Harp Strings

It’s been so long that I almost convince myself I’ve forgotten how to write. Not altogether. Just in the way I always have. The way that comes spilling out of the tips of my fingers like I don’t know what’s hit me. The way that leads me blindfolded through a museum that only exists when I close my eyes and slow my breathing. The way that illuminates all the hidden recesses of my mind.

I’ve neglected this space for nearly two years now. Let ivy grow over the windows as sleeping dogs lie. I convince myself I’ve forgotten to write, but that’s not it. The truth is, I feel so distant from the person who wrote half of these posts that I’m not quite sure how to pick up the story anymore, let alone where from. Reading back through them is like revisiting a book from my childhood. The events are familiar, I remember what happened. But the author has lost the soft shimmer that made their voice seem absolute.

But that’s not to say it wasn’t true. I always wrote as me, but my sense of self was so different back then. Based almost entirely on stories I’d read and loved so much that I wanted to crawl into them and stay forever. Stories of adventure, stories of wandering, stories of entire lives lived out in another language. But we all do this. Craft our personal narratives based on what we value, what society values, what we think will most paint us as the favourable protagonist we long to be. Once, when I was still a kid, I moved overseas on a whim and took all my flawed complexities with me. And in my mind, I built castles around my decision to do so.

But now?

Now, a few years have passed and I've outgrown all my old narratives like the homemade woollen jumpers of my childhood. Now, I live within the quite ebb and flow of my hometown. I thought I’d be long gone by now, only because familiarity is a whole lot harder to romanticise. But still, there is so much wonder around me. I am lucky, the kind of lucky you get so tired of waiting for that one day that you decide to create it yourself. When love comes, it is not in the form I thought it would be. An old friend and I become closer and suddenly, everything is different. Neither of us sees it coming. But it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and I am in constant awe of his ability to uplift and calm me. It is the opposite of all the relationship tropes I grew I believing – that love is a hurricane, that vicious fights and mind games are inevitable. Instead, things that were once hazy come slowly into focus.

In the middle of winter I move house, not countries. I find it to be the bigger adventure by far. Although we’d been planning it forever, the day hits me out of the blue. Suddenly life is lived out of boxes, we talk about bills, we talk about what we’re going to buy at the supermarket each week. We marry our bookshelves into a single library. We wake up together and fall asleep together and although everyone told me it was going to be hard, it’s easy. And even when it’s not easy, it’s worth it.

The harp arrives in December, a lifelong wish delivered in the form of a new hobby. It’s an impossibly elegant instrument that I hire from a woman who lives in the hills. It sits straight-backed in our spare room, taller than even me when I stand up. The strings feel strange between my fingers at first but they sound so beautiful almost instantly. With piano, I struggled for years to make sounds that I thought were interesting. With flute, it was an uphill battle to even get a clear note. But harp is different. It gives away its secrets early, and even Chopsticks sounds like a song from the beginning of time. Although I tend to give up things in a heartbeat, the physical commitment of having a concert-sized pedal harp in the house keeps me coming back most days, tentatively attempting my scales and squinting at sheet music. It’s a language I know well, although it’s been kept in a storage container at the back of my mind for years.

And so, the days pass in much the same way. I am at the tail-end of my degree, not quite studying full time but not quite finished either. I mostly have nothing new to report. But instead of bursting out into the world like I usually do in times of limbo, this time I retreat. I turn down invitations. I do a lot of sitting, a lot of reading. I watch my love grow over everything like ivy, curling around the corners of my life until I can’t remember what was there before. The days are long and a heat wave comes eventually, later in the season than usual. I make a lot of plans and then scrap them almost instantly.

February comes and I spend hours one night trying to seduce sleep, balancing on the razor edge of consciousness. But it evades me like a hunted thing. Lying there in the dark, I realise nothing in my future is certain except the inevitable ebb and flow of more messy life. It's up to me to make something of it. The arc of my boyfriend’s back cuts a silhouette in the dark next to me, rising and falling gently with his breath. Moonlight filters dimly through the window. It’s like an ultimate storybook cliché except I’m here, and I’m living it. All this. These flimsy moments framed by the gentle whir of the fan. It’s cool at this hour, but I like the white noise anyway. I like the way it fills up the uncertainly around me.

And so perhaps all this purposelessness does have a purpose. All the long shifts stretching into the next, all the days off where I have no energy to do anything but sprawl out on the couch and plug myself into some television drama. A lot of the time I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel so over-caffeinated and checked out, so naked in the absence of direction now. To be free of deadlines can also mean to be free of structure. I rarely drink these days so the nights that I do tend to hit me harder. Always I have a mental hangover for days after, sifting through the minutiae of trivial scenarios that I’m not even sure I remember right.

But numbness never prevails. Soon a realisation slaps me hard in the face and I look at all I have in awe. This little house built from white bricks. This pile of unfinished books. This life stitched together with a thousand different kinds of love. I have choice and freedom and generous helpings of some strange, undefinable faith that is always up for trial but never found guilty. No matter what the allegations are against it, I always find morsels hiding in the most unusual places – between fresh notebook pages and tucked behind harp strings. Every now and then, I give up playing the cynic and humour them. And like cherry trees in September, they bloom. 

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