To all the albums I have loved before (Taylor’s Version)

“Pushed from the precipice,

climbed right back up the cliff,

long story short, I survived.”

long story short – evermore, Taylor Swift

How can Taylor Swift continually create albums that not only perfectly reflect how I feel, but come at the time when I need them? Red (Taylor’s Version) came out on Friday (12th November) just when I need a new album to soothe me as I navigate this new world and grapple with my past. I need an album I know that, in a few months, or a year, I’ll listen to again and I’ll be transported back. The knowledge that this will happen implies that I’ll get through it, and that’s what I need more than anything. This is a power that only an album has, with all the nuances between tracks, the hopeful, the sad, the all encompassing, only such variety can reflect a period of life.

There have been two times in my life where I have driven around places carelessly – recklessly – in an utter state of despair, contemplating a relationship I knew was not serving me well. Reputation came out in the first instance – it was empowering and female driven (Bad Blood music video anyone?) and made me feel like fuck it! I can do this! So I did on a sort of whim. I walked down the seafront of my hometown; the garish arcade lights blinking to my left, the sea an inky blackness on my right, the horizon perforated by the minuscule lights of what lay on the other side. In the air was Christmas which was a few weeks away and all that that meant; unprocessed grief, sadness, accusations, discomfort. I chose to find out what that alternative looked like, away from the garishness, the fakeness. I found out quickly that without the falsity there was nothing, and I didn’t have the strength to face up to all the obstacles that stood in my way, all the pain that I had to work through to conjure up my identity, work that I’d have to do alone, as I had no one. So I fell backward with little decision making. A few years passed uncomfortably, enter Lover. This fantastic moving image of happiness; of love; of laughter and friendship that I didn’t have. So I started to drive around again aimlessly losing myself in the songs wishing I could feel what she felt, starting to understand that what I had, I didn’t want. I didn’t really know what I wanted. Now when I listen to Lover I’m reminded of how that longing, that absence, is now filled: that I know what I want and I have it. I listen to Reputation and that courage, although short lived, it was that little spark that eventually saved me.

Then came Folklore like a beacon in the darkest of nights which I listen to when I want to be reminded of the process of falling in love. Not just a romantic love or a platonic love but a falling in love with myself, a finding out of who I am that enabled romantic and platonic love to grow. It came out in maybe the second worst period of my life when I had gone from someone suffocated, to someone completely unstuck and, now I realise, free. I first listened to it with my best friend as I drove us back from Manchester; our first trip away together in our new budding friendship and my first trip away as a single woman in years. My tears ricochet felt like my fight song, like the “I can do this!” anthem that I needed. Only a month or so later I would find myself listening to folklore with the man I met online, the man I had texted back and forth for months while we sat in lockdown unable to meet. He would then text me as he drove along the North East coast of Scotland delivering baked goods, as the sun cast the sky in an orangey hued pink as it rose, to say he’d heard one of the songs on the radio, and thought of me. That album encapsulates that transitionary period of my life so well, from so completely and utterly lost, to found.

Evermore came out at a junction in my life. Where I could decide to move onwards, embrace a new future, let in new people. I’d listen to Evermore as I showered at my partner’s parents house where we stayed for 4 months over the winter lockdown. I’d sit and soak in a bath three times my width as snow fell outside and all I could see for miles was white. I’d listen to Taylor’s words like poetry which held me while I contemplated whether I deserved this. How I deserved this. How I’d come to find a functioning family unit which I could let myself get into, I could open up too, when I’d thought all possibility of this for me was dead. For the first time in 4 years I had a good Christmas. When I listen to Evermore I’m reminded of that happiness that I let in, and that I should continue to open up to it. That I deserve it.

I guess the magic of Taylor Swift really lives in Taylor’s Versions and the ability to experience an album with a doubleness not only in the action of re-listening, but in the fact that it has been re-recorded and, the most powerful part, reclaimed.

I first listened to Fearless when I had my first boyfriend, I did an art project for GCSE inspired by Love Story in that weird sort of era when the Twilight films were out too and love was more obsession than the healthy supportive love I know now. I listen to Fearless (Taylor’s Version) as a woman who has a complicated relationship with love. It came out when I was alone for the final few weeks in my old house and I needed to be reminded of the love I had found while I was waiting for you to come and move in with me, while we waited to move into our new home together. A reminder of that romantic love that grows from something platonic and real, based on friendship and mutuality not power. When I listen to it now I remember that short period of time of solitude where I acknowledged the strength of what I had found, said goodbye to my old life and came to a place where I am safe.

Now enters Red (Taylor’s Version) when I have the strength, the foundation, and the support to work through everything. To decide what and who I take with me into this new chapter, and what I can leave behind. If Taylor Swift can sift through her work, revise, revisit and reclaim, then so can I.

Blue Monday

“Thought I was mistaken
I thought I heard your words
Tell me, how do I feel?
Tell me now, how do I feel?” 
New Order – Blue Monday

 

It’s Monday the 21st of January: “Blue Monday” 2019. A day when emotion is universally prescribed “blue” ergo, depressed. A day which, whilst at the same time as bringing mental health into the national consciousness, trivialises it. And as much as we try, as much as we fight it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – for some, so much more than others.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so problematic, if it weren’t for the fact that, under the facade of “Blue Monday,” sits a sinister, yet tenacious marketing tactic. It’s not overly surprising to learn it’s a PR stunt, devised by a travel company to boost sales, to make money. It’s longevity is pure evidence that this tactic is working. “Blue Monday” continues to exist to uphold capitalism by acting as an annual reminder that: if you feel blue, you should spend money (substituting the usual “If you love someone, spend money on them” (See: Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s day et al)) –

“Get a red cup to beat the blues”

“Blue Monday isn’t blue when you’re enjoying our Cheddar!”

“Cheer up your Blue Monday with a sneaky treat!”

Then you’ll feel better. Wouldn’t it be lovely to think that a bit of spending could “cure” what can be, incurable? Not medication. Not counselling. Spending. Spending, which is also –  *absurdly* – one of the main contributing factors to the 3rd Monday of January being “Blue Monday” in the first place. You can see where this is going… Hats off to the big wig advertisers (capitalists) that came up with this vicious cycle of individual suffering!

So why don’t I just shut up and enjoy my free cheeseburger?

Because there are SO MANY people for which a freebie just won’t cut it, myself included. For people who suffer from poor mental health on a regular basis (at least 1 in 4 of us), to wake up and find it is “Blue Monday” is the most self-fulfilling of all prophecies. It can’t be shaken by a fucking Costa coffee (cheese maybe). But jokes aside, poor mental health is something people live with, day in, day out, not simply annually. To trivialise mental health in this way, to disregard medical illness, for the sake of a pseudo-scientific “Blue Monday” is dangerous – for everyone. It’s not healthy for a calendar-event to dictate emotion, to set an expectation on a universal scale, to stuff our mouths with consumer items to stifle our words.

“And I still find it so hard
To say what I need to say
But I’m quite sure that you’ll tell me
Just how I should feel today”
New Order – Blue Monday

Fake Friends

In the midst of the festive season, navigating toxicity is paramount. It is essential to surviving what should be “the most wonderful time of the year” with your mental health in tact. Christmas seems to egg on those festering fakes to slide into your dms with a patronising “glad you’re doing so well”. Why don’t you just fuck off?

Maybe it helps them to gloss of the years of bullying and manipulation: despite what they did – you’re still doing well. So the bullying can’t have had that much of an affect, right? Maybe it led to the success, the ‘doing well’, and it’s all just self-congratulation. I wouldn’t be surprised. Everyone has that person who pops up, uninvited like some meandering fuck boy, with a self-interested congratulatory or well-wishing address. Let’s forget, in this moment of congratulation, in grossly misjudged well wishing, that you persistently undermined my intelligence over a period of years, that you said I didn’t deserve my job, and as a result of working would fail academically (BA, MA and 4 promotions later…). I don’t know how people can have such a selective memory.

But for some reason, an occasion, be it Christmas, graduation or an engagement, prompts people, who haven’t spoke to you for 5+ years to appear, congratulate, and disappear into the abyss from which they came. Or even worse, they attempt to continue their misjudged interjection past the “glad you’re doing so well” into an actual conversation. Brushing under the carpet years of non contact, years of escape.

“We really need to catch up sometime soon – it’s been forever!!” No we do not, and forever has clearly not been long enough.

People are so quick to support the ditching of shitty boyfriends – “DUMP HIM!” they shout profusely, but when it’s a friendship a certain unjustified leeway seems to operate: “But you were SUCH good friends! You can’t end all that over something so … small”. Yes I can, and I will. Any relationship can be incessantly toxic, not just those that entail romantic entanglement. Sometimes friendships can be the most noxious of them all. Some friendships are run like a mini-dictatorship, one self proclaimed “Queen Bee*” running an authoritarian regime Kim Jong-un would be proud of. “Queen Bee” creates arbitrary circles of power, themselves centrifugal in the operation of a friendship solar system. Sorry, Pluto. “Queen Bee” ensures total loyalty by the simple fact that anyone can become Pluto, that individual on the brink of – “Can we talk to them, can we not talk to them?” Not quite an outsider and not an insider either; which is possibly the worst place to be. I’d much rather receive The Phonecall when “Queen Bee” states: “None of us like you and you can’t be friends with us anymore,” move over Gretchen Weiners. Of course, “us” means “I”, but what’s really the difference in a friendtatorship? And the worst part is not knowing what you’ve done wrong – how the fuck have I gone from Mercury to Pluto in 0.00001 second?

This is when the real bullying comes in – the arbitrary will of the “Queen Bee” is relentless. Apparently she has exclusive right over more things than the actual Royal Family. Buy a pair of shoes she likes – PLUTO. Talk to someone she knows without permission – PLUTO. Kiss a boy without approval – PLUTO. Have a personality – PLUTO. Have any non-state sanctioned fun – PLUTO. And then comes in the lying, the desperate plea to imagination to certify “I AM COOLER THAN ALL OF YOU” the only real claim “Queen Bee” has to authority. And to maintain this status she ensure to play off  one friend against another, again, a tactic which exercises an over-indulgence with lying and exemplifies her joy in watching human suffering. What riles me the most is the denial of autonomy, the literal dictatorship of “this is the regime and you must follow it, and if you think outside of my fallaciously designed parameters, you’re out.” For too long, I tolerated it, I’d been bullied, slut-shamed, humiliated, undermined, ridiculed, lied to, and I got off pretty lightly. I’d been Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and finally liberated. I will not tolerate this shit anymore – neither should you.

*DISCLAIMER: Purely fictional and totally not based on any person living or dead, but if you think it’s about you it probably is.