I don’t really go out of my way to celebrate my birthday, but I’ve been pretty lucky that I have wonderful friends and family who have always made an effort to create something for me. I have so many amazing memories of parties, and special gifts, of laughter, and of tears… I will be 40 this week, and it honestly feels like one of those dates that should be marked in the calendar. This past month I have been through an array of emotions, and a lot of thoughts, especially back to every time I turned a decade older. I started to jot down notes, sifting through journals, and suddenly I realized that 1988, 1998, 2008, and also 2018 were big transition years for me, more than other years. So, over the past week or so I have been writing an essay based on these thoughts. I’m sure I will expand on it over time, but here it is, 4 of my birthdays in a few paragraphs.
Imagine yourself wading through a pool, lukewarm to the touch, grey, slightly thick, dark fog in patches meeting the water. There are moments when the fog disperses and the water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom, emeralds shining through the ripples. But the rest of the space feels like a blur, a thick blur of images, faces, and feelings.
1988 was a very difficult year in the UK. There were so many strikes, Maggie Thatcher was still Prime Minister, we were all poor, Poll Tax, IRA, my father killed himself, an oil rig explodes, AIDS is killing people, we changed our name and moved to The Netherlands, a plane explodes over Lockerbie and kills nearly 300 people… 1988 was also the year I turned 10. I’m not surprised that I find it easier to remember the current events of the year better than I do the events of my own life: my feelings were too overwhelming for a 10 year to be able to handle.
My father died around my birthday, and a few months later my mother, stepfather, sister and baby brother moved across the sea in a small blue van, crammed with as much as we could fill it with. I don’t think I will ever know if the displacement I felt that summer was because of the move, or because I lost a parent, but I do know that the move was beneficial in the long run. England and 1988 will always be very, very dark, a swamp with Maggie Thatcher’s face scowling over the top of it. (I was visiting Memphis in 2013 when she died, with an Irish friend. We danced around the hostel in elation).
1988 was a year of huge changes in my life.
I felt like I was emerging from slow moving swamp waters into a field full of wild flowers. My bare feet touched the warm soil, and wings emerged from my shoulder blades, lifting me up so that I could see the stretch of land ahead. In my mind everything appeared bright, awake: full of choices and good decisions.
On my 20th birthday in 1998 my sister and a few friends made me a cake and sung to me in my bedroom in our apartment in the center of Grenoble. I still wear the necklace my sister gave me that day, it still shines brightly around my neck, a symbol of protection.
Not long after that I chopped all of my (very long) hair off into a (very short) bob with an undercut, nixed the long, black lace dresses and Doc Martens for more color and sneakers. And I even enthusiastically let my sister take me to a few of her illegal raves around the country. She was always off with her friends from the Spiral Tribe, and always knew where and when the best parties would be. It’s funny when you think back, the amount of riot police they would send to shut down a party in a field in the middle of nowhere...
That period of wearing colorful clothes lasted about 2 months; I was back in my old uniform before the end of the summer, but the darkness that had plagued me at the beginning of the year was gone, and I started the autumn with a renewed sense of self, of confidence, and with the sparkle I had lost. I decided to go to university that year after a while of back and forth in my head, and it definitely was the beginning of a new era in my life. I don’t think I realized how lucky I was to be able to benefit from high quality, free, university education right there in the city I grew up in. I was happy but still torn between two homes, Grenoble in France, and Rutland in England where I was born and where I spent my summers from the age of 16.
1998 was also the year France won the World Cup (football of course), we all wondered why anyone cared that President Clinton cheated on his wife and notched it up to an “American thing”, there were several terrible earthquakes in Afghanistan, Manic Street Preachers, I danced to techno all night long well into the morning sober in a field in the south of France, so many massacres in Algeria, Massive Attack, I spent the summer bartending in England, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, then the bombing in Omagh happened, Pulp, and finally a new Hole album.
1998 was a transition year, a butterfly year.
The steps spiraled downwards, through rooms of gold and silver, through confined spaces void of sound and air. I skipped down, light and breezy, then stumbled and fell, an out of body experience of falling, falling, until I hit the dusty bottom. 2008 was a constant and dramatic zigzag journey of top shelf highs and deeper than basement lows. Something was shifting but it took a while for everything to click into place.
I finally left my way too expensive shoe box in the West Village and signed the lease on a much bigger and much cheaper apartment in Bushwick with my wonderful friend Beth. I spent my time outside of work at Darkroom and Motorcity with my friends and was generally hanging on by a thread by the time I was two drinks in. I also DJed regularly at Beauty Bar on 14th St, and bars around the LES, getting home late to go straight back out to work, to a job that I had begun to detest. It was insane, and the toll it was taking mentally was ridiculous. But that feeling of walking into a place where you felt loved, appreciated, at home basically, was amazing. I stopped drinking three days into the following year, and found so much more of that love and appreciation around me, more than I ever thought possible. 2008 was stomping around Ludlow in Fryes, no fear, dancing, singing, doing way too many crazy things, but also remembering to write things down, so that the memories would remain an imprint on my brain.
2008 was also the year the stock market crashed and the whole world fell into a recession, The Kills, Obama was elected President, Spiritualized, hundreds of thousands die in Myanmar and China due to natural disasters, so many shows, my husband Nick Cave, Motorcity-Darkroom-Pianers.
2008 taught me that sometimes you need to push your horizons out but also put your own boundaries up without hesitation.
Sometimes the routine of days feels beige, slightly boring, and I want to shout, act crazy and run around jumping on bars and singing random songs to strangers. But in reality I don’t: most of the time I find comfort in the predictable events of each day, especially because the unpredictable ones become all the more entertaining and surprising. This year I turn 40, and I suppose I feel ready, but I also feel in a surreal place in my mind.
How did this happen so fast? Only a few years ago I was 29... And here I am, nearly 40, living in a place where I don’t really feel at home, but living with the love of my life, our three beautiful children and our cat. At the beginning of the year I felt despondent, suspended in the air, unable to pinpoint where I was going wrong and why wading felt so much harder than swimming, and then it all clicked into place again.
2018 is the beginning of the rest of my life, the rest of our lives, and I have so many more things I need to do, and share, and participate in. I have decided to be fearless again, and not stand back or down anymore. Many, many years ago, when I was 16, I promised my wonderful English teacher, the amazing Mr. Finn, that I would never let my voice be silenced, and I plan on honoring that promise for the rest of my life.
2018 is also the year of 5 years of sobriety, of reading as diversely as possible, of self-care, and of reeling in, or more taking a step back. In terms of current events it’s a year of too much already: Syria, Trump, May, so many homeless people in the streets, Depeche Mode, BRMC, family, Mexico?, resistance, bans, more resistance, midterm elections, hopefully impeachment, poetry, love, and marches. So many marches.
2018 is the beginning of the rest of my life.