This week I decided to start work on some new songs. I scheduled it in to my diary like anything else, right there between ‘call dentist’ and ‘buy milk.’ I was almost surprised when music didn’t flow out of me as soon as I sat down at the piano.
I always thought that life moved, more or less, in a straight line. Sure, the line’s kind of fuzzy and there are lots of stops and starts, but ultimately we move forward. Obviously we have no way of seeing our path before we begin, but I guess I assumed that by a certain point a narrative would appear, albeit retrospectively. Like at the end of Poirot, when he gathers everybody in the same room and connects the unconnected, drawing conclusions from the seemingly insignificant details of the case. Everything falls into place and we understand why things happened the way they did, and how this determines what has to be done next.
It’s easy to believe in these straight lines when I’m in my song-writing stride. ‘See?’ I think to myself, ‘it’s like any other skill, if you practice and work hard you make progress and move forward.’ But then the dry spell hits and disorientates me. Am I going backwards now? Was all the progress I made for nothing? Did I reach my peak and now I’m on the downwards slope?
Starting a new project is always daunting. Beginnings mean blank canvases, potential and possibilities. But they’re also pressure – to move forward, to do better than last time, to repair mistakes made in the past. At the minute, I’m feeling this pressure both artistically and personally. I find that one feeds the other.
I barely recognise the girl I was before I developed depression. Instead of spending my early twenties working out who I am, I spent most of the time working out how to coax myself out of bed. Now I’m recovering, the black cloud is starting to clear and there’s a huge space to be filled. I have no idea who I am without depression. What do I like doing or wearing? How do I want to spend my life? In many ways the emptiness is exciting – I’m free to discover these things and without depression looming I can have more control of the results. It’s also overwhelming.
Maybe life never moves in perfect, straight lines. Maybe it moves in circles, loops back on itself, takes detours and flings us off the map entirely. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’ve moved at all. I still cry about the same things I did in 2009, and I still worry I’m not good enough.
Maybe that’s ok, and I don’t need a TV detective to help me make sense of the last few years. I don’t need to grieve for them or conduct a post-mortem. Last time I wrote a collection of songs they told the story of who I was right then and there. I’m not there anymore. I’m Here. And I have no idea what this new place is like. Perhaps I should find out.