made it bearable. Remembering him, and imagining him with me, imagining what he might say to me, drew me forward through a lot of tumult. And I doubt I would have given myself permission to do that if he’d been alive. And so the world’s loss has, in some ways, been my gain, which feels perverse. Then again, had he been alive, perhaps I could have heard what he’d actually say to me, and that would have been better. Perhaps this is just a story I tell myself to make it okay.

Last night, for the first time in a very long time, I felt drawn to find the video of a song he recorded the week I arrived in Austin. And, as I watched it, I sobbed. And I let myself feel true fucking brutal loss. Because I’d been there, with him, in that room, and he’d pulled that mattress down from the wall while I stood in the doorway. And he played me that song, and I was relieved to honestly say that I liked it. That was the version of him I knew. That was the version of him I touched. That was the version of him I kissed. That physical body, those exact human cells, immortalised in moving pixels. But he’s gone, and I miss him, and how can someone like that just be gone?

And, even more selfishly, I sobbed because I’m at a place in my life now where I’m so much more ready for a man like Adam to grace me with his presence. I couldn’t make the most of the time I had with him when I had it. If he were alive, at least I could fantasise about the possibility of reconnecting.

Maybe that was always the heart of it. I always knew what he was, and I knew I was on the way to it. And, regardless of what form it took, I wanted to be able to stand face to face with him when I got there. But he doesn’t have a face anymore. He’s not a man anymore. So I can’t.

Positive regard

Seems silly to kill a streak for no good reason.

Dave Hause sent me down a little winding path of nostalgia today.

I haven’t spent much time looking back this past year. I mean, I have in an unwitting, flashbacky sort of way, when my pain has overridden my reason and demanded I gallop through past landscapes while it takes gritty snapshots to justify its existence.

But I haven’t reminisced all that much.

The past is a chequered palace I haven’t really felt safe walking the halls of.

But last night, I listened to Dave Hause and, far from being drenched in quiet misery, I was stirred to something resembling, well, resolve. I had forgotten something about Dave Hause and his music. I’d forgotten about the huge Heart in it. The Hope in it. I’d wondered whether it might draw me back to a version of myself I had left behind, but instead it simply nodded to that version, and I laughed about it, and felt fortified as this new version of myself, so many iterations later.

This evening, I found myself looking through photos from one of the most difficult and painful times of my life – from when my son was barely one and I was destroying myself trying to save a relationship with his father that couldn’t be saved. And there was no sting of betrayal, loss, regret or victimhood. Merely an oozy, burning feeling of consolidation, as I integrated different aspects of my life and my self.

At some point, so long as we don’t hold onto it, the pain and shame of the past dissipates and leaves us with memories skewed toward the positive. While I was looking the other way, it seems I have been blessed by that phenomenon of late.

Dave Hause

I didn’t make any resolutions about this blog.

My resolution this year is to get filthy rich. To be as selfish and glorious as I was always destined to be. To cultivate my Great-and-Terrible-Queen-type energy. But mainly to get filthy rich.

I think that’s really all I came here to say. And when I opened up the floor to any other thoughts that might like to join the party, all that came along was Dave Hause, the punk-grown-up-singer-songwriter from Philadelphia who soundtracked my quiet and despair-drenched life at the backend of 2014. His debut solo album was called Resolutions, and his voice is rivalled only by Brian Fallon in its ability to evoke a nostalgic and comforting grief in me that I don’t think is even my own. Definitely not filthy rich energy. More like good, clean destitution.

Get it all out

The ripples of rebellion have reached our shores.

I had been disappointed that people in the UK hadn’t been having enough conversations about what was going on in the US. It was like we thought it was terrible, sure, but we couldn’t see how it applied to us. As things developed, there were black squares and shared tweets and circulating slogans, but little in the way of real conversation. We were still holding our cards close to our chest, because the ramifications of revealing them didn’t seem worth it for a problem an ocean away.

I wanted the conversations to happen, because I knew they would get ugly. I knew that the majority of us here, just like in the US, have been poisoned by the stories and ideas of systemic racism to the point we can’t even see it a lot of the time. I wondered if I was wrong, and I hoped I was wrong.

But I wasn’t wrong.

Now that it’s somewhat closer to home, we have started speaking, and it’s not pretty. I think the ugliest shit is the shit trying to be pretty.

And, look, I don’t judge anyone for it. I mean okay, some people are probably gonna stretch my capacity, but for the most part, I get it, and I’ve been there. You don’t know what you don’t know. And you don’t know how harmful your words are. You don’t know how harmful your ideas are. You don’t know how harmful your beliefs are. And you think I’m being a patronising git right now. But if it makes you feel any better, I don’t know what I don’t know, either. I can’t see my own harmful words and ideas and beliefs around this.

It’s okay.

Things are probably going to get nastier, but we need to keep talking. Bring the ugly shit into the light, where we can break it down together. It’s not our fault we were raised in a corrupt system. We’ve been breathing racist air this whole time, it’s not our fault that we’ve unwittingly played our part.

Having these uncomfortable conversations is the way forward. This process is going to make all of us better – I really believe that. This process is so very necessary.

I’m glad I can show up for these conversations. I hope I can be of use.