a year of Half-Light

I was dead and born again / And soon it will feel all so long ago

Standing outside the venue I order an uber. Next to me, three women giggle about a setlist and whisper to each other. I look around, hopefully. I see Rostam exit the stage door but my uber’s just arrived and it’s central London. I get in. The driver asks me how my night was. We have a quick conversation and then I stare out of the window. I cry and cry and cry. The violins echo through my restless sleep that night. I dream of being front row again, knowing all the words but being a bit too scared to shout them – this night feels too special, too close. Bike Dream plays and I dance and dance and dance.

It has been a year since Half-Light was released. Feels far too long. How have we fit so much life, so much time in between? The album feels imbued with nostalgia – always associated somewhere in the back of my mind with a burgeoning love for music, new discovery via a band with New England in their song titles. Alongside me, the music has matured, the love has grown and expanded and stretched – grown taut. Something about the drum beats feels the same. Something about the play, the experimenting, the intelligence. That is not why I love this album, it’s only the beginning.

Every one of us has felt our heart beat pound / Every one of us has felt it on our own

In my room, second year of university, it’s the middle of winter. This bed, this space, feels temporary. My friend George comes round just to listen to music and talk. Just that. A special, close space. I have just received my Half-Light vinyl in the post. We listen to the whole thing start to finish. I tell him to listen out for Hold You, I think it will be his favourite. He waves goodbye to me from the street and I play the record all the way through once more.

String sections flit in and out of focus, rising and falling with my heart. The drums keep in constant time with my steps. The vocals coast around me and wrap me tight. They feel unavoidably familiar. It is selfish to assume that these words are holding fast to my bedside alone. They keep company to more than me, of course. But for now, they are all mine. The words, when they come into focus, repeat this image of looking at yourself, feeling outside yourself. There’s a distance between ideas and reality; an idea of what love could, should, might have been, but then waking up and seeing it for what it really is. Dreams and naps and sleep also feels really important, both in the lyrics and in the melodies. When sunlight peaks through the curtains and you are half awake, but slowly, slowly, you drift back into a half-sleep. I’m not sure if it is the ethereal strings, or the heavy, heady bass and drum kicks but I really feel like this is what those dreams sound like.

All of these dreams keep comin back to me / Slowly slowly

The rising chords are carving out a space in my chest. Some of the sounds remind me of my childhood spent in a country I was not born in. Lyrics become poems become repetition become mantra become second nature. I send the Gwan music video to a friend; listen to this isn’t it amazing I am seeing him live and can’t wait! im going on my own bc i want to do smthg that’s just for me… She says; yes I’ve heard it! you played it in a rehearsal.

I find it sprinkled, like sawdust, across so many parts of my life. See the songs crop up on my friend’s playlists, they recognise the name, the sounds. I find it reminds me of a thousand memories at once. All strong and tugging at me, from the year past. It does not feel like a year. It does not feel like it has been a year since I sat up late in my room waiting for the release and trying and trying to write about it but not having the words. Not having the knowledge to analyse but wanting so badly to express the inexpressible. My dad still talks about the albums that stayed with him from when he was my age. That indelible impression on your heart that sticks like a third-degree burn. If Half-Light reminds me of anything it reminds me of my love for rooted and nurtured friendships and simultaneously my love for solitude, for sitting up and writing late at night like I’m doing now.

I just keep holdin on / To what I’ve got till it’s gone

Music, like food, plays a central role in my home. So when Safura cooks for me and I show her Rostam’s album and she asks me to play Wood again, it feels special, close. I record the whole song for her in London. Every time I listen to it, I’m reminded of how sharing is really the root of our friendship, a constant interchange. Or maybe we just both really like good food and good music and laughter. Saf lives in Malaysia now and I won’t see her for a year. Wood sounds different. Happy/sad.

Half-Light has bridged that gap between an album I have shared and shared and shared, but also an album that feels so tightly sewn to my chest that I can’t possibly let anyone else near it. Does that make sense? Can two things be true at the same time? In a River was just released. It is different, because I have not lived with it for a year. I love it, of course. It feels fresh, different to everything else that I listen to right now. It is as if Half-Light encompasses a lot of who I am now. Because of Rostam, I fell in love with Wet’s new album, with Cosha, with Maggie Rogers, with Santigold, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepson. A wealth of influential women with kick-ass songs. Because he composed music for This Is Our Youth, I go and see the first piece of theatre that really sparks something inside me. I go home and I write the first page of my first play.

When you tie and knot your connections to pieces of music, it is easy to forget that they are not just yours. That these lyrics are memorised by thousands of others as well. That these string sections accompany walks home. That the album cover stares down from bedroom walls just like yours. It is that thing of music being so utterly personal and so completely communal at the same time. This is not a review, it is not a diary entry; it is a bit of both. I like to think that at some level, every time we write and think about art we are giving up a little piece of ourselves. It feels only fair, since those people you are writing about have given you so much.

It’s still all up to you

 

image is a still from Bike Dream music video by Rostam

 

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confessional poets

I started trying to write a review of the new Wet album, but all the things I was writing about made me think about the sad girl songs that have followed me for the last two years; Mitski, Lorde, Karen O, even Lana Del Rey. I thought about something I saw, or something someone said (I think maybe Mitski said it in an interview) – about the idea that female songwriters are seen to be sharing a diary entry everytime they write a personal song, or even an emotional song. How that idea is so gendered. They’re never telling a story, or narrating – they are always at the centre.

 

But what if these songs sound exactly like my diary entries?

Kelly Zutrau (Wet) starts her album with the line “I wanna go where the sun is shining and no one knows my name”. Still Run is probably the most romantic, most confessional, most revealing that Wet have been? It’s a really naked album. I think all of Mitski’s songs are naked and vulnerable. Ok even the album cover looks like she’s just stepped out of shower; like a Jenny Saville painting. Zutrau took control of the songwriting on this album (you can kind of tell – it’s great). I think ‘Lately’ is actually about songwriting and about writing and writing and writing and not feeling appreciated, or not feeling like your emotional turmoil is being reciprocated – “you never like how my songs sound but you give nothing of yourself”. She keeps opening herself back up to them, to us in ‘Softens’. The melodies and the lyrics feel like she’s pulling herself backwards and forwards, someone gently tugging on her shoulder, being methodically moved by waves in the ocean, by fights and hugs in a relationship, by tears and sighs.

 

They are my confessional poets.

They are rearranging my vital organs into three minute songs.

Wet’s new album, like Melodrama (Lorde’s second album), you can dance to it but you might be crying at the same time, and you might not even know why. Songs like ‘Sober’ and ‘Writer in the Dark’ feel a bit like she’s lurching into the chords (especially the synth underneath Sober). It’s a bit about heartbreak and a bit about returning to yourself. It’s like sad disco. Then there’s Liability and Hard Feelings/Loveless – songs that my friends texted to me saying ‘this is ME, how does she know’. Feeling like you’re too much for everyone. The album now feels so familiar that it’s like seeing an old friend. I’ve listened to it in the shower countless times. (why does it sound best in the shower??)

 

Wild women don’t get the blues but I find that

Lately I’ve been crying like a tall child

At the end of ‘Drunk Walk Home’ Mitski just screams into the microphone. At the end of ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’, she screams ‘Go on, kill me’ into her guitar. It’s kind of weird if it comes on shuffle but if you have the build up of the whole album it is So necessary. The chord progression in ‘First Love/Late Spring’ feels like it actually shakes with power. As part of a live art performance as part of an instillation as part of a show I screamed and danced to this song with two of my favourite women ever – we were protesting the way women artists do everything first, and then all the credit goes to the men. Sorry, Dad, but the Smiths do nothing for me – they don’t even come close to Karen O singing ‘Love is soft, Love’s a fucking bitch’, and then screaming endlessly into the microphone in ‘Body’. Her album ‘Crush Songs’, was recorded when she was 27, and is super scratchy and lo-fi. It sounds like she’s singing from inside a cavernous heart. I think she was my first foray into music that was written for women and by women. They are me. 

Mitski’s coming out with new music, too. I feel like her sound is ageing with me. ‘Nobody’, is her new pop tune. It’s still super sad and intensely emotional. The difference is you can dance to it. Then there’s ‘Geyser’ – a song (probably) about Mitski’s relationship with music, with writing, and with art. It’s jagged, jarring, and almost choral in it’s scale. It’s a statuesque song. I wasn’t sure I liked it at first. ‘Feel it bubbling from below, here it call to me constantly’ – it’s a bit romanticised but yeah, that’s it. That’s the guttural thing that makes you write down your worst fears and share them with, like, everyone. My best friend said she couldn’t be a writer because it wasn’t her first love.

I think it might be mine

Wet’s album brought all of this into focus. This endless love between young women and their guitars and their headphones and, yeah, their diaries; their words.

 

 

Reading Speed Death and Stranger Things as Ecological Texts

This year I got to write an essay about two of my most favourite bits of art from the past nine months. One was a play called Speed Death of the Radiant Child by Chris Goode that was directed by my pal Ben and produced by my other pal Emily. Also many pals were performing in the play too. I loved it with all my heart. The other one was Stranger Things, a TV show that I didn’t think I would end up loving as much as I did. The danger with writing an academic essay on things you love is that you get carried away. I wrote an essay on Anatomy of a Suicide and it was damn hard to separate my love for the show with critical analysis.

I think I did okay with this one though. This module was HARD but I really loved it. We looked at environmental texts and ideas of ecology and nature and waste. I learnt a hell of a lot and it’s the reason I could write down these ideas. I am damn proud of this essay. It didn’t get the highest mark in whole word, but I don’t care. It took me a very long time to write, and it’s one of the things I am most proud to have researched and thought about and I know for a FACT that no-one will have written anything like it yet (probably) so that makes me feel like maybe someday I might sort of be an academic?? Maybe. Anyway, I wanted to publish it. SO if you want to read it, here is my 5,500 word essay on Speed Death and Stranger Things as ecological texts that trace our collective nuclear history through internal and external environments.

 

Bodily Pain as Environmental Trauma in Speed Death of the Radiant Child and Stranger Things

‘Eternal source of light divine

With double warmth thy beams display’

Eternal Source of Light Divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne), Handel

Speed Death of the Radiant Child by Chris Goode and Stranger Things by the Duffer Brothers both explore imagery of young bodies in pain. Bodily pain is presented as the cause and consequence of environmental damage, particularly in regards to radiation and nuclear activity. This essay is punctuated by lyrics from songs which appear in Goode’s script and which inspired a student performance of the play in 2017. These two texts can be read with a view towards ecocriticism if they are framed as a diptych. A diptych is a painting or tablet with two panels, connected by a hinge, that conveys a discursive message. Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann use this framing in their essay ‘Theorizing Material Ecocriticism: A Diptych’, and it is helpful to see the two primary texts of this essay in this way. They write that ‘the diptych exceeds its “merely” material dimension, and creates a double bridge of meanings between the “text” it conveys and the world in which it occurs.’ (448), and so Speed Death of the Radiant Child and Stranger Things reflect each other in their interlocking themes, but spread out in their scope and investigation of trauma into the world around them. On the left hand panel of the diptych is Speed Death, a play which focuses on a hospital that houses Charlotte (a troubled young woman with a mysterious blue tube in her inner thigh) and the people who orbit around her. Goode’s script is abstract and impenetrable in its intellectual scope, often spiralling out of control. The hospital becomes a leaking nuclear power plant, and as the toxic leak is subsumed into the characters they become one body, and at one with the building. Then on the right hand panel, Stranger Things is a TV show which fits more into the science fiction genre. Will (a young boy) is taken into the Upside Down; a world parallel to our own but is rife with danger and destruction. In the second season, which I will be focusing on, the monster of the Upside Down enters Will and begins to use him as a host. What ties these two panels together is their discussion of trauma and how it is tied to environmentalism. The bodies in Speed Death and Stranger Things experience traumatic bodily pain because of their environment which has been wounded as a result of a toxicity. Nuclear radiation seeps into the body and disrupts the ecological landscapes of the text, and so both pieces show how a broken environment causes and is caused by the broken body.

‘I imagine what my body would sound like

Slamming up herest those rocks’

Hyperballad, Bjork

As the audience are confronted with bodies in pain and pleasure in Speed Death, both become synonymous with (simultaneously causing and caused by) the leaking hospital. Bodies become buildings and buildings become bodies; bodies act as containers and vessels (also seen in Stranger Things). Charlotte introduces this idea in the first lines of Speed Death – ‘This deep blue light. Filling the whole building…And I keep thinking, blue the colour of… Stupid.  / This building full of blue light.’ (7) The colour blue is linked with the glowing light of the hospital, but also with the toxic glow of radiation. Radiation is seen as a toxic contamination of the body which Goode presents as both a contamination on the body and something that lives within it. Later, Charlotte clarifies, ‘This empty building with all the machines and animals sleeping full of blue light, and I, I keep thinking. / Blue the colour of skin’ (8). Charlotte’s skin is blue like the inside light of the building; she is both a vessel, as the building is a vessel, and a contaminated host. A line can be drawn to Will in Stranger Things, in which a child’s body becomes a host for a parasitic monster.

In order to understand the overarching metaphor of bodies in pain, it is useful to note that Speed Death and Stranger Things both grapple with the idea of the body as an ecosystem. In their essay, ‘Material Ecocriticism: Dirt, Waste, Bodies, Food, and Other Matter’, Dana Phillips and Heather I. Sullivan unpick how material ecocriticism is ‘radically local’ in its efforts to examine ‘the ecosystems on your skin, under your shoes, in your digestive tract, and in your very cells, too.’ (447) Similarly, it seems the bodies in Speed Death are dissected in almost minute detail, both in the psychological framing of Nick’s research and in the biblical readings of Justine’s artworks. Justine notes that to truly understand the body’s pain and pleasure ‘there has to be this encounter with the body and that means getting inside the body’ (38). Will’s body contorts and so often becomes the centre of scenes of trauma in Stranger Things. His body becomes emblematic of the ecosystem of Hawkins that connects to the Upside Down. As Justine describes in Speed Death, we understand everything through the body. It is our indicator for the moments when meaning is distorted and environments are corrupted:

(We share) a sense of the individual body as a container and carrier of information. We absorb and we radiate. We record and we play back. We are read and we ourselves write…The fundamental unit of our social relations and our civic meaning is the individual body (60-61)

The body is the beginning and end point for all human life, and anything that holds that life up. It is how we experience the environment around us. Significantly, the body is altered in Speed Death. It is often consumed by pleasure – Nick shouts ‘You know I can feel it. Can you?…All down the spine….It’s like being…Fucked’ (90-91) as the radiation leaks out of the hospital and into the bodies of the characters. Justine calls it the ‘erotic collapse of the distance between us’ (38) – the barriers of the body break down and mutate because of the toxic environment that it is contained in. Pleasure as an altered physical state is linked with pain in Speed Death through Keith Haring’s painting, ‘The Radiant Child’, which somewhat acts as the iconography of the show. Haring was a gay American artist who died of AIDS in 1990. AIDS is an illness where pain and pleasure meet. The homoerotic connotations of AIDS is tied to the severe pain that the patients experience. In this way, Goode allows a line to be drawn between pain and pleasure as significant ways of altering the body.

In examining pain as a thing which alters the body, it is useful to look to Elaine Scarry’s book, The Body in Pain. She states that pain is a wholly inexpressible bodily experience. She writes,

The events happening within the interior of that person’s body may seem to have the remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portenuous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth (3)

Here, Scarry is explaining that whatever is happening inside a body is unknowable to the person standing next to them – it has no reality because it cannot be seen or felt in any true way by the other person. Therefore, pain becomes an ephemeral beast to try and qualify. Scarry pinpoints the difficulty of a thesis such as mine, in that although ‘there is virtually no piece of literature that is not about suffering’ (11), pain seems to actively destroy language in its very existence (4). Although pain drastically alters the body, there is no way to accurately describe this altering. The pain in Speed Death is often deferred or emotional – there is only one moment of physical pain, when Ash burns himself on a tealight:

In the distance, what sounds like a car alarm going off. / He holds his right hand over one of the candles, palm down. / After a while his hand starts to shake with the pain. He holds his right wrist with his left hand to steady himself. / The alarm continues to sound. (60)

It is in the character of Charlotte that pain is most abstracted by Goode. Proof of Charlotte’s self-harm comes late in the play, in the forms of scars on her body. It is referenced throughout, and visualised through Nick’s psychological analysis; ‘repeated self-administered lacerations, apparently carried out over a period of six to nine months, most probably using a Stanley knife or similar blade. Over thirty separate scars were counted.’ (78) This is explained in parallel with the blue rectangle in Charlotte’s thigh – Goode leads the audience to the conclusion that the two are one and the same. Charlotte’s self-inflicted wounds are inseparable from the toxic radiation which has lodged itself inside her. In Stranger Things the pain is often more visceral; both Will and Eleven experience intense physical pain. Significantly, their pain is because of a supernatural attachment to an outside force. The parasite in Will’s veins is paralleled with the veins that track underneath the surface of the ground in Hawkins through cinematic visual metaphors. This connects the disintegration of the pumpkins in Episode One and Will’s deteriorating health. Therefore, when Will screams in horror as Hopper sets fire to the roots that connect to the Upside Down, it is clear that the trauma inflicted on the environment directly affects Will’s body. In both Speed Death and Stranger Things, a body in pain is never an isolated occurrence. In these texts inexpressible bodily pain is communicated through a wounded environment, and further in Will and Charlotte, pain cannot be separated from the toxic environment the characters live in. Bodily pain is shown to be the twin of environmental trauma – one cannot be experienced without the other.

‘His wound is bleeding day and night’

Corpus Christi Carol, Jeff Buckley

Marianne Hirsch notes that ‘trauma, in its literal meaning, is a wound inflicted on the body’ (72), and so if we consider trauma as defined by its Greek etymology ‘wound’, we might gain a better understanding of how it manifests in art. The wounded body is easier to comprehend than the traumatized body. A cut knee or scarred body are visible wounds, whereas childhood trauma or a tumour is far less visible. Furthermore, the earth is also a kind of body which can be wounded and experience trauma. Images of a beach devastated by a tsunami (“Then And Now: The Aftermath Of The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami – In Pictures”) are more powerful than statistics about beetles deteriorating in the Amazon (Thompson). In a review of a student production of Speed Death of a Radiant Child, it is noted that there’s a lot of pain. Pain quite literally with the nurse convulsing on the floor and the doctor being knocked unconscious’ (Harrison). Bodily pain and trauma are in conversation with each other in a play like Speed Death – the wounded body is equated with the traumatised body, and so one begins to see how the literal wounds inflicted on the body and the earth also manifest in psychological wounding. Charlotte’s scarred body is also a deeply troubled body, and so the two begin to become synonymous. Scarry’s assertion that pain is an inexpressible human condition can also be applied to the trauma of the play. Similarly, a blog about Stranger Things notes that the show ‘is about grief and loss. It’s about trauma.’ (Stephens), particularly the trauma of young bodies. The blog is not an academic journal, but it gives important insight into the audience reception of the show, and how the themes of trauma are interpreted. The trauma in Stranger Things is explored through metaphor and monsters, both the monster and the trauma are presented as undeniably real occurrences. Will is not only suffering from PTSD, but he is also being infected by a monster in a parallel universe. Both the trauma and the monster are somewhat inexplicable in their manifestation and reality, and so the Duffer Brothers allow an exploration of trauma through science fiction. Stranger Things is set in an America consumed by fear of the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear destruction, while Speed Death is set in the Windscale Nuclear Plant in post war Britain. Both Speed Death and Stranger Things examine corrupted bodies as a result of human interference. Therefore, the texts are located in different genres and geographies, but interconnect in their analysis of trauma as an inexpressible experience.

The young bodies in these two texts are interwoven with their environments, and their environments become toxic, which in turn makes the bodies toxic; an inherited trauma from the land to the body. In ‘Bodies That Remember’ Derek J. Thiess explores how bodily histories are inscribed by the environments that they live in and are therefore in opposition with one another while also informing each other; ‘there is a clear juxtaposition of planetary ecosystem and human body such that they continually call one another into question—their living and dying mirror one another.’ (141) In Chapter One of Stranger Things, Will is brought into Hawkins National Laboratory to help him recover from the trauma of being taken to an alternative dimension. The scientists connect receptors to his brain (again the body is the site of trauma and remembering) and ask him what happens in his “episodes”, where he feels as if he is in the Upside Down. He says ‘there was this storm…I felt. Frozen…Just frozen…I felt this evil like it was looking at me…To kill…Not me, everyone else’ (24:00-26:10). Significantly, Will mentions the storm before he describes the creature that is looking at him, suggesting that the environment of the Upside Down is as important as what inhabits it. The environment of the Upside Down is written onto Will and into his bodily history as he becomes infected by the monster in the storm. Will is weakened by the environment inhabiting in his body, but he is also connected to the alternative dimension and when it is harmed, he is harmed; they mirror each other, as Thiess suggests.

Sandra Steingraber writes in Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment that ‘our bodies, too, are living scrolls of sorts. What is written there – inside the fibers of our cells and chromosomes – is a record of our exposure to environmental contaminants’ (236). Steingraber compares the human body to the trunk of a tree; the rings of the tree narrate its history just our body narrates our history. This can be applied to a literal wounding, or to a traumatic wounding; it is all kept in the body. This is seen in Speed Death as the environment of the hospital and the nuclear plant sits within the bodies of the characters, most obviously in the blue tube in Charlotte’s leg. The Windscale fire at the nuclear reactor plant in 1957 is the heart of Speed Death and is the setting of the play. This is the toxic environment which bleeds into the bodies that inhabit it, just as in Stranger Things. Justine quotes Rene Richard’s essay ‘The Radiant Child’ in Speed Death, saying that in Haring’s painting, one sees ‘the child’s body being bombarded with what he calls communications, “radioactive communications”’ (9). Here, Goode introduces an intellectual reading of the painting as a microcosm of the image at the heart of the play – a body being ‘bombarded’ with radiation, and ultimately becoming synonymous with that radioactive environment. As Justine elaborates on Three Mile Island as the worst civilian nuclear accident at the time, she explains that ‘those lines, that’s not a metaphor, that’s not information as radiation, that’s radiation as radiation.’ (10). The radiation can therefore be read as the wound on the body – it is the reason for the collapsing body and collapsing landscape. As the radiation finds its way into Nick’s body, he becomes increasingly broken, and at the end his body fully collapses. Furthermore, an inexpressible traumatic pain is represented through the wounds inflicted by leaking radiation. It is a wound in a metaphorical sense but also in a corporeal way.

‘Muscle connects to the bone

And bone to the ire and the marrow

I wish I had a gentle mind’

Marrow, St. Vincent

After examining the nature of the trauma that afflicts the characters in Stranger Things and Speed Death, it is interesting to examine how these two texts intersect in their discussion of vulnerable bodies. In both pieces, children are at the centre of the ecological trauma. Charlotte in Speed Death is just 19 years old, acting as the only visible child’s body, and Jordan Beaker is a dead child star that Laura, Charlotte’s nurse, is infatuated with. Further, Will is merely 14 years old alongside Dustin, Mike, and Lucas. The child stars that act in Stranger Things have an almost uncanny resemblance to Jordan Beaker’s fame that Laura discusses in Speed Death; ‘Suddenly he’s in Hollywood. And everyone who’s a vegan says he’s a vegan and everyone who wants to marry a rabble-rouser says he’s a rabble-rouser and everybody, everybody, is convinced he’s bisexual’ (42) A child actor is caught between childhood and adulthood; living within a vulnerable body in a world they are not yet built for. It is in this vulnerable place that Jordan Beaker dies; ‘By the time they get him to hospital, his skin is blue, his lips are dark blue, his fingernails are dark blue.’ (42) Again Goode reiterates blue as a colour of death and radiation, but also of pleasure and the body. Each time it is mentioned, the body is redefined. Whether it is Charlotte’s body becoming a building, Ash’s body in a dream, or Jordan Beaker’s body in death, the audience are confronted with blue as a signifier of the body changing. Laura echoes this by saying, ‘you trust someone beautiful, and then they die, and then you have to trust that.’ (43) In the final moments of the play, Charlotte walks across the stage, naked, and she is bathed in ‘deep blue light.’ (93) It is in this moment that she becomes a vulnerable body in the most visible sense. Both as an actress and a character, Charlotte is exposed and reborn. In this way, the vulnerable body of a child is emblematic of a body in flux, dictated by environmental disruption. Theiss writes that ‘biological body and written history are one and the same…reshaped the boundaries among history, place, and body’ (145). It might therefore be useful to think of a child’s body as vulnerable because of its yet unformed history. If biology and written history are the same, a young body is physically and emotionally susceptible to the environment surrounding it. Furthermore, the body mirrors the environment but in so doing sheds light back onto the characters. In Stranger Things the environment acts as a metaphor for adolescence – for Will’s emotional and physical growth which mirrors the entropy in the landscape. In  Monstrous Nature, Murray and Huemann discuss Germany Year Zero, a film which explores ‘effects an eco-horror caused by total war and occupation has on innocence, especially the innocence of children whose external and internal landscapes have become broken’ (xx). Huemann and Murray’s description of the children’s broken ‘external and internal landscapes’ could be applied to the children of Speed Death and Stranger Things. All the young bodies in these texts experience trauma and loss; their bodies are attacked physically by a toxic environment. Furthermore, in Chris Goode’s abstract world, it is the death of Jordan Beaker that causes the fire in the nuclear power plant where Charlotte is housed. The timelines falter in the world of Speed Death, meaning that the vulnerability of a child’s body causes such a rift, that a hospital turns into a power plant, and the radiation inside it leaks out.  

‘I am blue inside, I am the blue light’

Braid of Voices, DM Smith

Building on the idea of radiation as a contamination in the environment that inflicts wounds on bodies, it is potent to consider the wider ecological implications of this analysis. Radiation spills are an example of human interference with nature becoming destructive, or even fatal. Nick shouts to Justine that there are ‘Fifty thousand leaflets in boxes in our bedroom, our bedroom, about how nuclear waste is transported by train every week about a mile and a half from our house and I’m making you scared?’ (83). Matt Chester notes on a blog about energy technology and policy that the Hawkins Lab in Stranger Things could be considered a close allegory to the Manhattan Project. He reasons that the ‘mistakes’ made in creating the Upside Down are comparable to the mistakes of the scientists who created the atomic bomb. In this way, Stranger Things widens its lens out to historical moments of destructive nature; moments where man has used nature in ways which cause harm. This can be usefully paralleled with the leaking nuclear power plant in Speed Death, set in a post war Britain which needed a bomb to establish itself as a world power. Environmental damage in these texts is tied closely with the Conservative politics of the times (1957 and 1982). Political decisions about the development of nuclear activity and schemes that will cause environmental damage have shaped disasters such as the Windscale Fire, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and even oil spills such as Deepwater Horizon. In his introduction to Eco-Trauma Cinema Anil Narine states that ‘nature, whether it threatens us, we threaten it or we see ourselves as part of it, remains sublime in this way: something too vast in its beauty and power to comprehend.’ (1) Whether the environment is damaging us or we are damaging the environment, the destruction and pain that occurs from it is as incomprehensible as it is fascinating.

The two ideas of ‘nature’ and ‘pain’ parallel each other, particularly when considering the trauma of ecological disasters. Not only do these ideas encircle each other, but they interlock in the case study of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Ghosh notes that ‘the history of oil is a matter of embarrassment verging on the unspeakable, the pornographic’ (75) In 2015 an article was published in the Journal of Behavioural Health Services & Research which detailed how the Deepwater Horizon spill left Gulf Coast residents traumatized. It is defined in the paper as a ‘non intentional anthropogenic (human-generated) technological disaster involving a hazardous materials spill (petroleum and dispersant chemicals) that generated severe ecological impact’ (59), however the paper then goes on to detail the trauma side effects it had on residents and workers. In the paper they reference the Exxon Valdez spill, where ‘exposed clean-up workers had significantly higher rates of generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and major depression compared with non-exposed controls’ (60). In this way, ecological disaster begins to have tangible effects on bodies and minds, even if it is not directly destroying human life. In Speed Death, then, the impact of the radiation spill begins to root itself more firmly in reality, particularly when seen in conjunction with cases such as Deepwater Horizon. Environmental trauma is proven to have psychological effects on people, and so the bodily pain in Speed Death and Stranger Things can be read as a literal pain, as well as in a metaphorical way. The wounding that comes from a radiation spill is not only the long term effects on the planet, it is also the effect it has on the bodies that inhabit that planet. These two texts discuss this trauma through metaphor and genre, but they touch on an important analysis of environmental impact, which might change how we see our relationship with nature. Global heating is often an ethereal issue which does not suggest immediate threat; perhaps in understanding that the effect that nature has on our bodies is parallel to the effect we have on nature, we might come to understand the importance of tending to our wounds. Murray and Heumann map the horror genre as an ecocritical examination of a nature which fights back at its human inhabitants: ‘Godzilla springs to life from the radiation left by nuclear testing’ (xi) These critics are arguing that through the literal monsters of the horror genre (particularly in film), there is a repeated theme of human destruction of the environment. This monster imagery is apparent in Stranger Things, significantly in the final episodes of both series, in which the characters must fight off the mutated creatures that emerged from the alternate reality. Murray and Heumann write that films ‘provide a space in which to explore the complexities of a monstrous nature that humanity both creates and embodies.’ (xii) Therefore, the creation of a monstrous nature that fights back against humanity can be paralleled to the way that the Deepwater Horizon Spill was traumatic for both humans and the environment surrounding them. The oil spill was a human created disaster that affected the land just as it affected the human body, and therefore reading this with an ecocritical view shows that the line between human and nature may grow thinner, but perhaps in ways that are toxic (as in Speed Death). With this view, it is significant that the destruction goes two ways in Speed Death and Stranger Things; trauma is passed through bodies and land in a cycle of damage.

‘Drone bomb me

Blow me from the mountains, and into the sea’

Drone Bomb Me, ANOHNI

Expanding the discussion of these two texts reaches to a discussion of a collapsing world expressed through collapsing bodies. Both the hospital and nuclear power station in Speed Death are places that allude to broken bodies, particularly if we see the power station as connected to atomic bombs. In Stranger Things, the Upside Down is a destroyed world that houses destructive monsters and Hawkins Laboratory is a site of collapsing bodies (the experiments conducted on Eleven). Throughout both pieces, but more significantly in Speed Death, there is a continued theme of emergency and collapse. A collapsing environment becomes emblematic of a collapsing body; ‘I’m guessing my heart will explode for a start. So the fire alarm might go off. The whole city could very well be plunged into a state of emergency’ (16) In the Guardian review of the first production of Speed Death, it is stated that the play ‘captures the edgy anxiety of a world in meltdown and of people surviving against the odds with their tarnished halos intact.’ (Gardner) The worlds of these texts are fragile; Hawkins balances on a knife edge between our world and a dangerous alternative reality. Inevitably, this draws parallels to the climate change disaster that faces the earth. The world is on a collision course to disaster, and the anxiety about this is felt across most of the world. (Wayne Smith et al).  The impending collapse of the planet and all its ecosystems is felt in both of these texts. One way this is shown is through a collapsing language. In both pieces there is a motif of language as a barrier but also as a tool. In Stranger Things, Eleven is never taught to speak, and so it is only in the second season that she begins to use language to describe herself and her abnormality. Furthermore, those around her continually do not have the words to describe her or her powers. In this way, language begins to be insufficient. Similarly, in Speed Death the language begins to break down half way through the play. All the actors start talking at the same time, speaking directly to the audience. While this happens, Ash is talking about Laura, and she falls to the floor and begins to convulse:

Unable to speak because she doesn’t trust the language she stands up in…She realizes she’s stopped breathing. She can’t remember how it goes. And a kind of alarm begins to suffuse her body…Why does this hurt? she thinks, as her heart starts to go tick tick tick…   Boom. / All the streetlights outside and the lights inside begin to flash (61-62)

It is in this moment that the thesis of this essay is most clear in the text of the play. The toxicity of the hospital is subsumed into Laura’s body and she becomes part of the hospital (a vessel and a host), all because Jordan Beaker died far too young. Language collapses and speech stops working, so the body takes over. As Laura convulses and the radiation enters her veins, the environment outside starts to glitch and the world verges on collapse.

Both of these texts suggest that bodies and environments collapse together. The characters in Goode’s play refer to themselves as buildings, cities, and whole landscapes. As is noted in a review of the student production, if the body goes down, the whole city goes with it (James). Towards the end of the play, Nick and Laura discuss the state of the hospital:

NICK: This is a collapse scenario.

LAURA: I know. It’s a nightmare. (89)

The collapse scenario is happening to the hospital and power plant, but it is also happening to Nick, as he falls unconscious in the final moments of the play. As Justine notes, ‘The biggest lie, the biggest betrayal you can ever experience in art is the sham prestige of transcendence. Art that takes you, quote unquote, out of yourself.’ (75). Everything in these texts is centred on the body – there is no transcendence because it all comes back to the body. The body collapses with the earth because ‘inflamed lungs and sinuses prove once again that there is no difference between the without and the within’ (Ghosh 5), meaning that as the earth becomes increasingly toxic, so do our bodies. Theiss writes that ‘to destroy the human body is to destroy one’s planet is to destroy written history’ (139), connecting the body with the earth and reinventing them as collective rather than separate histories. As the children of Stranger Things and Speed Death become connected to their respective environments through toxic bodily invasion, their ecosystems become intertwined. As a result of this intertwining, they collapse together. Goode and the Duffer Brothers might be saying something about nature in this imagery, significantly our relationship to the land we inhabit. Reading these texts with an ecocritical lens encourages these stories to be read as allegories for the increasingly destructive world we inhabit. Our bodies are both the cause of this destruction (oil spills, global heating etc) and become destroyed as a consequence (radiation poisoning, PTSD etc). In order to decipher this allegory, it is necessary to find a new, shared language. As Nick says to Charlotte in Speed Death, ‘I need you to teach me the words. So we can have a shared language. A common ground…We have to create the language. We have to invent the ground to stand up on’ (33). This new language might be thought of as a rebirth, in the same way that Charlotte is reborn in the final moments of Speed Death.

Chris Goode’s sprawling and difficult play, Speed Death of the Radiant Child, informs how we might see the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things as an ecological piece of cinema. Both pieces investigate how the body becomes a vessel for the ecological workings of the world that contains it. Bodies become entry points for the trauma of their surrounding environments. They embody this environmental trauma through physical and mental unrest; the pieces suggest a new language is needed for describing this trauma, and for curing it. The radiation from the hospital seeps into Charlotte in Speed Death, just as the ‘upside down’ nestles into Will in Stranger Things. It is no accident that these two vessels are not just bodies, but children’s bodies. Their bodies are vulnerable, and therefore susceptible to the world around them. To read these pieces with an environmental lens is to understand that contamination in nature (radiation leaks, oil spills etc) leads to contamination in the body, in both a corporeal and ethereal way. Most significantly, these pieces and the critics that accompany them in this essay, are interested in collapse; both bodily and environmental collapse, as the place where rebirth might occur. These pieces allow us to see our environments differently, and further, allow abstraction to inform a newly developing language of trauma (both of the body and of the land). Reading Speed Death and Stranger Things as ecological texts that are speaking to each other about new ways of thinking about the relationship between the body and its environment invites a rethinking of the body in pain as necessarily caused by and the cause of a toxic environment.

Works Cited

Chester, Matt. “Stranger Things Season 2: A Pointed Comment on the Department of Energy’s Nuclear History and Future?” Chester Energy and Policy, 1 Nov. 2017, www.chesterenergyandpolicy.com/2017/11/01/stranger-things-season-2-a-pointed-comment-on-the-department-of-energys-nuclear-history-and-future/ Accessed 12 May 2018

Duffer, Matt and Ross Duffer (The Duffer Brothers), creators. Stranger Things. Netflix, 2016-7.

Gardner, Lyn. “Theatre Review: Speed Death Of The Radiant Child”. The Guardian, 2007, http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2007/may/25/theatre1. Accessed 1 May 2018.

Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. University of Chicago Press, 2016

Goode, Chris. Speed Death of the Radiant Child. Revised performance version, 2007

Harrison, Daniella. “Full Throttle.” Noises Off, 29 Mar. 2018, www.nsdf.org.uk/noises-off/full-throttle. Accessed 1 May 2018.

Hirsch, Marianne. “Marked by Memory.” Extremities: Trauma, Testimony, And Community, edited by Miller, Nancy K, and Jason Daniel Tougaw, University Of Illinois Press, 2002.

Iovino, Serenella, and Serpil Oppermann. “Theorizing Material Ecocriticism: A Diptych.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, vol. 19, no. 3, 2012, pp. 448–475., www.jstor.org/stable/44087130.

James, Lily. “God Speed” Noises Off, 29 Mar. 2018, www.nsdf.org.uk/noises-off/god-speed. Accessed 1 May 2018

Murray, Robin, and Joseph Heumann. Monstrous Nature: Environment and Horror on the Big Screen. University of Nebraska Press, 2016

Narine, A. Eco-Trauma Cinema. Routledge, 2015.

Phillips, Dana, and Heather I. Sullivan. “Material Ecocriticism: Dirt, Waste, Bodies, Food, and Other Matter.” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, vol. 19, no. 3, 2012, pp. 445–447., www.jstor.org/stable/44087129 

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Shultz, James, et al. “The 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: The Trauma Signature of an Ecological Disaster.” Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, vol. 42, no. 1, Jan. 2015, pp. 58-76. EBSCOhost

Speed Death of the Radiant Child. By Chris Goode, directed by Ben Kulvichit, 9 November 2017, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

Steingraber, Sandra. Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. Virago, 1999.

Stephens, Emily. “It’s Mazes, Monsters, And Unlikely Heroes On A Harrowing Stranger Things”. Avclub.com, 2017, http://www.avclub.com/it-s-mazes-monsters-and-unlikely-heroes-on-a-harrowin-1820093681. Accessed 1 May 2018.

“Then And Now: The Aftermath Of The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami – In Pictures”. The Guardian. 10 Dec. 2014, www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2014/dec/11/then-and-now-the-aftermath-of-the-2004-indonesian-tsunami-in-pictures

Thiess, Derek J.  “Bodies That Remember: Historical Revision and Embodied Age in Joan Slonczewski’s Children Star and Brain Plague.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 44, no. 1, 2017, pp. 137–158. JSTOR. www.jstor.org/stable/10.5621/sciefictstud.44.1.0137.

Thompson, Helen. “Most of Amazon Rainforest’s Species Extinctions Are Yet to Come”. Scientific American. www.scientificamerican.com/article/most-amazon-rainforest-species-extinctions-yet-to-come/ Accessed 7th May 2018.

Wayne Smith, Joseph et al. Healing a Wounded World: Economics, Ecology, and Health for a Sustainable Life. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997

 

Head Above Water

We went to the seaside today just because it was nice and sunny and we wanted to.

I feel a bit stuck. Like my feet are sort of wedged in the sand and it’s gone between my toes and I’m wiping and cleaning and washing and the sand isn’t moving. I haven’t blogged much this year, if at all. One small messy review of Girls and Boys. I have also written one review for Noises Off. I’m about to do a press night review for Exeunt. Have written a couple of things for zines. Trying to stretch some muscles. My head is buried in an essay right now, an essay of mostly overblown metaphors and kind of ridiculous thoughts. 

I realised that I love things quite deeply and it is only when I love something that I write. I kind of think of everything I write as a little segment of my soul that’s carved out and placed on a dinner table for people to spit back out if they don’t like it. If they don’t understand it. If it’s actually just a bit undercooked.

Confidence knocked a little bit lately but also gained as well. Showing writing, hiding writing, sharing writing. Letting myself wear those tight trousers that hug my waist. Should probably be writing more – taking every opportunity to tell people exactly what I think because they should care exactly what I thought and it matters it matters it matters. So often coming out of shows ready to write reviews, but the words don’t get written. Sitting down to write starts to feel like the tide going out – all the words are being sucked away and I can’t catch them fast enough. I have really tried to not let rejection get to me, in all the ways it shows its ugly head, but yet it still seemingly sleeps under my bed at night, ready to wake me in the morning to remind me it exists. Stuck, stuck, stuck.

A friend’s lyrics sort of play back in my head, ‘She played a song at the foot of my bed / I don’t know where it came from / But it touched the base of the huge mountain she’s trying to scale’. Her lyrics are much better than that, but I don’t have the memory to conjure them. Dad says I analyse things when I feel them, like really feel them. Which is true. I’ve stopped caring so much about mark schemes and more about how I can find room to lodge another writer inside my heart. Reading endless essays about writing and crafting and learning and it’s helping piece by piece but I’m finding it hard to make a whole. Not sure what shape it takes yet. Not sure if my body my soul fits into that shape yet.

(I’m being quite purposefully poetic. It makes it easier to impress people.)

Still sort of stretching my muscles. Moving my toes around in the wet sand. I’m waiting for the tide to come back in. It has to, because the moon pulls it back.  Whatever I show you is not perfect, and it is not professional. But it is me, trying. I have to let it go a little bit too. Not everything is world shattering, life altering, career ending, race finishing, prize giving, apocalypse causing. 

We went to the seaside today just because we wanted to and I think I should probably just write because I want to and because it’s nice and sunny and I enjoy it a lot, even when it is hard.

 

10/12/17

I’m a student so my life functions in three month intervals with some space in between. This one has had a couple of Weird clouds hanging over it. This is a bit about thinking back and also about looking forward – so basically exactly what New Years is (duh eve)

Just as I was coming back to university all the Harvey Weinstein stuff started coming out. I haven’t spoken very publicly about any of this, even to my very small following, because it all feels a bit much.

still too wary to talk, still wanting to support, still feeling vulnerable, still needing some kind of reassurance, still feeling rage, still feeling inevitability, still detaching, still cutting myself off from it

I spoke to my mum about it a bit. I have had a few tentative online chats about it. Don’t want to get stuff wrong, but still it feels like the cloud has gotten heavier. That sounds…really bad. What I think I mean is, it’s always been in my thoughts. It’s always been in lots of people’s thoughts because it’s everyday and everywhere. Now it’s in Guardian articles and hashtags. Not a bad thing. Just a heavier, denser cloud.

The rain is coming

So I’ve really felt that cloud this term. It’s on my phone every single day. When I lost my phone for a while, it didn’t leave, but I did stop seeing it. And even though my mental health hit rock bottom, at least for a moment the tweeting and the articles and the debates and the misogyny was hidden. When I came back to it, I felt more angry, and more capable.

I feel, a little bit, powerful. I feel, a lot, empowered. I feel, most of all, supported.

I filter my feed so that there’s no cis men.
It’s the rest of us.
And we all love each other so much.

I see folk who I look up to, and have done for this whole year

Maddy, Meg, Lyn, Vicky, Ava, Emily, Alice, Anna, Clara, Helen, Joesph, Evie, Ella, Mitski, Anya, Alice, Kate, Safura, Kia Yee, Anna, Lilith, Florence, Esme, Steffi, Ellice, Hebe, Bryony, Emma, Cara, Helen, Hetty, Arifa, Gabbi, Kath, Charlotte, Hannah, Amy, Stella, Olivia, Selina, Zarina, Gabrielle, Leanne, Meg, Ciara, Annie, Izzy

We are a collective forcefield. Lots of those names don’t know who I am – that’s okay. It’s about visibility. I think.

This is messy. I hope I don’t make anyone angry – this is one of those posts that feels fragile. Feels tired. Sorry if it’s not quite right.

But then there’s also like another, brighter cloud which tails off of the heavy one. I think because of the people who have come forward about being assaulted and harassed, I have learned to look at the women and non binary people in my life and love them a whole lot more, and learn from them, and admire them, and be there for them, and open myself up to them a bit more

I am constantly filled with pride when I look at all of them. Even if they are far more successful than me, and run theatres and magazines and write plays. I’m proud of myself too. I published at least one blog post every month this year. I’ve never done that before!

I’ve also gone through some real shit since September. I dipped super low, and then I came back out of it. I’ve hurt people but I have also been hurt. What goes around comes around. I let myself be vulnerable in ways I haven’t let myself be before – I’m still learning when that’s useful and when it’s damaging. It’s a slow process. It’s a growing cloud.

I am also very lucky. I know that. Will never not know that. I hope next year I can give and help and promote better.

Allow communication. Cut out negative people. Allow forgiveness. Take no shit. Value yourself. Raise each other up. Give back. Take time. Be generous. Share carefully.

This isn’t meant to be life-affirming.

Sorry.

Stop apologising.

Right. Yes.

Good and Bad eh. Have done and written some of my best stuff this year – theatrical and not theatrical. In 2018 I will improve and grow along with everyone beside me. I absolutely hate New Years, but this felt needed. It’ll probably be mostly the same next year. I’m excited to see new shows and listen to new music (Vampire Weekend LP4 LETS GO) and write new plays and blog posts

Okay cool, this is cheesy and shit now but !! Cathartic.

See ya in 2018

Jenny Holzer: SOFTER at Blenheim Palace

if he survives he’ll confirm for future generations how beauty was dying like beauty in flames  

gently we go into the night. hands clasped, umbrella up, pebbles turn. I have waited for this since I saw your words on my screen. I have waited for this since you were made visible, and they helped me keep writing. rejuvenated a love of art, of protest, of public accusation. you have been planted in my sternum for over 1000 days. here I return to you and the art. become a part of history, your history.

i ran to the one who fell wanting to take her away but she was already gone

about a month ago I went to mac in Birmingham to see jenny holzer give a talk on her art. I had seen an exhibition of her work for the first time in that gallery, two months before. we arrived far too early, and I am sweating, mostly the pores in my hands, and I wipe them continuously on my jeans. sitting the café about fifteen minutes before it starts, I see a familiar face in my eyeline. she’s familiar from phone screens and art books. as she walks away, I run up and tell Holzer that    that    I’m not sure what   I’m not too sure what I said to her.   How do you tell someone that you’ve never met that they helped you understand art and feminism and that their words founded your voice with you? you can’t. so you stumble and blush instead. she curtsies when I tell her I love her work. it’s not enough, can never tell her how much. after her talk, I ask a question and she chuckles – ‘I can’t possibly answer that in one sitting, that’s a very good question’. she smiles. I am on the edge of my cushioned seat. she hears me, she sees me. this is enough.

on the threshold he slaughters us and time

at Blenheim Palace, Jenny Holzer exhibits a piece called SOFTER. It accompanies a wider gallery installation in the palace. although I can see the glowing pink LEDs inside the huge stone palace it is too late to go in. I book the exhibition for later in the month on the way home. suddenly, the outside of the palace is lit up. we stand in the courtyard and are surrounded by words. words that jump through the rain and run under our feet to rest for half a second on the palace walls. I am shocked. I didn’t think it would be this huge, this all-encompassing. my heart lifts. I am seeing the words that hold steady in my mind, the medium that resonates around my frontal lobe. the silence is most oppressive here. the courtyard swallows noise and so no one is heard, just the occasional sound of gravel and birds.

i bandage it with the voice of reason that was not affected by proximate desolation

this is not completely true. as I stand next to a young family, a young boy and girl play and scream beside me.  their laughter carries with an odd echo. I read about Syrian children, first hand accounts of running under tables and away from bombs. I feel so acutely disconnected.

i bandage it with veins whose warm blood has not yet been spilled on the surface of our sacred soil

the happiness of being there, with holzer’s work begins to wear off as I keep reading the words. it’s interviews, poems, and prose from war veterans, soldiers, victims, children, doctors. it is   harrowing. it is so    immense. it does what it has to. with each rolling credit for bullets wounds and bomb shelters my heart falters slightly more. its dark and I search for my mum. we hold each other in the middle of the courtyard.    I am so sad.   I am so sad.    I am so helpless.    I am so complicit.

the houses on the left are burning, the houses on the right are burning

we leave the courtyard slowly. it has been two hours. the night is cold. we sip soup. this isn’t fair, and mum doesn’t want to have it, it feels weird, it feels gratuitous, it is wrong. we drink anyhow. I film the projections. after an hour or so I feel invasive.

huddled in a gateway on the side where the shadow falls, terrified he cannot become a shadow, he listens

write about war and colonialism and refugees and project it on a palace built on blood money and war victories and housed Churchill as a child.

defiance

mourning

hope

stories of massacre on stone walls

a brightly lit funeral

next to me, a woman cackles in the night. defence mechanism.

 

*italicised words are the projections i remember. they are not my words, or Jenny’s.

being a fangirl

I read this article and wanted to write something about being a fan.

I’m ten years old, sitting in the back of my parents Honda, listening to their CDs. It’s 2008. My dad has bought the Strokes, Adele, the Killers, the Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, and the Arctic Monkeys. I am still listening to Hannah Montana and I’m upset that we’re not allowed to play the new Kelly Clarkson song. The same year, my parents buy me a purple iPod. It is shiny and new and I can put all my favourite songs on it, and I don’t have to listen to their rubbish CDs.

It’s the summer of 2012, and I’m 14. I’ve left my purple iPod at home by accident and so I can’t listen to any of the music I like. Very Annoying. My dad lends me his iPod, and I find a song called Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. We are staying in a place called Cape Cod so I think that’s pretty cool and I listen to it. What follows is the start of my teenage fangirl identity. Not a phase so much as a way of life, I think. I’m obsessed.

It’s November 2013, I’m 15 and oh boy am I excited. I found tickets to Vampire Weekend’s London show the week before they play. I don’t even have time to get properly excited because once we’ve arranged how I’ll get there and back home again, the day has arrived. I don’t get there very early because I don’t really know the etiquette of being a huge fan just yet. I’m quite near the back, but I think that’s okay. I’m quite small and not sure I’m ready for the huge speakers on the front rows. It’s my first experience of unadulterated joy and it’s my first experience of letting go. My shoulders unhunch from their clenched position up by my ears. I am surrounded (literally) by men over the age of 25 (Very Old in my 15 year old brain). They don’t scream the lyrics like I do, and they kind of edge away from me. It’s fine, I don’t really care, but one of them sighs really loudly and another few roll their eyes. It’s my first experience of being looked at like that. With such patronising contempt. But whatever, at least I’m enjoying seeing my favourite band.

I start a music blog in 2013 as well. It’s mainly so I can write up a lengthy, analytical, loving review of Vampire Weekend’s third LP. No-one really reads it. (If you want to, it’s here. I was 16, be kind).

I see them once more. It is Reading Festival in 2014. I’m crying and screaming so much that a boy asks if I want to go on his shoulders to see them. I look worried; I know what that sometimes means. He reassures me he likes boys so won’t try anything. I grin. Up in the air I float on clouds of love and joy. I feel like I know the people on stage. It’s strange but it isn’t unusual. I don’t think I have quite got to grips with how far this whole thing will go. Still happy, still judged.

As a teen, I am really one of the only people I know that loves them this much. That’s probably egotistical, but I don’t think that at this point, any of my friends have the obsessive personality that I do, and I begin to hide it. I look for comfort and community in other places. Twitter is just entering my world for the first time. I make a separate account, which doesn’t have my last name attached to it. I make friends. Girls, mostly. Girls who are like me and who cry when Ezra (that’s the lead singer of VW) comes on stage. We all in live totally different lives, in loads of different parts of the world. It is a cacophony of angst and love and passion. Again, no-one really knows it exists outside of us. And of course when we tweet a member of the band and they reply to us, nothing really feels better. It’s a rush that someone we think about on a daily basis acknowledges us.

I could intellectualise this and say we were different from the One Direction fans, because the music we listened to was better crafted, more intelligent, and unique. But that would be a betrayal. A betrayal to the fan base as a community of young women and a betrayal to all the other girls who dedicated their hearts to a different band.

By 2016, I can tell you everything and anything about this band. I can tell you that they sing about a chandelier in their third album because they feel the weight of the success of their first album which had a chandelier on it. I can tell you how many side projects the bassist has put out since 2013. I can tell you who Hannah Hunt is (a name of a track on the third album). I can tell how much they got sued for when they used a polaroid they found in their house for the second album’s cover. (They were found out when the woman in the polaroid saw her own face on her daughter’s newest CD).

When I visit New York for the first time I go on a tour of the city, guided by VWs spots and inspirations (I made the tour myself, having mapped it out weeks before). I know every word to every song and every back story so well and the city is so interwoven with their sounds and songs that it feels like home.

***

This is quite weird to write about. I don’t think it’s very interesting, but I think it is genuine and it’s a part of my life I didn’t share with many people.

I don’t think my appreciation and love of their art was any less legitimate because I was young and it was expressed in tweets and posters.

***

It’s 2017, and Vampire Weekend are maybe realising a new album, maybe not. One of the members of the band has left. My twitter account is left untouched for the most part. I’ve formed real life friendships from it. My love for music has expanded and morphed and manifested into a love for theatre.

**

I saw Father John Misty the other week, who is someone I discovered because of Vampire Weekend and I knew all the words to his songs, was quite far back, and just jumped and lost my voice and it was excellent. At the end, someone turned around and said ‘Wow you must be his biggest fan!’ I apologised because I was scared that my joy had infringed on his watching. He said ‘No it’s lovely, thank you’.

It’s a little about forming communities, a little about appreciating art, and little about sharing.

I’m quite proud of how much I loved Vampire Weekend and all those other bands back when I was 16. I’m so so happy that I waited outside venues for over seven hours. I find it hilarious and lovely that I missed the last day of NSDF in 2015 (and so missed finding out I’d won an award) to go and wait outside a concert venue on the other side of the country. I love finding fans in weird and new places (some new university friends often surprise me with similar stories of love and fandom).

As a fun side note, having moved back to my main twitter account where I talk about theatre and stuff, it doesn’t feel much different. We have created a weird little mini fan base in our twittersphere. It is so insular that I don’t think we realise it, but we are all little fangirls writing blogs and tweeting about our favourite directors. It’s good. I’ve moved into a new sphere of fangirling, one that is maybe more accepted because this fan base includes way more men, and less teenagers.

 

(also if you were wondering the gif at the top is VW winning their first grammy in 2013)