The side-effect of reading Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink is wanting to listen to lots of Elvis Costello.
One of the kindnesses of the holidays is the space you get to think. My weeks aren’t normally known for this amount of time and space — and now I sound like Doctor Who, accidentally — but between the time off for Christmas and a reduced (slightly) workload this week because certain outlets are taking it easier for the week between Christmas and New Year, I’m finding myself with time to breathe again.
Admittedly, I made it worse for myself this year, committing to an Advent Calendar’s worth of content for the Wait, What? Patreon patrons, which seemed like a good idea at the time but ended up being far more work than I’d initially thought it’d be, to the point I felt like I’d somehow taken on an extra job by mistake ahead of Christmas. But I’ll get to that soon enough. This, instead of a regular entry, is something else: housecleaning.
I had two unfinished posts in draft in the blog here that I’m just going to throw up in their unfinished state, because why not? The first was unfinished because I literally couldn’t find the words, written after the Paris attacks back in November and the second because I couldn’t find the time, written two weeks ago. Here they are.
The Paris attacks were the kind of thing that are, literally, intended to dominate thoughts and derail everything else, and that certainly happened to me Friday through Saturday — I had deadlines that had were due after the news started breaking, and I found it almost impossible to write. I could hardly focus on what I was supposed to be writing about, never mind try to be entertaining, educational or any other aim I’m supposed to aspire to; I was too busy checking Twitter to find out what was going on, reading updates on The Guardian and feeling increasingly sick to my stomach about everything that was unfolding.
Unsurprisingly, I spent much of the weekend thinking about Paris and my own, limited, experiences there. I’ve only ever visited twice, and both trips were everything I could have wanted from them, and maybe a little more. Paris is a city that feels right to me, something that just kind of fitted where my head was both times I went. There was beauty and stillness and noise and an urban feel that I craved, both times.
Even before the events of Friday, I felt this odd urge to return for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on. My reasoning, when I try to explain it, sounds ridiculous, but it’s this: I remember, astonishingly clearly, this moment from being in Paris when I was 21 and having breakfast in a cafe that was filled with the sounds of the radio. The music sounded so amazingly alien to me — this would’ve been 1995, so the heights of Britpop, which was in many ways the way I defined myself back then — and it was a sign that, as much as I loved Paris, I was an outsider. These days, of course, it feels like a good percentage of the music I listen to at home is French — Camille, especially, of course, but also a lot of yé-yé and other bands and singers — and part of me feels as if I want to revisit the city now that the sounds have become part of my inner landscape.
Like I said, it sounds ridiculous, and yet…!
Such events throw us off, and make us feel more afraid for ourselves and others than we had been hours before. That’s what they’re there for. I’ve been reading a lot of coverage about the reaction, both from politicians and — well, regular folk, for want of a better way of putting t.
Yes, that’s how the November one ends, with “t” instead of “it.” It feels appropriate, don’t you think? It was a strange time for me; the Paris attacks hurt in a way that felt new and unusual for reasons I still can’t explain, and I was afraid and angry and all these emotions that wanted to get out but didn’t have a direction. So, instead, I abandoned that post and never came back to it.
The next one, though, was simply left because I had other things that demanded my time.
It’s taken awhile — it’s already December 14! — but I have finally gotten into something resembling the Christmas Spirit. I’m a little worried that it’s taken this long, because I used to be someone who’d happily be thinking about mistletoe and holly before December had even arrived. I remember being a teenager — maybe 13? I want to say it was in 1989, for some reason — and writing a diary in November, eagerly announcing that it was just 32 days to Christmas.
At the time, that seemed extreme (Hell, looking back, it feels embarrassing), but it should be pointed out that, in the UK, the holidays don’t start until December 1 at the earliest. There’s no Thanksgiving, after all, and that means no Santa to arrive at the end of a parade in late November and give you permission to get in the mood. Instead, my parents would patiently always remind me, you have to wait until at least the same month before getting excited about Christmas.
I have this half-memory, one of those things that’s as much a feeling as anything more coherent — and something that just doesn’t make sense when I sit down and actually try to unpick it in my head — that, one year, my parents didn’t get a tree and decorate the house until a couple of days before Christmas Eve. What I remember more than anything about this is the sense of frustration that somehow we had wasted so much of Christmas by being behind the times. How could that have happened? I thought, incredulous at the very notion that somehow so much of December could creepy by without being celebrated in an appropriate manner.
Which, in many ways, makes my behavior this year particularly… shameful? Ironic? Somewhere between the two?
I have good reasons for it, I promise. Things have been stupidly busy with real life issues like work, basement moving and planning and renovationing, and the like.
So, in the words of Dame David Bowie, where are we now? I like to think things are better. Christmas has come and gone, all too quickly — I really am sad I didn’t get to enjoy it more, but there were basements to empty and friends visiting and parties to attend and and and just too much to do during all that time — and the New Year beckons with its inevitable specter of disappointment when all the hopeful realize that, oh yes, January 1st doesn’t mean you actually transform into a whole new, hyper-competent superbeing, but remain the same person you always were.
For me, I’ve been reading a bunch — currently, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, the new Elvis Costello memoir that’s uneven but not unenjoyable — and trying to get my head on straighter as we head into the coldest, darkest part of the year. As I get older, I become more susceptible to the dark, I worry; the thrill of wandering around in dim early evenings is gone and I’m just grumpy about the fact that it doesn’t get light until after 8 in the morning right now. Once the holidays are over, there aren’t fairy lights and tinsel to distract me from what’s going on out there anymore, so I’ll have to be strong and try to get through it nonetheless.
Which reminds me of this, of course.
Ah, my youth.
Before I get to the New Year — and another couple days off! — there’s a dental appointment on Wednesday, because my planning is the worst. But after that, the sky is the limit, if by sky being the limit you mean “I’m going to try and get back to doing these weekly like I wanted to in the first place. Which means, of course, that real life will kick in about three weeks in. But for those three weeks…!
Happy Holidays, whoever reads this.