101 Most Played Songs of 2017 (According to Spotify)

I know all the old folks that believe that young people have always lived in a world with the internet and iPhones will find it hard to believe, but just a decade ago my friends and I still made mix tapes. YES TAPES! We would record music off of the radio or copy it from CD’s (I even had a vinyl to tape recorder because I was THAT cool *poor*) and we would write little lists on paper and post it notes so that our friends knew what songs were on the tapes or CD’s.

I got my first iPod a decade ago and it was a crappy little 4GB deal that revolutionized how I listened to music but every now and then I meet someone that remembers mix tapes or mixes as I call them now as the media has changed and we bond in a way that is so bitterly nostalgic and pure that I fall in love with that person right then and there.

So, it’s 2017 and I still make mixes and so do many of my friends and though the times have changed, sharing music with other people is one of the deepest and rawest forms of intimacy and as no one I know in real life really reads this blog – raw is what y’all usually get from me.

Compiled below is a list of the 101 most played songs from my 2017 Spotify playlists. If you click on the song it will take you to YouTube where you can listen to it. It’s as close to the real deal as I can give you and I hope you find some treasure hidden among my delightful trash. Imagine that this list is written on the back page of a Stephen King book and we are smoking a joint by the river, and trust me, it will all make sense.

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That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed listening to some of these songs. Maybe you found something new or remembered something old and fabulous. As you can see, this year hasn’t been an easy one (mirrored perfectly in how utterly depressing some of these songs are) but it’s been one I will never forget.

This was the soundtrack to 2017.

See you in 2018 ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Year in Music – Spotify Breakdown 2017

I have a friend who makes a playlist on his iPod every year of his most played songs from the year just passed. It’s always been a practice I’ve admired but as I listen to my music on a wide range of untraceable media – CD’s, vinyl, rickety old iPod’s, tape decks, YouTube – it’s often difficult to trace. For example, this past week I’ve been listening to Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds new album at home on CD though how many times I’ve played it I couldn’t quite count accurately – suffice to say it’s been a lot.

I’ve had Spotify for around seven years now and it’s always served me well not only in the extensive collection of music in terms of artists, albums and genres it has, but also in its customization interface and it’s user friendly quick drop playlist options. I can get a hook or a line from a song stuck in my head and with a few flicks of the finger on Spotify – I’ve found the song, the artist, the album and have it at my disposal for a million and one smashes of the replay button.

One thing that I always noted with my friend when I was looking through his rerun playlists was that he always seemed a lot cooler than his most played list made him out to be and the truth is, I think in our heads we are all a lot edgier when we are trying to give an impression of who we are than we are when no one is watching.

This year saw a very raw and emotional me. There have been moments of unadulterated beauty and swathes of self discovery and laughter, but dripping from the walls of 2017 there is mostly pain, frustration and sadness. This is mirrored massively in my Spotify breakdown because even though I had happy days, many happy days, this year, they were only made happy by the company I kept in the small hours of the morning trying to sleep with my music playing next to me promising me that I wasn’t alone and that I could get through this and that, yes, every little ‘ting was gonna be alright.

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This breakdown means a lot to me, not only because it reads like a list of the awesome people I’ve hung out with this year, but also because it proves to me how important these incredible strangers that sing these strange, magnificent and sometimes absurd songs actually are. The top five artists are there because they make sense to me. Their words have lifted my head high, put tears in my eyes, rocked me to sleep, got me out of bed in the morning and kept me going every minute in between.

They’re not just songs to me – they’re my life and the people that sing them – my family. Some of them I’ve been with forever, some have come along this year just when I needed them the most and given me hope. Where does this hope come from? Not entirely just from the fact that the people that write and sing these songs know how I feel because let’s face it – I’m probably never going to befriend Brian Fallon or Butch Walker in real life, but in the back of my mind I know that somewhere, out there, laying in bed trying to sleep, there is someone who feels the same as me, listening to the same song as me and wondering, just like me, when we are going to meet and fall apart in love together.

To call them musicians or artists cheapens what these people are. They are saints, holier than though, gurus and shaman bringing together all the beaten broken nearly beloved bastards of the world and gathering them in small sweaty rooms together where they all stand in awe of the stranger that feels like home to them. It’s not the camaraderie of the artist and the fan, more so than the feeling of absolute belonging that the fans have among each other. And yeah, we’re always going to fight over which album was better or whether or not Dylan should have gone electric but what we will always agree on is that life would not be worth living without these people because our lives would be unimaginably awful without them.

So thank you, to all the artists that made it onto this list and for whoever thought to offer a breakdown like this to the people that use Spotify. I can remember a plethora of moments when the most played songs were blaring through my headphones and when the artists that made the list were the only voice I wanted in my head. It fills me with ripples of self awareness and, well, I think pride, really. Pride that I did it. I survived another year. And that my faith in music and the people I love, whether I know them or not, will never let me down.

Because there will always be a song that has the words when you don’t.

To tell you that you’re okay.

That’s you’re doing your best.

And that you have never, and will never, ever be alone.

 

 

Patching Up the Past #2

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And yes, that is how you spell it. How do I know? Jack’s been around for a while now in my life and of all the things that my daughter could have fallen in love with in my image, I’m overwhelmed with joy that it was Jack. And love him, she does. Now as she did then and probably always will.

So in a lot of ways this patch is for my daughter who at the age of three used to sleep in a skeleton onesie clutching a Jack doll as the soundtrack of my own childhood played on a loop in her bedroom and she slept, a perfect creature in an utterly imperfect world. Jack does remind me of my daughter, of course he does, but he also serves as a reminder of who I was and what I consider to be the most important part of my future happiness – Jack symbolises bravery in a way that I feel few ever really give him credit for.

For those of you who don’t know the story of the pumpkin king – here’s a breakdown. Jack is the Pumpkin King and rules over a fictional town inhabited by all the creatures representative of Halloween. The towns name? Halloween Town! (obviously…) So every year the town made up of vampires, clowns, werewolves, men with axes in their face, swamp monsters, witches and ghosts prepare for Halloween. That’s all these people do. And the second that Halloween ends, they start from the beginning and start planning the next Halloween completely oblivious of anything outside of Halloween Town.

Now Jack is the figure head of these motely bunch of monsters and he leads them in their repetitive preparations year in and year out. He is the epitome of Halloween Town, their king and in many respects their god. But Jack is tired of doing the same thing all the time. The first song that Jack sings in the movie, Jacks Lament, he sings (or Danny Elfman sings) “But who here would ever understand that the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin, would tire of his crown, if they only understood – he’d give it all up if he only could.” So Jack does what we all do when we feel like no one understands us – he runs off into the woods with his ghost dog Zero!

In this forest he finds a ring of trees that have different doors carved into them representing the major western holidays – an easter egg, a clover, a turkey and more importantly, Jack finds a Christmas tree. To cut the long story short Jack goes through the door, discovers Christmas and realises that he could be something different, that he doesn’t have to be what he’s always been and instead he can be Santa! Because why the fuck not, right?! So he goes back to Halloween Town and tells them about Christmas Town (yes, it’s called Christmas Town) and no one really gets it. He’s standing there on a stage in front of people that worship him and he’s finally excited about something that’s important to him and they all just completely miss the point of what he’s trying to communicate.

So Jack, knowing his audience, breaks the fourth wall and tells the camera that he should just give them what they want. So he stops talking about how amazing and bright and cheerful Christmas Town is and tells the crowd that Santa Claus is a monster just like them. Jack eventually becomes Santa, well a skeletal version of Santa with some bony reindeer and a sack full of snakes and dead rats wrapped in orange and black paper. They even kidnap Santa so that he doesn’t get in the way of Jack delivering presents and hijacking his holiday.

Long story short – it doesn’t go right and Jack ends up getting shot out of the sky and winds up in a cemetery in the tattered remains of his Santa suit. It is at this point that Jack sings one of my all time favourite songs (I’m listening to it right now) and it is in this song, after watching the rest of the movie, that I found my inspiration in an animated skeleton dressed as Santa. The song is called Poor Jack and again Danny Elfman slays in his delivery as he sings the words – “And no one really understood, well how could they? That all I ever wanted was to bring them something great, why does nothing ever turn out like it should? Well, what the heck, I went and did my best and by God I really tasted something swell, and for moment, why, I even touched the sky and at least I left some stories they can tell.”

And then…

“And for the first time since I don’t remember when, I felt just like my old bony self again.”

*insert triumphant crying face here*

Imagine having that kind of resilience. I read a quote from Jim Carey this week from a documentary I watched last week on Netflix by the name of Andy and Jim (or Jim and Andy, I can’t quite recall) detailing the actors descent into madness after playing comedian Andy Kaufman in the movie Man on the Moon. It was something to the tune of you can fail at something you don’t love so you may as well take a chance on doing something that you love. And, I’m not going to lie, when I read that highly inspirational quote all I could think about was that skeleton dressed in the rags of a Santa costume larking about in a cemetery effectively singing “oh well, that didn’t work, but at least I tried!”

We’ve all been told who we should be and we’ve all had expectations placed on us that make us feel like we woke up in the wrong skin. We’ve all been told we’re too fat or too skinny or too loud or too quiet or too lazy or too busy. We’ve all felt like there is something more we could be and we’ve all felt the weight of other peoples opinions on our shoulders as we stagger round blinded by how they think we feel and how we actually feel. And we’ve all wanted to run away into the woods with our ghost dog and leave it all behind, to go out and discover who we could be if we weren’t constantly being told how we should be.

So, lessons I learned from this patch? It’s okay to not be okay and if the people whose opinions you hold in such high esteem cared about you as much as you think they do, they will not care whether or not you want to be the Pumpkin King or Santa Claus, because the people worth holding in high esteem are going to love you regardless of what the label reads on the box you’ve been stuffed in your entire life. Another lesson? You’re going to fail. You’re going to fuck shit up, sometimes, magnificently but the entire point of it all is that you get up and you sing a song in a cemetery that sets the world to rights. And that you forgive yourself before you even contemplating forgiving someone else. That you dust off your Santa suit and go and do the right thing.

Because it’s never too late to be the person you might have been.

And that there is nothing in this world than cannot be cured by music.

And ghost dogs.

 

 

Patching Up the Past #1

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He once told me that our relationship didn’t have to play by any rules, that we were free to make up our own rules, our own milestones and our own tropes of true love. There was an age gap of almost thirty years and though we had more in common with each other than we’d ever had with anyone before, there was a gulf of difference between everything else – the way we were raised, the way we saw the world, the values we held and the plans we had.

One thing we always had in common was music. I know a lot of people say that music is their life and I believe them, but with him music meant so much more than life. It was more than life and one of the bands that brought us together was Stiff Little Fingers and barring an impulsive Paul Heaton gig in the winter we got together, SLF were the first band we saw live together.

It was December and we’d just bought our first Christmas tree together. He bought tickets to see them down in Brighton and I think it was the first time that year that I’d been excited for something that was purely for my enjoyment. I packed my bag into the boot of his car and we drove down to the seaside. The cold was brutal and the walk from where we were staying to the club was hellish, but there, standing next to me for the first time in my life was a boy who was excited to see a band I liked.

He used to do this thing when we went to gigs and that night was the first night I noticed it. He’d stand behind me, all six feet and something of him, and he’d put one arm around my waist and pull me into him. He didn’t really dance, neither of us were those kinds of people, but he sang loud and out of key and he screamed along with Tin Soldiers in the sweat soaked club on the sea front and I felt how I was supposed to feel all those times before – I felt like I was in love.

After the gig we sat drunken and laughing eating kebabs soaked in chilli sauce in a hotel room with a broken thermostat that was trying to mirror the heat of our food. The Fratellis had released an album that year that would become the sound track to our first year and we put it on my Bluetooth speaker and we got into bed. I still can’t listen to a few of those tracks, even now but I hope one day when Slow ticks on or Desperate Guy shuffles onto my speaker, I’ll be able to listen to them and look back on that night when he was young and I was happy.

There is one song, I will link it below, called My Dark Places and for the longest of times it became our song. The first (but not the last) mix tape he ever made me opened with the original version of the song and closed with the acoustic version and there was a time when I was in his car, torn to pieces from one of many battles I waged during our relationship, and he quietly put the mix on his iPod and just looked at me knowing that when he didn’t have the words to help, SLF always would. He never knew, and I guess I’m telling him now, but the night of our first real date, after I somewhat assaulted him a few nights before and made my feelings known – I almost bailed.

I was sat in the dilapidated house that came with my job looking out the window of the living room at the pub where we met and the pub where we were going to meet and it felt like my heart was going to crawl out of my mouth. I still remember what I was wearing, the date, what I’d done earlier in the day and the way my hands were cold and sweaty. I’d spoken to my friend on the phone moments before and I stood with the phone still in my hand contemplating what this sick horrible feeling in my gut was.

I know now, for future reference, that it was butterflies. The first butterflies to have hatched in my gut for almost a decade. As an adult, so sure of myself and my identity, to have this ethereal man sweep in and save me from myself was the antithesis of what I believed I wanted. And I was scared. Scared that he wouldn’t find me interesting enough or smart enough or pretty enough, that every woman he’d ever had before me made me pale and unworthy. I put him on a pedestal then, and to a great extent, I still hold him there and probably always will. It was like I had closed my eyes and wished real hard for “that guy” and then, as if by magic – that guy was sitting across the road waiting for me.

I picked up my iPod and hit shuffle, not knowing then that the song would unite us the way it did. My Dark Places by Stiff Little Fingers ripped into my ears and Jake Burns started to shout about ashes and sadness and refusing to give up. I didn’t wait until the song had finished. I grabbed my keys and closed the door behind me, the cold October air hitting my face like an open hand. I walked up to the door of the pub and yanked my headphones out as the song finished and the warmth replaced the cold.

Then I saw him, all green eyes and smiles. And he was wearing a Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt. It was the cover of Inflammable Material, the first SLF album I ever owned. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me that night, like there was no one else in the room or the way we talked all night like we’d never had a real conversation with anyone else before that moment. Or the way he walked, all be it hammered, on the right side of the road so that I was tucked safely into the pavement. Or the way he tried to hold my hand.

The rest, as they say is history. And though there are other moments when this band made sense to us (we saw them four times in total together, I believe) I will end this post with the last time Stiff Little Fingers played a hand in our lives together. It was the afternoon when he came from work and our bedroom was covered in candles. He sat down on the bed and I got down on one knee and I pretended to propose to him with Star Wars rings I’d bought online to make a mockery of marriage, and institution that both of us had had painful experiences with. Listen, by the band in question was playing, and though it seemed unplanned, I chose that song on purpose though I never told him.

Long story short – it was the beginning of the end. The reaction he had was overwhelmingly negative and though now I feel like it was born out of a misunderstanding of what I was actually trying to do, at the time it just hurt like hell. Well, fuck, people it probably broke my heart if I’m being honest which I am indeed trying to be. In an attempt to comfort him, to prove to him that I didn’t need a white picket fence or a diamond or a wedding dress to be with him forever and be happy to be his regardless of what my last name was, I sent him into a spiral of panic that lasted for nearly three hours and exhausted the both of us.

And I don’t think either of us, or our relationship, ever fully recovered from that day.

The lessons I’ve learned from this patch? Don’t fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you, because if it does go wrong, which it most certainly will, he will take those songs away from you forever. My Dark Places gave me the courage to go into the pub that night and now when I hear it I want to scream. Something that used to make me feel bullet proof now riddles me with them by the time the first riff is a few seconds in. The other lesson I learned from this patch? Fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you because they will always know where to find the words to make you understand how they’re feeling or how you make them feel. Also, you will have an absolutely incredible soundtrack to your lives together.

Bonus lesson – nothing lasts forever (though this isn’t an Echo and the Bunnymen patch, the sentiment is true) but everything has the ability to grow into something new – pleasure from pain, healing from hurt, relationship to friendship – but enduring through it all, unwavering and refusing to ever bow down to change is what this patch taught me clearest, though it may have been the hardest lesson to learn – love always remains.

And I love this patch and the person it represents and as he is the person that told me to work on a project to get me through the rougher (pardon the pun) patches of my life, this project wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t have kicked it off with his very own patch. And yeah, there are other bands that will always remind me of him and yes there are still albums I can’t listen to without feeling like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest, but Stiff Little Fingers will always be “our band” and My Dark Places will always remind me that there are people out there that know how I feel and that I have never and will never be alone in my own dark places.

He’s got his own project now and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

For both of us.

So, number one with a bullet (a reference I hope he would get should he ever read this) Stiff Little Fingers.

Patching Up the Past

This time of year is hard for most people, financially and emotionally, this I know. I am not unique in the dull ache I carry in the centre of my chest during the festive season, nor am I alone in the strangled insomnia that always creeps into my sleepless nightmares when I try to get comfortable and drift off at night convinced that I will not be able to pay this bill or that and still make sure that there are at least a few token festive trinkets underneath the tree when that hallowed day rolls around.

So, as I sat at my coffee table this afternoon when I got home from work wrapping up pound shop presents for the small people that own the biggest piece of my heart, it occurred to me that I could fashion things from nothing and with the best intentions they would in turn come to mean everything.

A car playlist for my sister so she doesn’t have to share my brothers rancid concoction of ska, reggae, hip hop and heavy metal when she’s driving my niece and nephew to school. A compilation album for the people who hold music closer to their heart than they do any messiah tailor made for their individual idiosyncrasies. A blanket for my daughter hand stitched from her old pyjamas. A letter to my niece and nephew to let them know that I’m always there even when I’m not. A thank you note to a friend or two for giving me a hard place to lean and a soft place to fall when my world fell apart.

I don’t have money, I never have, and though it is the superpower of most parents this time of year, the one thing I have always had and hope to always keep – are my memories. A friend referred to the other night as an “eidetic memory” in as much as I will recall the smallest and most frivolous of details about the most arbitrary events in my life. I never really knew how powerful this trait was until I was made aware of it. Now I value it as a part of me as much as value my thoughtfulness or my sense of humour. It’s just a part of me, and a very under utilised part of my healing process.

My mental health has always been a stone in my throat, choking back my potential and pigeon holing me into a life of mendacious misery. I’ve often hid behind my inability to become more than I am, blaming depression, anxiety, drug abuse, my childhood, my parents, my financial disarray, the injustice of circumstance and the ever growing realisation that I may never find someone who will fight for my love.

And I’ve come to tie the two together this year – my memory and my mental health. It’s almost impossible to move on or formulate a new life independent of heart break or things that cause you pain when you remember every moment, every word, every tear and every touch. These things fade, for most people, and one day they wake up in the morning and it just stops hurting. For me, the healing process is slightly different.

I remember it all. Heartbreak has never been a moment for me. My heart breaks every morning when I wake up and it aches with the weight of the day when I close my eyes at night because I remember everything. I fall in love with all the little things that people never notice they do. The way they pick the skin around their finger nails or let out a whimper as they drift off to sleep, to the way they hold their pen or straighten their glasses or snort when they laugh. All these little things that you never even notice burrow into my brain and sit there, weeping in the dark and infecting my dreams.

So, no, heartbreak has never been an event rather than a perpetual state of being that I am forced to live in everyday. Sometimes it’s obvious – a song, a movie, a book, an old t-shirt, a love note, a gig ticket – and sometimes my memory is more subversive. It’s the way someone walks past me and the wind catches the smell of their wet hair and the scent of their shampoo on the frigid breeze makes my skin break out in gooseflesh because their hair smells like yours, but it doesn’t. It just smells like a memory and all of my memories are tied to people and places and perceptions that never quite leave my mind so at any given time I am forced to relive a thousand moments of hurt because everything reminds me of something.

Poisoned with nostalgia and thinking of the constructive rather than destructive nature of my memory, I have decided to end the year in honesty rather than denial. I am in pain. My heart is tired. I am scared of the future. I yearn for the past. I miss more people than I have phone numbers to call. I am trying to be a better person. I am sad. Constantly. I don’t feel good enough. Sometimes I want to quit. Sometimes I wonder whether or not it’s worth waking up at all. I don’t like the company I keep when I’m alone. I’m terrified that this is it. That this will never get better.  That no one will ever understand me. That no one will ever really love me. That no one really needs me.

I’ve often said that I don’t need to see a shrink because I already know what’s wrong with me. This is true and in truth writing has always made me feel better. It’s why I sit here and talk to myself in my head, my hands floating over the keys marking the page. I don’t write this blog for it to be read rather than for me to read it a year, two years or ten years from now and remember the person I was and it gives me hope to read the words I’ve written and prove myself wrong.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to use my memories to move on. I am going to take my oldest item of clothing – a denim jacket that I’ve had for eight years that looks as battered as I feel – and I’m going to patch it together with memories. Then, walking into 2018, I will be literally wearing my heart on my sleeve (and my back, and my shoulders, and my hips, and my chest). I’m going to pick a patch that reminds me of every broken heart and every glimmer of hope and I’m going to stitch them to my jean jacket and wear them like armour for the rest of my life.

Because I’m never going to forget the promises that were made then unmade or the way your mouth tasted on mine, nor will I forget what it was like to push you on a swing when you were eye high to my thigh or how you held me when I was scared and shaking and told me that it was going to be alright even though you knew it wasn’t. You, the plural you, the humans that haunt my memory like a curse and a cure – you are the only people that can protect me from myself.

So I have selected a number of patches for my jacket. Some are band logos, some cartoonish, some political and others as random as the series of thoughts that led me here to this day and this conclusion.

I will also use this project (a suggestion made to me by a friend who is in the inspiration for the first patch I pressed onto my jean jacket this evening) as a writing prompt and I will blog every time I sew a patch on, the process of the two things combined – the patch and the prose – will help me to scrape that heart off of my sleeve and move on in the direction of constructive creativity rather than it’s antithesis.

So thank you, for the three people that read this blog and for the hundreds of people who make my day everyday on the smallest and grandest of scales. Thank you for holding the train door for me and for letting me cut the queue when I’ve only got to pay for one thing. Thank you for being patient, kind, generous and for seeing the funny side to everything. Thank you for giving me a chance, for being honest with me and for allowing me to live my life the only way I know how. Thank you for telling me that I complete you, for buying me flowers and for picking up the cheque. Thank you for humming baselines in my mouth, for making me a mother and for letting me know that no matter what I do or who I become, I will always be your little sister and you will always love me. Thank you for letting me be a part of your dream and for letting me make you a part of mine.

Thank you for loving me.

Thank you for leaving me.

And thank you for reading this blog.

 

Just Two Young Punks Pissed Off In Love

 

There’s this song by a band you’ve never heard of called Fuck Shit Up, the song that is, the band is called Ghost Mice. There’s a line in that song that goes “this world was never good enough for us, just two young punks pissed off in love, we’d put that record on and sing tonight we’re gonna fuck shit up” and even though that song is about someone’s best friend dying, it always reminds me of you.

Do you remember that night when you showed up at my house at three in the morning and we listened my records and you wore my cardigan and we fell asleep on the floor, platonically and content, in each other’s arms a million miles away from everyone else? That’s why that song reminds me of you, because it’s about people that love each other although love is something they cannot comprehend, are numb to. Shut off, closed in and denied. These incredible people so full of life and energy and explosive lust allowed to wither together constantly comparing themselves to the people around them that are oblivious to the walls closing in.

Two young punks, pissed off in love.

Man. That was us.

And when we woke up in the morning nursing hangovers and heartbreak I waited with you at the bus stop and I gave you my iPod for your journey home because I knew that you were the only person that I’d ever known that needed music, any music, to get through the hangovers and heartbreaks. Your phone was dead but you text me later that day and said you listened to The Offspring all the way back to Ashford.

Funny how they never remind me of you when so many other things do. And funny how when all I was trying to do was hammer home how different we were, how incompatible and estranged our hearts were, you always managed to make the best of our differences. I pretended that it pissed me off, your enduring niceness, when in actual fact it gave me butterflies. That’s more than likely why I tried to suffocate it. The last thing I wanted to do was like you.

I remember there used to be this hunger to be near each other. You’d call me at stupid o’clock in the morning and tell me how much you loved me and I would get on a bus after a fifteen-hour shift and haul my arse to Staines just on the off chance that you were drunk and horny and alone and that we could relive that first night over and over and over again. It was a loop, you see? And it only worked because we let it.

You were in love with someone else. So was I. And we jumped around in this mosh pit of self-loathing, slamming each other up against walls, drawing blood and inflicting pain, punishing ourselves for not being worth enough to get those people whom we desired so terribly. And we told ourselves that it didn’t matter, that we didn’t like each other like that and that the moment that those people who truly held our hearts held out their hands, the lights would come up and the smoke would clear and we would walk away from each other and leave that dark, sweat stained room behind us.

We measured our failures against each other and found an equal in pain and loss. So, to say that we were in love with each other is incorrect. We were in waiting. Keeping each other warm until the storm cleared, disappointed romantics scraping the hearts from our sleeves. And then you went away, or more to the point I went away. I gambled with a good guy and ending up stamping his heart into the pavement and in those moments, when I thought I could hate myself no more, suddenly you’re there, on my doorstep just as beautiful as I remembered you being.

But you don’t get that. You never got that. Why anyone would ever call you such a thing. I mean because you’re not, right? You’re not worthy of someone’s love or attention or god forbid, attraction? Because all the people you’ve ever really wanted it from have never given it to you. They’ve never seen it in you and therefore it cannot possibly exist. You must be deformed, hideous and too much to bear, otherwise why would they not have loved you back? Why this constant denial of your most base urges and desires if you are all these things that I constantly tell you that you are? Well I’m here to tell you now, whether you read this today or tomorrow or someday or never at all – you have always been, and will always be, extraordinarily beautiful to me.

Not just in the way you look but in the way you are and shortly before my world fell apart in earnest you laid on my bed in my freezing cold, empty flat, with me and kissed me, topless and sober and I thought…well, fuck who knows what I thought. That maybe it was starting to sink in. Maybe, just maybe you were starting to understand the way I saw you and stripped down from ego and bravado and drunken declarations of anguish and lust – you may just have been kissing me instead of the idea of me and I may just have been kissing you instead of the idea of you.

I never dreamt of waltzing off into the sunset with you, of going to dinner with your parents or introducing you to my world, but I dreamt about you. Even in the arms of other people who laid claim to my heart for a time or two, I dreamt about you. And these are all the things I think and feel and have never been able to articulate because to admit that I felt these wonderful and fucked up things would be to admit that I was wrong and weak and, in essence…in love with you.

And why the fuck would I ever want to admit that? Because it wouldn’t change anything. You’ve spent your entire life feeling like no one ever loved you back, loved you properly the way you deserved and after knowing you as a friend, a lover and a stranger I can probably vouch for the truth in that sentiment. But I loved you. Then and now, still now. And if you really want to know the reason why we would never work out, why we will never be anything more than two young punks pissed off in love, it’s simple – I will never be good enough for you.

I’m not the girl that you want to say these things to you and you cannot look past my inherent flaws the way I can look past yours. And that may in part be my fault. We’ve spoken of armour and how the weight of it increases with years, and though you’ve thrown your armour onto your bedroom floor and given me all of you a time or two, I’ve never really been naked in front of you. I ridiculed your aspirations and pretended not to like your music and belittled your intelligence and slated your friends and mocked your maturity – because it was easier to hate you than it was to love you.

Because hate, well I knew I might get it back.

Love on the other hand – I knew you were never going to love me.

So, I’m apologising. For the walls, I built and the blood I spilled and for every time I ever made you feel like anything less than everything. You’ll always be that one, Carlin. That one person who will forever leave me wondering where my words went and how you so deftly and efficiently stole my soul from right underneath my nose. And here it is, in black and white, forever and always.

I’m sorry I broke our hearts.

And be beautiful.

Because you are.

When I Dream of Dreams

The sun is setting outside and the thick summer heat crowds the small room. Everything seems too close. You sit a few feet away from me, mirroring my stance, cross legged on the floor. You hand me a piece of paper and show me the words that you’ve stitched together, words hidden within other words, worlds hidden within other worlds. I struggle to understand. It’s been a long day, I’m hot and I’m tired and I’m worried. He’ll notice I’m not home any moment now and as the sun sinks behind the grey skyline, a lump forms in my throat.

You sit beside me now, out arms touching, your strong, tanned forearm prickles against my side and sends gooseflesh shivering across my back and chest. You point to the words on the piece of paper in front of me and explain what they are. Your handwriting is messier than I thought it would be but the paper is precious in my trembling hands and I hold tight, tight enough to make the tips of my fingers go white. You stand, bare footed in jeans and a white t-shirt, the way I and everyone always pictures you, in their dreams and in their minds. You ask if I want to listen to some music. How could I refuse?

I sit stoic and scared on the sofa as you place a record on the turn table and the black magic scuffs its way to life. Have we been drinking? Smoking? I feel about ready to float off of the sofa when you sit down heavily next to me and the music takes up the last of the space the heat left behind in the small, sweet smelling room. Your hair is a mess and my heart is a mess and you look at me like you’ve known me forever.

We sit, together, perfectly enclosed in each-others company and listen to the music. You close your eyes and a bead of sweat falls down one cheek. It takes everything in me not to wipe it away with the corner of my t-shirt or to run my hands through the sweaty mess of black curls mopping at your forehead. We sit for a moment longer as one song ends and another song begins, the stop and starts of the record player sending little jolts of awareness through my mind and down to my fingertips.

This will end. I know this will end. But for now it’s here and until the record skips and changes its tune, I know that this is here and it’s now. With your eyes still closed you lean into me your face graving mine as you nestle you hot, damp head in my lap and exhale deeply. Your breath reaches up my bare thighs and settles somewhere near where my shorts begin. I am useless, speechless, dumbfounded and lost. My hands suddenly seem superfluous, my breath seems ragged and painful.

You open your mouth to speak and every word hits my bare legs with a soft gust of hot, fragrant breath. You ask me not to go, you tell me to stay, here with you in this place, in this moment and though we haven’t spoke of my leaving, it appears we both knew I would have to go sometime. Your voice breaks and my fingertips find your forehead, sweeping back your sweaty hair and stroking away the hurt. I have to go I tell you. But not yet.

Not yet.

Rivers and Forests.

I read somewhere once that music is like a river. That everyone whilst being able to appreciate its beauty cannot appreciate its power unless they fully submerge themselves in the water and become part of the current. The people that become part of the river, the people that become the continuous ebb and flow of the water, the forever changing patterns of ripples and tides, the sunken debris forgotten by all and missed by none – these people are musicians.

They understand the river better than the river does and when mere mortals hear just an incessant babbling of water over rocks and lapping against the banks, musicians hear something entirely different. They don’t hear the noise of the river, rather than the music of it. They have become part of the river and respect its ability to take them anywhere and away from anything. People who do not have the ability or the inclination to be part of the river become passive observers to something that at first appears as simple as a body of water or a string of chords, but to the river, and to the musicians, there is a far deeper and more complicated meaning to its composition.

When I read this I instantly began to think about the river in all its complexity and my mind drifted to the forest. During the day a forest is possibly one of the most breath taking and beautiful places you would be lucky enough to find yourself standing in and its omnipresence is astounding sometimes. Mile after mile of trees that have stood longer than your lineage and will outlast the best of us, intertwined forever with the earth through a connection of soil, roots and promise. Massive natural structures completely untouched by man that dwarf you into insignificance and remind you just how unimportant you actually are.

Sun breaking through bough after bough of fragile looking leaves, no two the same that seem so utterly breakable but are in fact intricate natural phenomena that put our peasant like cardio vascular system to shame. Trunks as wide as cars and armoured with bark that is so easy to break and impossible to replace. Stagnant earth swamps your head and on a hot day can become absolutely intoxicating. The smell of soft, damp, breathing wood and the muddled sense of belonging to the earth and it to you when standing in such a place.

Every possible crevice your eyes could search rich with life and death in equal quantities, a never quite silent place that is as unnerving as it is attractive. You could be a hundred miles away from the nearest human being or they could be hiding behind the nearest tree but the forest will never forsake your solitude. You came to it and you took the time to breathe with it, if only for a moment and if only coincidentally. For that single moment, you were alive with the rest of the world and in that single moment you were perfect.

Then you start to feel an unsettling kind of bewilderment radiating from your stomach and forcing your teeth to clench. The sun is dipping behind the broken boughs and shadow begins to steal the way out. It’s getting cold and suddenly there are too many trees, too many twisted skeletal remains of various fallen friends blocking your once safe path and threatening to send you spluttering onto the damp, dead floor. You start to shudder as shadow begins to envelope you as well as the forest, and your heart begins beating in your ears. Saliva pours into your mouth and you realise that you are frightened.

Because what was so beautiful just moments before the sun disappeared behind the now suffocating canopy of translucent leaves and insidiously shaped branches, is now one of the most intimidating places you dare to imagine. The liberating closeness of the trees now feels claustrophobic and the quaintly sporadic half walked paths that were roughly guiding you through to the end have now disappeared in the darkness and you are on your own and out of your element.

You are now alone in the dark with the earth and the earth doesn’t seem to like you very much anymore. The fractured roots of monolithic trees catch your feet and send a jolt of adrenaline straight to your already over excited heart. Getting out of the forest is all you can think about now. The sounds of crickets and birds are now haunting and unsafe, the low rumble of what you thought was a toad in the day light, the ruffling of leaves on the forest floor that would have been a rabbit were the sun still up, have now become the sounds of ravenous wolves and angry animals the likes of which your pressured mind need not comprehend for fear of complete and utter terror.

But there is one consistent in it all, one thing about the forest that never changes even when the light surrounding it does. Like water is needed to make a river a river, trees are needed to make a forest a forest and it is the likeness to these trees that call to mind the similarities between musicians and water.

Just as musicians are ever changing, flowing with what seems to be at times unbridled passion and unadulterated abandon for what convention has to say about how they choose to follow the bends in their banks, writers and the words they string together are stoic and unchangeable like the trees of a forest. A musician on stage performing a song can change it at any given moment, improvising or just following a tangent of unthinking trust that the music, the river, will guide them to the end of the performance unscathed.

Writers have a harder time adapting their work once it’s completed.  The moment those words pass through a press and onto the page, they are their forever, the deafening deepness of their roots hard to ignore or escape. Books do not flow, they do not adapt and their trunks are only soft when they are young. Once they are complete, finished and rooted in reality they stay the way they were made forever, or until someone cuts them down and rebuilds them in their own image.

We cannot improvise and we cannot comment, we are instead forced to stand on whilst the sun fades behind us and what you once treasured about the stories we told becomes marred with sadness and fear. We cannot uproot and clear a path for you to follow, we cannot lap against your ankles and offer you comfort when you so desperately need it.

All we can do is what we have always done; look on with concrete confidence and hope that even when the sun sets on our time together, your knowledge of and trust in the forest of the day will accompany you to the end of our affair with a deeper understanding of just how hard it is to be one tree in a forest, one drop in a river and one story that at one point, needed to be told.

It is through this understanding of relative simplicity that we cease to be rivers and forests, men and women, broken and whole and we simply become what we were always meant to be but never really took time to notice we were – alive.

When I Dream of Rain

I was sitting outside of the art room with my headphones in listening to Cat Stevens singing about fathers and sons. It was raining but it was the see through rain that speckles the windows before the real storm breaks. The corridor smelt of plaster and heat, the radiators were turned up almost to the point of scorching.

I hadn’t slept and I was waiting for my art teacher to unlock the classroom door so I could get on with my after school lessons. I hadn’t been doing them for long and the whole process of going to school for two hours a day was new to me. It wasn’t helping me. It was hurting me. It was allowing me more hours of unguarded time when you weren’t there to stop me breaking my own heart.

My battery was dying and I was beginning to get anxious. I could handle it when there was music or a book, but I had nothing that day. I wasn’t even wearing shoes. If he had walked by at that moment I would have been sent back to that place, even further from you. Then the door at the other end of the corridor opened and I knew without looking up that it was you. I knew it was you because I felt you before I ever saw you.

I could feel you looking at me and as I began to cry you came to me and slumped down the wall onto the floor, side by side. You called me a wayward genius once and I called you a cunt more than once, but there was something that connected us. Maybe it was because we were both such good liars. We did it so well. I would tell you that I was always fine and you would always tell me that everything was going to be alright. They were the greatest lies we ever told and we told them to each other.

I slipped my headphones out and you asked me to come with you. I would have followed you anywhere and a couple of times I did. I sat on your desk and put my head phones back in. You watched me as I mouthed the words to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman and cried the tears of a teenager who was too young to know how far gone she was.

You put your hand on my chin and lifted my face up to meet your eyes. They were the glassy and as horrifically blue as ever. You took my headphones out, so softly. They fell to my neck and I heard my heart beating in my ears where music had been moments before. I don’t know if you ever fathomed what your hands did when they were on my body. It wasn’t sexual, it was almost … chemical.

You told me that people get addicted to other people. I took it as an insult and pushed your hand away. I could see that you were hurt and I liked it. I liked hurting you. I lovedhurting you, because you never stopped hurting me. All your words, your jokes, your manipulation of the rules and your time, none of it ever stopped it hurting. And you were too distracted to realise that what you were actually doing was killing me.

I told myself that the reason you said that about people being addicted to people was because I relied on you too much and you were pointing out that you were fast becoming just another pointless thing that made me feel good that I couldn’t live without. Just as I was about to leave you held my hand and I felt my stomach melt out of my knees.

Then you kissed me. You kissed me. You kissed me.

When I pulled away your eyes were wet. I wasn’t crying anymore. I was confused and I still am all these years later. I always thought you were a figment of my imagination and if people hadn’t have spoken of you in terms of reality I would never have mentioned the way you made me feel. But the truth of the matter is you are real and your words were real and every time you smiled or cried or kissed me, all of that was real too.

But now I look back and all I see is the notion of you. The promise that one day it would get better. The promise that you would never, ever leave me to face it alone. The promise that you and I were something far greater than what the world was allowed to see. The promise that somewhere, deep, in the dark part of your mind that tells you what we were doing was wrong you saw it as right and tried to convince me it was so.

You never convinced anyone. I find it hard to think of and every time I see your face in my mind I go back to that day when you first pressed your mouth against mine. November Rain by Guns n Roses was playing through my head phones hanging listlessly around my neck when your lips first grazed mine. Maybe I have better taste in music now, but I still cannot listen to that song.

I wonder if you ever think of me. If you ever think of the teenager I was when you took to kissing me and wonder what kind of adult that mess of a girl became. I wonder if you know now that although I no longer pay rent in the darkness, I stay there occasionally and almost always when finding myself in the shadows recall the strange way the rain fell against the windows that day.

Most of all I wonder that if were we to meet now, whether or not you would allow me to protect you from yourself the way you protected me. I wonder now if you used me as a distraction from what was going on in your mind. I wonder now if I ever meant anything more to you than what we ended up as.

I wonder now if you knew at the time, that I was unattainably and irrevocably in love with you. I wonder, every day, if knowing that would have changed your mind.

Why Writers Hate You. (Yeah, You.)

You want to know why writers don’t like you? People who write don’t like people who do not write for one reason – they envy you.

They envy the musicians who take ten minutes to write a song, three minutes to sing it and live off of it for the rest of their lives. Musicians who play their guitars and make people melt, who recycle forgotten notions into meaningful lyrics and capture your heart and your soul with three chords and a couple of “ohs” and “yeahs”. The men and women that boys and girls want to be, they stick their faces to their walls and ask for that first guitar for their birthdays. The musicians that give the writers the inspiration and the drive to keep going even when their hands are weak and their eyes are tired. They envy the simplicity of it all.

They envy the painters whose genius is so blatant. The painters who may spend years working on one piece that is valued and sold in a matter of moments. The painters whose work is flung to the four corners of the earth printed and re-printed time and time again until their images become part of our lives, spanning the generations and becoming immortal. The men and women who buy their work and place it on their walls with the highest esteem for everyone to effortlessly enjoy for the rest of their days. The painters that make their space brighter, whose work peels away layer by layer and gives the writers what they need from it every time they look back, even when they think that they have gained all they can from it. They envy the stamina of it all.

They envy the performers who capture their ear without even trying. The performers whose words radiate through the minds of the masses and inspire more than just original thought. The performers who change the world with a speech or a saying, whose words are their mark on the world at large without pen ever touching paper. The men and women who live by the words of these performers and quote them in their minds when the days are short and the nights are long. The performers who made the writers want to to write to begin with, whose words seemed all too eloquent for their hands not to want to elaborate on paper and immortalise them forever on parchment. They envy the legacy of it all.

When you can play a guitar people flock to hear your songs. When you can paint a magnificent picture people climb over each other to get their hands on your work and show it off to the world. When you can inspire a generation of people, even when you are cold in the ground, your words never gather dust and your spirit never dissolves. There is nothing to envy about being a writer. The process of writing a book is not fast, its not catchy and when its done it cannot be fully appreciated in a matter of moments like a song, a painting or a speech can be.

The written words demands the life of the author, but with that, it also demands your life as a reader. A book cannot reach you as fast as a song, as spectacularly as a painting or as hard as a speech. It asks for some of the time it took to write it in return for a much longer lasting relationship. If you ask someone who their favourite musician is you will get a thousand bands and artists. If you ask someone who their favourite painter is you will get random descriptions of images and lets say twenty names. If you ask someone who inspires them with their words you will again find quite a few names dropping at your feet.

However were you to ask someone who their favourite author is you will see their face change slightly. Behind their eyes you will see them recanting the first book they read, the way it felt in their hands virgin and new, and then simultaneously the way its pillaged spine felt in those very same hands when it was finished. You will see them recalling to memory for that briefest of moments what was happening to them when that author came into their life and what that authors words helped them face or forget. A million memories will flood through their iris’ in that moment and if you have the resilience to search for that moment you will not be disappointed.

Whether you would accept it or not writers do not like you because they rely on you. You can hear a song without choosing to put it on, in a car or a supermarket and slowly fall in love with it. You can see a painting in the lobby of a hotel or in the corridor at your school and begin to unpick in your mind. You can overhear someone speaking and form your opinions without ever having to engage with that person. You cannot accidentally read a book. A song can catch your attention with one drop in the bass, a painting with one flare of colour and a speech with one key phrase you cannot shake from your mind. Writers have to put their faith in you to carry on reading the book until it captures you, which could be on the first page, the thousandth page or never at all.

So when writers tell you to fuck off because they need to concentrate or ignore you when you are speaking to them, intentionally or not, when they frustrate the living shit out of you because their minds are a million miles away from the water bill or what she said to him – remember that they hate you. They hate you without wanting to or even fully knowing the extent to which the hatred filters down through them. But my friends take solace in the fact that you are not the only people they hate – writers hate the world.

Writers hate the world because it gets in the way of the one in their mind. The one that lives behind their eyes that they are duty bound to make so perfect, that when you eventually do get an invitation to join them inside of it – you will never want to leave.

If you leave – we fail.