Around this time of year, people always write reflective posts. Try to summarise things, draw pictures of the future. Heck, Facebook even helps us do it, just in case we’re having a case of FOMO* about communal nostalgia.
For the last 2 weeks, I’ve been feeling really stressed, about writing to people. I’ve spent a lot of this year not doing that, feeling bad about it, still not doing it. I want to say I’m sorry, although many will tell me it’s not necessary, I know. There’s many friends, very close to my heart, that I have been rubbish at communicating with, that really deserved better. And an even wider circle of friends that I actively care and am interested in, and yet…
The longer I go without communicating, the harder it seems, the bigger the mountain grows, the larger the debt that I have to make up for, until all the breath is squeezed out of me by the weight of it. People are interested, and I cannot. Andrew tells me, “People don’t know that you’re not doing ok, cos you’re not telling people how you are!”
I don’t know how. I don’t know how to say when I am ok, I don’t know how to say when I’m not. If I’m doing ok, I use that energy to accomplish things, when I’m not doing ok, I’m too ashamed to talk about it. I am very tired, and bored, of me talking about me (even though I’m doing it again), so I assume others must be, too. I dread the question ‘How are you?’
Because I love my friends, you, I wanted to write to many individuals, with a Christmas message. Preferably witty, and fun, but I’d settle for just writing something. I didn’t. I aimed for a New Year’s message instead, and still found it too hard. I feel like I’ve failed many people who have supported and helped me, who have actually reached into their pockets for me, into their energy reserves, made time – who have been my friends. I want to say I’m sorry; I wanted to do better by you.
A lot of this is unnecessary hand-wringing on my part, I know. But this is me trying to work out how to handle these feelings of shame, and how to be a friend, given that this inability to communicate doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Rather than repeatedly throwing myself at the same brick wall, expecting a different result.
I would like to tell people about my life. I’ve thought of a way to do it. It’ll require your participation, meaning I won’t be forcing anyone to hear me that doesn’t want to (bonus!)**. But the best bit is it skips the ‘How are you?’ or even ‘What’s been happening?’ and goes straight to what they used to call, when I was a freelance journalist, the ‘colour’.
I’ve taken a lot of pictures this year. I found it very soothing, and it became a form of communication with myself, rather than diary entries; a conversation between my delight/bewilderment/excitement/anger and the object causing said response. Partly it’s laziness, sure; taking a picture is a lot quicker than sitting down to write 1,000 words on Auckland. A lot of it is actually, rather stupidly, me talking to you guys. I take pictures of things that I want to show you; cos it’ll make you laugh, it’ll make your eyes boggle, it’ll make you jealous (in a good way), or relate, or remember, or just feel happy. I realised that the reason I was enjoying taking the photos, was because I was enjoying the conversation in my head, where I explained where I was, and what the photo is of, and why I was there, and what followed shortly after, and…
So clearly, there are a lot of words there. And just as clearly, I seem to need to subject you all to a digital version of ‘Erin’s Travels: The Slideshow’, in order to bring them forth. Having sat through many of these, hosted mostly by my Dad, I’m aware exactly how exciting that sounds. To me, anyway. In an attempt not to think for other people though (see **), which I’ve done too much of this year, and which has kept me down, and silent, I thought I’d try this.
Below are dozens of photos I’ve taken this year, from many different places***. Pick one, tell me which one it is, and I’ll write a 100, 200, 600 words about it, however long it seems to warrant. Relevant to you, if there is relevance there, but definitely about me and it, and the context and the country and the event and the… rather than how I was. I’ll post the text underneath each one, and it’ll build a picture, for you, for me, of this year, particularly the latter half. This is also killing another bird, the writing one, so you’re doing me a favour in two ways; helping me get over my tiresome, maudlin angst, and helping me produce words. Hurrah!
If it works, and people like it, I’ll try doing it once a month (ripping off Lizzie Cass-Maran’s Monday Notes and Rachel Rouge’s Photo of the Day in one fell swoop.) I can write about what’s around me, rather than what’s inside me (in the sure recognition that that’s actually bullshit, and it’ll be both, but phrasing it like that seems to work, so fuck it), and I can feel I’m still connected. What would be even more awesome is if you want to, you can pick a picture from your year, post it here, and tell me about it, and about you.
So to all the people who I should have written to, many times in fact, to all those who deserved or even needed to hear from me, and didn’t, I am sorry. I don’t know if that is going to change anytime soon, but I don’t like it, and this is me trying to find a way to communicate.
Some of them might even be funny. You never know.
(If you click on the ‘2014’, it’ll show you all the thumbnails, btw. Still working on how to get it to start out like that…)
This was taken in Brighton, about a day before I got on the plane for New Zealand, in May 2014. In some ways, I see these bits as the straw that completed the load that a very patient, but willing camel, was about to cart off into the horizon for me, allowing me to breathe a big sigh and walk in the opposite direction. The petering fringes of the force with which I pushed everything I owned in front and off me, and away from me. You remember I sold most of the things I own? People kept on asking me if I felt free, and I hoped to, but mostly I just felt relief. I didn’t have to worry about them anymore. Recently, to my shame, and my horror, I’ve begun to regret some of that dispersement. It seems so banal, so beans in exchange for a magic cow – what a way to pay back the people that came and helped me out! Fortunately, it’s only in some respects. Most of it, I’m better off without. I caught sight of an item the other day, however, in a picture, and felt a cry emerge from my guts. Why, why did I think that should go? It’s possibly because I’ve become so isolated of late, in certain ways, that the objects given to me by nearest and dearest have recaptured their anima, even brighter than before. A painting speaks of my sister’s love for me, and because I’m struggling to feel it, at a distance, I suddenly taste fierce regret at discarding even the significant representation of it. A change for me; I never put a huge amount of store into bought items, rather than efforts, as a medium for love expression (although one can often involve the other). Maybe it’s as simple as not having my own things around me, but rather an exchanging collection of other people’s. Maybe when I have a home again, I’ll be thankful for the spaces. I hope so. I just know that I’d spent 7 months, by the time this photo was taken, discarding things, here and there, sometimes in bulk, but never once regretting the decision, and then I was down to the bare minimum.
I took off to Brighton, to say goodbye to Ed, on my way to London; and whilst there, looked in my wallet and took out the last pieces of a life I (thought I) no longer wanted, a series of rectangular representations of movements, addictions, aspirations, maybes and one-days. Cutting them up was one of the biggest feelings of relief of the entire experiment (Experiment? Decision? Activity?) I no longer had to live up to the person they seemed to represent. I no longer had to push myself to be cultural, to eke best value at all times, to be spontaneous or social or moving. At all. Writing this now has made me realise that actually, all this divesting appears like nothing so much as a path that ends in no longer having to push oneself to be anything. To even be. Perhaps that’s what made me feel relief, rather than joy, at the getting rid. Maybe I literally couldn’t look after any more possessions than my heart, some breath, and a hobbled mind. I don’t know. But it’s a good theory, right? These were the very last things I threw away. They represented freedom, and for now, they still do.
This photo was posed, and it makes me angry, mostly. On two fronts.
One, because it reminds me of how I behaved that night, and I feel disappointed in myself. Not for any drunken antics, but because I wasn’t being myself. I’m getting a lump in my chest, just thinking about it. The last time I went travelling, I was 29, and a different person in some significant ways. The couch surfing community then was better, in my experience. It was smaller, it had a much higher percentage of People Doing It For The Right Reasons, it hadn’t… the best way I can describe it, is it hadn’t begun to be a victim of its own success. It was still in the ‘earnest’ stages. That’s without an extra personal layer, of 7 years worth of growing up. So, first time around, the insta-friends I made, the connections, were enough to sustain me. This is partly because, as I say, they were more quality connections to begin with, but also partly because transient relationships – and now I can’t quite understand how this ever worked, but I remember it clearly – were enough for me back then.
Now, they’re not. I want something deeper. A significant connection, a real, authentic as fuck, friendship. And that’s very hard to do when you’re travelling, and even harder to do when you don’t have your own home (you’ll have to take my word on that, cos that’s a whole other blog post, and we’d be here even longer). Essentially, I’m terrifically lonely, and I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do about it, without staying in one place long enough to build up something that nourishes. Trying to look on the bright side, I figure it’s been worth it, at least, to work this out.
But that night, I went to a couchsurfing party, and I tried to just be. I find it so incredibly hard these days to be ‘on’ (another whole blog post, so I’m going to start taking even shorter cuts), I don’t even want to be, it’s not important to me now that everyone in the room like me, or that I’m being entertaining, blah blah blah. More meaningful, remember? But the stress of that night, of being in a room full of strangers, *again*, and just really not having it, of struggling to find anyone my age, my thinking, my interests, essentially, someone who even overlapped, Venn diagram style, with My Gang, of feeling increasingly lonely… I pulled out the old crutch, the old habit, of being Party Erin. I don’t think many people were fooled, and that’s entirely appropriate, cos PE was always way, way more obvious than I realised, for a long time, and even more so now, but enough were that I was Popular, and A Hit, with a certain section of the room (the one that had invited me). But I’m not that person anymore. I don’t want to be that person anymore. And I’m annoyed at myself that I went backwards, and couldn’t stick to authenticity. I know why I did (stress, tiredness, exposure, lack of present support whilst doing something hard), and that helps, but I’m still annoyed.
And the second reason it makes me angry, is that the room was half full of young, drunk, dope smoking hippy couchsurfers, and half full of young, drunk, Christian right-wing Australian Liberal party members. Who I genuinely tried to talk to. About politics. And who wrote me off and dismissed me, almost instantly. A huge chunk of that is my fault, cos they saw PE, rolled their eyes, and all but physically patted me on the head. So I hamstrung myself. But I don’t think it was all that. So I’m annoyed that they didn’t give me a chance, because, obviously, it does still niggle when People Don’t Immediately Love Me OMG, but also because I would have genuinely enjoyed that conversation. That would have been a little nourishing, if tough (1 liberal against a room full of people who mostly didn’t like my religion, sexuality or stance on immigration), and I didn’t get it. I should have realised on the way in, when the bookcase I passed contained the auto biographies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush and Ayn Rand; although if I had, that would have meant I was writing them off the same way they did me.
Or maybe I’m just fooling myself, and I wouldn’t have had anything to offer in that conversation. Maybe I’m putting pressure on myself just as hard, to Be Something, rather than just be. I don’t know. I do know I invented a cocktail (the picture shows me concentrating, in a mad scientist way, on my wondrous creation) and gave a very hipster American woman tips on travelling round New Zealand. Was home by 1am, a bit disappointed, and then my key broke in the lock. Again, whole other blog post….
*Fear of Missing Out. God, I can’t *believe* you didn’t know that.
**For brevity’s sake, an over simplified version of what happens internally, is that I genuinely cannot work out where on the spectrum of ‘Erin, it’s so good to hear from you, I really miss you’ through to ‘Jesus, you again. Haven’t you got the hint yet?’ a person’s response will be. It’s illogical, examination of evidence and past history means squat. Just trust me, genuinely, *genuinely* can’t ascertain, nor convince myself of what part of the graph the pendulum will stop swinging. Hence easier not to communicate, and run the risk, yadda yadda.
***They’re not *good*. Some of them are downright terrible. Them being beautiful in and of themselves wasn’t part of it, really. Perhaps that’s why I was able to enjoy taking them. I’m not a photographer, I never wanted to be, or pretended to be, so it doesn’t matter if they’re shit. What matters is there was a reason behind all of them. All of them had a conversation attached.
Also, I’ve definitely erred on the side of not putting up photos of people that I know would feel uncomfortable, and so on, but please do let me know if you are in one, and would like me to take it down. I apologise in advance for any offence caused.