Perfect Places (Reprise): Spaces of Learning Part Two
Let's go to perfect places.
I am more than halfway through my time in Europe. I have the pleasure of finishing the second part of this lengthy blog post while watching planes take off at Edinburgh Airport. I am en route to Prague this week. But before I go, I have a few more stories to tell -- three stories to be exact.
4. 02 Academy, Glasgow
Warning: I have been wanting to write about Melodrama for a while, so if you don’t care too much for Lorde or if you’re not curious as to why I keep listening to it, perhaps skip to the next section.
On the evening of October 2nd, I was in a massive queue that seemed to have no end-- standing in the cold rain and harsh winds without an umbrella or hooded jacket. It was one of most fortunate experiences I have ever had of being in the right place at the right time.
After going to a pub crawl for a student organisation I was not a part of, I had stumbled upon a pleasant group of people-- and somehow ended up having an impassioned conversation about Lorde with one of them The next day, this person messaged me saying that he had an extra ticket to her concert in Glasgow--it would be mine after a bus ride and £33. I had never felt so lucky.
It was particularly special that I got to see Lorde for her Melodrama tour, especially in the fall of 2017. This was an album I had listened to frequently since its release in June. I first came for the excellent pop tunes and stayed for the emotional resonance and lyrical power. It is an album that, upon listening and re-listening over time, had changed me. (2016 was the summer of Hamilton: An American Musical, and this year, it's Melodrama.)
My fascination for Melodrama draws from its ability to narrate lost love. Lorde has made heartbreak a song that you can dance to. It is an honest confession of the nonlinear path through anguish and towards healing --- while infusing it with rhythm and colour, expressing it with wild dancing and car rides.
This album functions like a looking-glass -- I peer into it and see myself. I see myself in in the apologetic, wavering voice, in the thought that you could be "too much" for someone. vI see myself in the presence of ghostly love and hard feelings. In the way that memories will replay in your mind like old, beautiful films. In the knowledge that healing from heartbreak will feel like make-believe until it doesn't. In the desire to find perfect places.
During the concert, Lorde performed “Liability” and “Liability (Reprise)” right after each other. She sat in front of a bouquet of colourful light, a throne of flowers that looked like it could have been scribbled in a journal. After teaching the audience how to sing the refrain, she said — with almost a laughter in her voice—“I can’t believe that a song that came from the loneliest time of my life can make me feel like the cosiest now.” The next song, “Liability Reprise” is one of healing, a song of reconciliation with one’s self and all of the messy parts. Because it does happen, eventually, the peace you make with yourself after years of storm. “All of the shit that we harbour, makes all of the kids in the choir sing woo. Maybe all this is the party,”
Lorde turned twenty-one quite recently (November 7th). When I sing her lyrics and watch her dance, I am reminded that someone as young, vulnerable, and confused as me can create something magnificent. I am no Ella Yelich O'Connor by any means. But if I keep writing, maybe I’ll get close.
5. Alnwick Castle & Princes St. Gardens
Traveling solo is so good for so many things — learning about yourself, trusting your instincts, the practicing the precise art of holding a heavy book while eating a hearty meal. It is not good, however, for photography. Specifically, selfies.
My mission to engage with self-portraiture was motivated for two reasons: my desire to grow as a photographer and my job at American Apparel. From mid-August onwards, every beautiful site I would behold would be admired and photographed by myself (more or less). I would not have my faithful brother to help me take portraits, but I had photos in my mind that I had dreamt of taking. My solution was a tripod. The results were an excess of photos and a reshaped self-confidence.
When I first engaged with self-portraiture, I immediately noticed the inquisitive stares of passerbys. It is so funny how this can differ based on where I am taking photographs. In Scotland, I would oftentimes get friendly and curious smiles. In other areas of Europe, especially in the more touristy areas, I would get colder and more judgemental stares. No matter what city I am in or the size of the crowds, people will naturally give me their attention.
The most difficult aspect is just fighting the urge to pack up and leave. You just hope and pray that no one will touch your camera (especially in crowded places), and hope the wind won’t knock your camera over (it does happen). Beyond these initial concerns of safety it is difficult to fight off the intense of self-consciousness and embarrassment. I was sure I looked like a self-obsessed millennial without shame from the outside.
Taking self-portraits really brought my confidence to the surface — I had to directly engage with my goal and remind myself over and over again that the photos were worth it. I have never had to actively disregard the the attention from others in order to accomplish my goal. My disregard took different forms. When I began taking self-portraits at Alnwick Castle and Princes St. Gardens, I would deal with the attention by making direct eye contact and politely smiling at those who looked inquisitively. It was a silent expression of acknowledge: “Yes, I see you looking at me and I am okay with it.” Other times, I would look look at the other tourists who would wield their selfie sticks in the middle of large crowds; I reminded myself, “tripods are basically just advanced selfie sticks. I have nothing to be ashamed about.” Once at Park Guell, a bunch of fourteen year old girls were staring coldly while I moved back and forth between my tripod and the mosaic backgrounds. I began to repeat out-loud to myself , “You take photos for money, you take photos for money, you take photos for money.” Once I left, I noticed them move into the same spot i was at for their mini-photoshoot.
No matter how often I do this, I will always feel humbled when I put the self-timer on my camera and stand in front of the tripod.But I also feel a sense of ownership over myself and photography. I owe it to myself to get the photos that I have dreamt of.
I have seen myself grow in my photos. Using myself as a model, I can see the way confidence can make someone glow a little brighter. This is a small victory, but one I am proud to have since my time abroad began.
6. East Suffolk Road
This is my magical window. When my memories of living in Scotland have been tragically reduced to a few key images, I will recall this window.
I will remember the curvature of the green and blue curtains, the outstretched leafy boughs that are a few inches away from the glass. I will remember the way sunlight poured out of the window and directly onto my pillow, forcing me to greet another day in the city. I will remember the mornings that I would awaken just to see the the warm colours of dawn reflect against the thread-bare clouds. I will remember the blessing of watching the seasons change from the warmth of my bed, of having wide skies within eyes reach when I sit at my desk to write. My small piece of home is one that makes me — a restless girl with a packed agenda — be still.
In this stillness, I daydream. In the still of the morning, I take time to reflect upon what I want my life to look like. (This is a favourite pastime of mine since I have entered my twenties — which feels like the fragile precipice between now and the rest of my adult life.) Being so far from home has forced me to think seriously about how I want to shape my future. More than the distance, being free from the responsibility of five classes, work, and extracurriculars have given me the time and space to pursue my heart’s true desires. Something miraculous happens when you give someone an emptier schedule and access to travel, art, writing, and beautiful sites. This is the miraculous thing that has happened to me this semester. At the end of my day of learning and traveling, I get to daydream out this window.
In my daydreams, I see myself living in a city like this — one with museums, live music, hills to conquer. I see myself in a bedroom like this — complete with a a large desk to write on, a cup of tea ready, a bay window to look out of. In terms of the future, I pray that God will give me the energy and wisdom. I pray for energy that will enable me to work hard enough for a life like this, and I pray for wisdom that will help me make the right choices to do so. But that’s for the far future.
In my present, my time here is becoming more and more brief. I already feel heartbroken at the thought of leaving all of these things behind. But I am excited to come home with an understanding of what is most important to me. Living here for the past three months has made me rediscover what it is that makes me feel alive and whole. I know I will come home with the memory of early morning writing, with the understanding that tea will always taste better when you sit down to drink it. I will come home determined to write, to daydream, to stare wondrously out of windows.