Somewhere In This Sadness Is A Path Back To Myself

Snapshot thoughts from the edge of 35

A year ago, waking up on the morning of my birthday, I made a quiet wish for a deadline extension for a play. Whoever that wish reached overshot things somewhat and shut down the theatre sector instead. I have paid my penance by putting some pennies towards this fund here that has been supporting out-of-work theatre workers. That link again? It’s right here. If you’ve ever liked anything I’ve written, I’d love it if you could put a little something towards it. If you’ve hated everything I’ve written, this fund will probably help someone you like more keep going. Win win.

When I wrote an essay about death (stay with me, casual reader) for The Good Immigrant – over 5 years ago now – I still had both my grandfathers. Since then, I have lost both, most recently my maternal grandfather in January. In that essay, I talked about rituals and how they were nonsense but nonsense that binds. It sounded pleasingly profound and pretentious at the time, but I have thought about that observation a lot of late. I have thought about whether I still believe it. I’m going to test it by trying to make a ritual for myself today.

It is my birthday once more and I am spending it at my maternal grandparents’ empty house. At this very moment I am trying to gather something of how it smells because that smell was a constant across my whole life and I know it will be one of the first things to fade. In truth, it already has a little. I feel like I’m perhaps vacuuming up too much of it and not leaving enough behind for others.

The last year (and a bit) was hands down the worst of my life, as it has been for so many others. I’ve lost work, relatives, friends, a relationship and my favourite hat. However, I have also gained a niece – the first child born in our immediate family in over 30 years – and her presence in my life increasingly makes me want to try and take those losses and build on their foundations (Also to get a tattoo but that might have been the pandemic getting to me).

So I am thinking this moment here, a ritual creation, can be the start of that. Using old elements to invoke the new. I am having a pint of my grandad’s favoured beer. I am taking photos before the inevitable emptying. I am writing this blog right here. I am saying goodbye. Now that I absorbed my fill of the loud kitchen clock (depicting different types of birds – cute!), I am infusing the comforting silence of the place with a first listen of the multi-talented Anjana Vasan’s gorgeous upcoming album, which feels about right since she once played a fictionalised version of my maternal grandmother who I think would fully adore this music as much as I do. Then I will go for a walk with my friend Shubham who played my maternal grandfather once and I will have rounded off my ritualistic myth making and go home to consider how I can make it linger and how I can make it bind (and probably drink some whisky). Maybe in eighteen years time me and my niece will be having a Stella in a London pub (imagine! the pub!) and she will think this is a nonsense from a wayward uncle but will go along because she knows it means something to him. Maybe when I’m gone she’ll craft it into something new for herself.

35! We did it, Joe!

Decisions that have helped me the most over the last year, in ascending order:

  • Staying off social media for the most part – 3
  • Going to therapy now that I can afford it for a bit – 2
  • Getting a WhatsApp group – 1

Honestly, nothing has been clearer to me this last year that realising how much pain could’ve been averted by a sympathetic WhatsApp group in which you can be your worst self rather than instinctively present that self to the world. Basically – get a WhatsApp group of likeminded folks who will bring you joy and back from the brink in equal measure.

I started writing something about the self-discovery I have undertaken over the last year and how that has helped balance out the horror but even writing the words “self-discovery” made me gag a bit and I think is the moment you should pull yourself away from the keyboard. So I’ll just say that I am proud to have pushed myself to be more vulnerable and open-hearted in a year that was…very much not ideal for that. In an unexpected way, by loosening up a bit, I feel a little like I have more control over forces in my life that I thought would just be chaotic forever so I’m hopeful for better in the months ahead. Speaking of…

Having read back through some of my old posts, both here and on my Patelograms (which I will still write when I find anything worth saying), there is a clear drive to try and make hope a large part of my output. Sometimes that feels strained. Sometimes it feels honest. But it has never felt less than important. Digging into why that is is one for another day. I just get the sense it will always be a part of what I put into the world. Or at least that’s my hope for myself for the next 35 years – that hope will stay in the heart of everything that I’m doing. That the deep miseries we’ve experienced has created a well of feeling that can be alchemised into glory. An emotion-rich medium through which we can fully be who we always wanted to.

Maybe it’s the beer talking, but I cannot wait to see you all again and make terrible, terrible small talk. That’s where I’m sure a lot of us are at. Longing for the intimate nonsense. But, hey, there’s something in that…

Keep well, folks.

V x

P.S. Looking through my grandfather’s bookshelf, I found a copy of my very first play that I had signed for him. There was a page bookmarked. What did that page say?

I haven’t laughed like that in ages and I fully didn’t expect to do so today. Thanks, universe, you whimsical bastard.

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