I’ve been living a lot of life these past few months and it’s been pretty great, to be honest. For a few years I kept to myself and focused on family, work, and a handful of friends. While these are all great things to have, I hadn’t realised how ‘safe’ everything was. I got gridlocked in to routine and managing other people’s lives. This is the great ballad for every mother, I realise.
When I did go out, I would always socialise with the same people. Go to the same places. Order the same things. Talk about the same topics. There was maybe 2 years of this and I’d never felt as ordinary. Last year I threw myself at everything that had ever frightened me, and it’s changed my life. The people I’ve met, the emotions I’ve felt – whether exhilarating or excruciating, it’s all changed me. I am terrified of boredom. Or being boring. For a long time, I felt so isolated by my own bangups, because there was no frame of reference. There was nobody new to compare bumps and bruises with. There were no new stories to hear.
September marks one year since I ventured to Paris alone, almost to the day. I’ll never forget getting wine-drunk on a sidewalk cafe with a girl I’d never met. She was about to go home to break up with her boyfriend of 7 years and we spoke about love for hours. The previous night I was discussing depression and happiness with bar staff at a cafe, where I’d ordered a take away but stayed for hours picking on a cheese burger and devouring french champagne. Taking photos of strangers for hours at the Eiffel Tower and seeing how much they appreciated the offer. Trying to tune in to the thoughts of people in the metro as the tunnel lights flashed across their distant looking faces. Crying on my own for hours in the station because I’d missed a destination that was so important to me. Feeling so incredibly alone and accomplished at the same time.
That bred courage.
I’ve been reflecting back on all the people I’ve met since then. Since January. Sometimes when I think about it for long enough, I get really sad. I wonder what it would have been like if I’d stayed where I was and never got to connect with these people from all over the world and right here at home. I met incredibly rich, successful people who are desperately unhappy – and alone. I met people who have enormous dreams and a passion so contagious that you felt special just sitting next to them. I met people who have problems that aren’t their fault. Who medicate themselves daily to feel alive at all. I met someone who felt like everything was on repeat, every day and he didn’t know how to stop it or wake up from it. I met a girl who pushed anyone away who ever criticized or disagreed with her. I met people to were addicted to escapism, not drugs. I met a boy who played pretend, with the loudest laugh and the biggest smile. He could floor you with his charm, but hidden behind that roar is a very frightened person who never takes chances. I met dreamers and chasers, players and lovers. And I don’t want it to stop. Even if it hurts.
Each person has taught me a tiny little baby thing. It really is true that if we all emptied our pockets, and put all our problems on the table – we’d all grab our own back. It’s true that life won’t give you what you can’t handle as long as you step up. You need to take chances to change your life, and even though I’ve been totally scorched and disappointed by people in the past year – I’ve learned who I don’t want to be or become. I’ve felt proud of myself for being able to handle punches. I’ve spoken about things that made me uncomfortable. I’ve hurt people. I’ve been hurt. I’ve banished barrels of insecurities because even the most beautiful women doubt themselves. The most poised are drowning in false pride. The loudest men are often the most afraid, the richest are actually poor and the bravest are the most accomplished. I’ve met people who are ill with mediocracy but completely happy. I don’t think that we’re supposed to be ‘happy’ or content. There should always be a new place or person to learn from. You should always have something that keeps you up at night, something that haunts you. Excites you.
There’s this movie on Diane Arbus’ life story that I love so much. She was a phenomenal photographer, and Nicole Kidman plays her in the adaption called “Fur”. As a photograher, she liked to capture uncomfortable, strange or interesting people. At the end of the movie, once she starts becoming this celebrated photographer… she finds her first subject, sits next to them on this park bench and says “Tell me a secret”