I’ve had weeks of first dates, meeting all sorts of new people. Every time, I’ve asked them to take me to somewhere I’ve never been before, and if I have to be honest most times I’ve preferred the venue to the man. Someone took me to a fantastic bar near Bethnal Green that has a stonebaked pizza oven and serves gluten free pizza. He was a very nice man and we chatted about life and science and books with absolutely no chemistry.
So basically I’ve made a lot of new friends. Which is super pleasant, but this London life has me rushing around with barely a moment for my own. I increasingly find myself in a heap on my bed, trying to catch four hours of sleep after dinner with a perfectly pleasant person I know I am just never going to see again. Not worth it. Not without that spark, without that fire, that feeling the next morning in work of being tired as hell but you sneaked a kiss goodnight and you are so warm inside your cheeks glow.
I realise maybe I’ve been approaching the whole dating thing with a little too much military strategy. Almost like running a business, you think that if you interview twenty people, at least one of them will be competent enough for the job.
But life isn’t like that, it’s messy and gloriously inconvenient. I talk to a lot of people about how they met their other halves and I get brilliant stories that are nothing at all like the movies. People who just seem to crash and fall into each other in the strangest of places.
I decide to take a step back, to figure out a little more of myself, leaving room for breath and thought. I wake up to the sound of my flatmate playing Alanis Morissette. The song is ‘Princes Familiar’, a track from her MTV Unplugged. I was obsessed with Alanis Morissette from the age of twelve when I first heard the arrogant plunging guitars on Jagged Little Pill‘s opener, ‘All I Really Want’, and the screeching uncomfortable retribution on ‘You Oughta Know’.
To say she shaped my life is an understatement. She’s the reason I write, and to this day ‘Hand In My Pocket’ describes me down to the molecule. I’ve lost touch with her music for the past few years, but here it was, the shopping list song of all the hopes and fears she longed for in a prospective lover. What had happened to the hope and fear in me? When did I get so damn practical?
That night I start reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, a memoir on the punk rock goddess’ life in 1970s New York and her relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. When I was about fifteen years old I took over my father’s vinyl collection, and listened to the whooping poetic angst of Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia in the dark with a candle burning. I kept piles of notebooks full of stream of consciousness ramblings up until the age of twenty. There was freedom there somewhere, something I had forgotten in myself and lost to armour along the way. I spent the rest of the night watching stars while listening to Horses.
I had spent the past few weeks working, sleeping, and going to the gym, interspersed with dating here and there, propelled more by the experience of meeting new people than actually thinking this person would turn into anything more. And you can never be sure, but there is a moment to be more discerning.
The following week belongs to me, and me alone. I spend an entire day in bed after an early morning run, and all I do is read and nap. I stop only to go down to the supermarket and get some lunch, for once not thinking of calories and carbohydrates but what I would really like to eat at that moment. I buy a lot of chocolate. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a beautiful spray of jasmine-like flowers with an overwhelming scent. I have never bought flowers for myself, and in that moment I decide to do exactly that.
My friend Martin is visiting from Copenhagen, and we go for drinks with other friends, drunken Chinese food in Soho and plenty of hugs. The next day we sit in a coffee shop and look at the people walk around. We talk about life, and love, and hope and men and wants and desires. We go and see Wicked! the musical on a last minute whim, because we can. I’m not a fan of musicals but the story is interesting and I enjoy it. There’s something in there about destiny, about fulfilled potential and not succumbing to darkness.
The next day I meet my friend Tom and we go to the cinema to watch Man Of Steel. I do my best to wipe my tears discreetly, the story gets me every time. I’ve consumed practically every Superman origin going, even the awfully produced radio show from the 1930s makes me well up that moment baby Kal-El goes into the rocket. But that’s us a people, isn’t it? Thrust into rockets, with all the love we can hope to surround ourselves with, but still making our own way, our own mistakes. Because that vulnerability that allows you to feel pain is also the entrance to happiness. Hearts of stone are strong but they are brittle.
I take a step back in that week, a moment to nurture myself. A decision to be more philosophical about many aspects of my life. To let go a little more, and just let some things happen. When the right moment comes it comes, and it doesn’t matter that you didn’t expect it or it wasn’t the place you’d imagine or it was almost an afterthought and then your breath leaves you.
Sometimes you miss the side roads, on your way to Oz.