MEMORIES MAY BE BEAUTIFUL, AND YET… Confessions of a Nostalgia addict.

nostalgia
nɒˈstaldʒə/
noun
a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.
“I was overcome with acute nostalgia for my days at university”
synonyms: wistfulness, longing/yearning/pining for the past, regret, regretfulness, reminiscence, remembrance, recollection, homesickness, sentimentality
“there is a nostalgia for traditional values”

I have a pretty messed up relationship with Nostalgia.

I don’t just mean the ‘classic’ nostalgic ideas, like the different sweets I used to eat as a kid or Barbie memorabilia (I had some bloody great Barbie jeans) or the Spice Girls era, though all of those set off all kinds of warm, fuzzy feelings in my tummy… but I mean full blown, addicted-to-the-past, yearning to relive past moments and the ideal outcomes I used to dream about within those moments, Nostalgia. The love I felt for people, before they broke my heart. The major highs I’ve floated on in past jobs, before the contracts came to an end. The safety and security I felt living back at my family home, before I exposed myself to being an independent, self-sufficient human two hundred miles away.

I’ve found that past midnight, and before the ungodly hour of 7am, is primetime for a nostalgic episode.
I’ve spent days on end stewing over writing this essay, lost for words. The minute the clock strikes midnight, and I actually decide it’s time I try and catch some sleep, it’s like my brain kicks into overdrive and instantaneously declares ‘NOW is the time I shall reminisce! Bring on the memories, good and bad. LET ME HAVE ‘EM’. (Around about this time is the time I start to regret my decision to have a cup of tea at 10:45pm.)

Similarly, my brain likes to do this whenever I have an early rise. I’m talking about those mornings that you’ve upped and left the house before the majority of the human race has snoozed their alarm for the first time. Those mornings when the sun has barely rose, the sky is the palest of blues. You’re the first person to breathe in that day’s fresh, crisp air and it feels so uncontaminated… clean. The streets resemble that of an apocalyptic themed movie, not a single soul in sight. Deathly quiet. Peaceful.

And I feel all weirdly cosy and comforted, wrapped up in my big coat with a woolly hat and my hands tucked into my pockets. But, in the same respect, I feel on edge. Uneasy. Because I start to think about little moments in time that I’ve felt this exact feeling before. Where was I when I last felt like that? Was it when I awoke pre-5am in Sydney, Australia, for my early flight to Melbourne or when I similarly hopped out of bed at 7am to go for a brisk morning walk around Manly with my Mam and Uncle? Or was it way back when I was younger and I’d have to shoot out of bed super early to go on our annual family trip to Flamingoland? Like a usual dose of deja-vu multiplied by 100.

Visiting places I’ve frequented in the past, with particular people or at a particular eventful time in my life, brings back all the vibes too. In particular, one of the biggest triggers is Saltburn-by-the-Sea. The sea, the breeze, the sand, the ice-creams… BOOM, achey achey heart.


Music is also a massive nostalgia trigger for me. I have a strong emotional connection to music. Whenever I feel remotely emotional, I hop onto Spotify and jam out some tunes to fit whatever mood I’m in. It’s probably the one thing I’d say really feeds my soul and fills me up.
Different songs, artists, albums are all attached to memories and places and feelings. Whenever I play specific pieces of music, I am transported back into the moment I’ve connected that piece to, in the past.

For example, whenever I listen to the Lianne La Havas – Blood album, I’m instantly transported back to the time I walked through the backstreets of Kyoto, Japan. Completely alone, as it poured with rain. I remember how quiet it was but how safe I felt. Taking in the old Japanese teahouses with their lanterns hanging outside. The track Green and Gold, in particular, I find comfort in.
Any of Alabama Shakes’ stuff makes me think of coming up with lyrics whilst taking a shower. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t the foggiest idea.
The Grease Megamix running straight into Wham! – Wake Me Up Before You Go Go reminds me of making up dance routines in my living room as a kid, as they both followed each other on the compilation CD I used to play religiously.
The Fray – Over My Head (Cable Car) reminds me of the glorious MySpace era and Secondary School.

All of the above reminds me of how powerful music can be and how it has the ability to affect us emotionally. How good is music, really? It has the ability to provide relief and to heal. Why any government would want to cut Arts funding to seriously affect the production of such a powerful, healing art form, ESPECIALLY in the type of world we live in and with what’s going on today, is BEYOND me. But that’s a whole different ball game…

I’m used to taking great comfort in that warm, fuzzy feeling but lately, my thoughts have shifted. Maybe I’m a little too cozy living in memories? As a result, am I not living in the present? Am I missing new, precious moments right now by longing to be back where I was 5 years ago? Do I choose to love the past because the present has become more difficult to comprehend and deal with, when our world seems to be going through a political global crisis right now? I’m pretty damn lucky that I have such great memories that I’d want to relive all over again, I guess, but I often feel so stuck and unable to move forward and is that because I’m just so obsessed with them?

This thought actually came to head when I watched La La Land for the first time, a film that exhumes Nostalgia. The colour-grading, for one, is filled with splashes of pastel hues, there are countless beautiful sunrises and sunsets, then that edgy argument scene that tinges all of that with a feeling of dread and uncertainty. I came out of that cinema bewildered and a blubbering mess because I related that much (what a d*ckhead ey).

Then I listened to an interview from the Golden Globes (I think?), just after Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling had swiped their awards, in the press conference room. Damien Chazelle, the director, made a comment that really struck a chord.

‘Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is not a place to live, you should honour the past but actually find a way to push that forward, whether it’s in how you love or how you make movies or how you make any art.’

And like that, everything made sense. I just knew that the next step for me was to break out and start living in the now. So often, I’ve read quotes and had conversations about living in the present and all that jazz, but it took this for me to have the realisation of what that truly meant. To have such beautiful past events as part of my history is completely a blessing and being reminiscent and sentimental once in a while isn’t a crime. But I have now come to realise that by living in my past, and not dealing with the present, I’m taking 12 steps back and 0 forward. And that’s no way to live when life on earth is so damn short. We must continue to keep moving forward, even when shit gets hard. As the late, great Abraham Lincoln once said:

‘I walk slowly but never backward.’

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Backflips

One of the hardest things I’ve had to accept as I’ve grown older is that I’m not good at everything I do. I grew up being good at things, academically and artistically. I grew up being good at picking things up, throwing myself in at the deep end, being relatively good at everything I did.
Apart from gymnastics.
Don’t get me wrong, I was ok at it and I absolutely LOVED going to gym as a kid. I was part of Riverside Display Team, who I travelled around the country with. We competed at, and won on one occasion, the British Championships in Liverpool and we performed all over Europe, even at Disneyland Paris (which was mint FYI).
But I was always scared to take a leap of faith when it came to gymnastics. I mean, being afraid of heights in a team building things like a 21 man pyramid probably didn’t help. I was scared to try being a ‘top’ when it came to big balances. I was also weirdly afraid of going upside down whenever we performed outside. I don’t know why that was, maybe I felt like the sky was caving in on me or something.
I was limby, gawky and clumsy and on paper, not the perfect candidate for being part of a sturdy structure of human beings.
It took me 6 years to pluck up the courage to try for my first backflip, just a casual back handspring.  Once I achieved that, I never looked back. I can still do them today. In fact, I’ve showcased them at several dance calls, whenever the team have asked about anybody being able to do tricks. What’s absolutely hysterical is that, if I know people in my audition, they are always so surprised when I put my hand up to volunteer my acrobatic services.
I just mustn’t look like the backflipping type, whatever that is.
That feeling of surprising people, pulling out something completely unexpected, is actually such a funny, great feeling. It really makes me laugh, wholeheartedly.
Right now, in this moment whilst reflecting on that feeling, I’ve come to think that maybe that’s a similar feeling to the one we get when we break through a mould. When you completely abolish somebody’s idea of you, throw them off course, fuck the system and make a pigeon hole look a bit like Donald Trump… a stupid, shitty thing that spouts uneducated assumptions and complete nonsense to anybody that will listen. (That probably makes no sense to anybody but myself, apologies.)
And so when I dream of breaking the many moulds in existence, and setting all of the pigeon holes on fire, I hold onto that feeling that I get when somebody is surprised by my backflip. Sky’s the limit bitches. It’s not falling in on you, even when you feel upside down.

PERSPECTIVE: that time I cried at a Marks and Spencer’s biscuit.

perspective
pəˈspɛktɪv
noun
  1. 1.
    the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.
    “the theory and practice of perspective”
    2. 
    a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.
    “most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective”

Perspective interests me greatly. I am absolutely fascinated by how different things can affect perspective. Different environments, different people, different cultures. We are one person, with one set of eyes. Yet, what we see in our teens can be so drastically different to what we see in our twenties. What we see and how we deal with things in one country can be so drastically different to what we see in another country. What we see through our own eyes is entirely different to what your Uncle Bob sees through his eyes. What a criminal sees as right, the average non-criminal sees as wrong. What you see as one colour may appear different to what another person sees (hence that whole stupid ‘WHAT COLOUR IS THE DRESS?’ escapade).

I guess I find it so interesting as my perspective has changed a lot lately. With age, with experiences, with reading and educating myself. It amazes me how differently I look at things now, from how I looked at them when I was eighteen.

When I was eighteen, the world was my oyster. I dreamt big, I dreamt of having a successful career, I dreamt of living comfortably in London and taking over the world, step by step. Stereotypical of a creative, aspiring teen performer, some may think. But I wasn’t completely naive to the industry I was entering, I had witnessed many friends trying and giving up because it’s a super tough world out there. I’ve always been a hard worker, I enjoy hard work. I enjoyed slogging away at school to get my A* in GCSE English Literature. I enjoyed pouring endless hours of research into new musicals whilst studying for my BTEC in Performing Arts, just so I could be the person singing a song nobody had heard before. I’ve always enjoyed that feeling of ‘getting educated’ and learning new things. On top of all of this, I dreamt big and had this burning hope in my heart that I’d be that super successful person I strived to be, one shiny day in the distant future. This is what I perceived to be ‘the ideal life’.

Cut to being twenty four. I’m currently sitting in a beautiful, organic restaurant in Makati, Metro Manila. If you were to ask me, at eighteen, ‘Where do you think you will be in six years time?’, I can bet you ten thousand pesos, right in the moment now, that I would not reply with ‘doing Les Mis in the Philippines?’. I am BAFFLED at the thought of being here. At least once a week, I ask myself ‘how on earth did you wind up here, Jess?’.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a pretty great run in the industry so far, each job I’ve done has been very different to the previous job, artistically and logistically. I had a great year in London, a great year on the road in the UK and now, here I am in Asia. I have to admit, I’m completely rubbish at saving money, it’s the one thing that worries my mother (sorry Mam). And you know, if I was good at saving money, I probably would have enough to not be worried when the dark days of ‘funemployment’ loom, instead of panicking and working endless shifts in a pub to buy food and petrol.

But whilst being rubbish at saving money, do you know what I have done? I have travelled. I also have to admit, I’ve looked relatively well whilst doing said travelling because I have an endless need to buy clothes, but I have travelled. I have experienced places I have always wanted to experience and I have experienced places that I never intended to experience. Specifically, I’m currently experiencing and I’m about to experience EVEN MORE of a part of the world that I wouldn’t have dreamt of visiting if my job hadn’t have brought me out here. And boy, am I glad!

I’ve tried endlessly to write a piece about Manila, I think this must be my fifth attempt, and now I can finally weave it into this magical piece about perspective.

Because my perspective has changed.

Important things I have learnt from living in Manila:

  • We are just a tiny little human on a HUUUUUUUUUGE planet. No-one is more important than the next person. No culture is more important than another culture. Respecting other people’s cultures makes life easier for everybody. The filipinos are some of the kindest, most patient and most generous people I have EVER met, being a little more like them can surely NEVER be a bad thing? So yes, mutual respect IS everything. You can ALWAYS learn from people. If we all pulled our head out of our arses more often, we’d probably learn A LOT.
  • Poverty is much more than you see on TV or in magazines. Poverty is well and truly alive. I thought I’d experienced extreme poverty before. I’ve witnessed homelessness on the streets of London. Hell, I’ve felt so bad that I’ve bought things and handed them to the homeless people on the Strand before. But I had NEVER experienced a small child tugging at my skirt, begging for money, before I came here. I’d never seen a grown woman cradling a baby in one hand and holding an empty cup out in the other, under a lamppost on the corner of a street, asking for money to feed herself and her family. I’d never had a teenage boy asking me if I could give him my smoothie. But what really REALLY freaked me out about this whole thing is that, after about three weeks of being here, it felt normal to see all of the above. It was like I’d become immune to it. How on earth does it get to a point where you become immune to something like this? How is ANY of this normal? And how on earth did I not think this was a big deal when I was back in London, lapping it up and complaining about having to be waitress for a short time whilst being out of work? It BAFFLES me to this day.
    Yes, there are BEAUTIFUL areas of Manila, I’ve eaten the most delicious meals in awesome places. Which is what makes me sad. Because poverty is truly alive. And I feel like it’s important that everybody should be aware of this. It’s helped me to feel extremely grateful for what I have, for my wonderful family and friends and for the opportunities that I have been given.
  • I do indeed, have a fantastic group of people waiting for me at home, boosting me up from afar. Being here without them only strengthens my adoration and gratification for them. They make me who I am. I would happily take being short of money and unemployed but having a life filled with these amazing people over being successful, famous and alone ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

Now, I find myself not putting so much focus on ‘being uber successful’, ‘taking over the world’ and ‘having enough money to live comfortably’. I want a life filled with love, being creatively fulfilled and following whatever path that’ll take me to creative ventures, knowing that I have done everything in my power to understand and respect other people and their own perspectives. I want to see this beautiful world and what it has to offer. I want to come home to London at the end of it all and feel GRATEFUL for it, not complain about the shit transport system or Oxford Street being packed full of tourists, leaving me unable to busily power walk to my destination. Believe me Londoners, you haven’t experienced bad traffic until you’ve experienced Manila traffic, I’d take five hours of driving in Central London over driving ten minutes in Manila.

But most of all, I want to have exciting stories to tell my children. I want to have gotten the most out of what this wonderful life has to offer, while I can so I can tell my kids to do the same… because it’s so worth it. Like anybody on this planet, I want to love and be loved.

I cried at the sight of a Marks and Spencer’s packet of biscuits a few weeks back because I hadn’t seen them in so long. That night, I introduced some Aussy workmates to them and we ate the packet during the next few shows. How is that for cross-culturing behaviour?

I do miss a good old cup of Yorkshire Tea though.

Palawan