Real, deep, true connection is something I avoided for a long time. I wanted to be untouchable, unattached. Independent and stable and fine on my own. I didn’t want to put all my faith in a few people, because I didn’t want to see them leave and watch all that faith follow them out the door. I stayed away from any relationship that felt like it could be more than surface deep, because that felt like the only way to make sure I’d never get hurt, never have to go through all the things I was so afraid of. Rejection and grief and loneliness.
And then I did go through that. Someone who really mattered left, and I felt the pain and the loss, but my faith stuck around, and it’s been with me ever since. I learned, rather quickly, that connection isn’t just something we crave, but something we need, and that life seems hollow if we choose to go without it. If we continually choose comfort over vulnerability, if we continually choose solid ground over taking risks, we lose that potential for connection. And sometimes, even though it’s an attempt to protect ourselves, sticking to what we know hurts more than letting the familiar go for a few seconds just to see what could happen if we let others see us for who we truly are.
In a lot of ways, moving to Leeds for five months has been an exercise in opening myself up all over again. Walking into every situation with my chest pried a little wider than usual, a bit more of my heart on show for everyone to see. It’s terrifying, doing this over and over again every time I’m greeted by someone or something new. But it’s necessary, and it’s been beautiful spending the past eight weeks finding people who reflect parts of myself back to me. I keep reminding myself how wonderful it is to connect with the world around me, and I also keep remembering all the moments when I felt that kind of connection in a really, deep way.
Concerts always feel like connection. Three years I watched Broken Social Scene play a surprise set at WayHome. It was dusk, and the sky was turning purple around the crowd, and the band started playing ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.’ Everyone began singing along, as if it was second nature, and the entire world seemed to thrum from the force of our voices. There were friends’ arms around my shoulders and a smile on my face and unknown bodies too close to my own, but the moment was perfect, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
There’s The National, who I have seen twice, and who end their sets with ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.’ They play it so slow and soft that you can barely hear the band, but the audience fills in, and everything outside of that moment quiets down, and all that exists is what’s right in front of you. There’s the dance parties I’ve had when members of Local Natives jumped in the crowd. There’s holding onto Florence Welch’s hand, dozens of people swarming her slight figure, all of us singing ‘Raise it Up’ at the top of our lungs. There’s Abby and I spending drives together belting out MUNA and Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift. There’s walking back to my apartment after seeing Wolf Alice, Charlotte and I still in a daze, our voices filling the quiet city as we yelled the lyrics to ‘Beautifully Unconventional.’ Music is a thread that connects so many of my most important experiences.
Then, there are the times when visual art – painting and drawing and sculpting – have been the basis for connection. When I wandered through MoMA and found Frida Kahlo’s Fulang-Chang and I, a portrait of the artist with a pet monkey, a mirror hung next to it, both pieces featuring the same frame. I remember walking up to it, staring at myself in the mirror and at Frida beside me, marvelling at how close I felt to her presence. Part of her being in me, and part of my being in her. When Laura and I saw Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works last week, the two of us standing in beams of light and contemplating our place in the world and looking at each other in awe. When I saw Basquiat’s notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum, pages and pages of his internal thoughts spread across gallery walls, taking in his words and wondering if mine will ever be displayed like that, too.
There’s connection in novels and film and clothing. Connection in how I spent most of high school superglued into a pair of black skinny jeans and a band shirt and a flannel and a denim jacket, creating a uniform that would bring me closer to the people I admired and further from the people I didn’t want to be around. Connection in passing around my copy of Just Kids, loaning it to Charlotte and Katie and my mum and wondering what each one of them found in the pages I hold so close to my heart. Connection in Amy and I seeing Call Me By Your Name together three times, sneaking cupcakes into the movie theatre when she and Katie and I celebrated my twenty-first birthday.
When I stop to think about it, art was the first form of connection I ever truly understood, the first thing I ever revealed my true self for. I’ve formed connections with songs and books and paintings themselves, and all those things have also been in the background when I’ve made real, physical, human connections. Art is the soundtrack to my form of connection, and it’s what I remember when I think about past relationships and stand-out moments and transformative years.
Art feels like the basis for everything. It’s my favourite way to open up to someone, my favourite way to speak to someone’s soul and have them speak to mine. To have someone you admire or care about put on a song they know you love, or play a band they think you’ll like. To drag someone to an art exhibit, even if they’re reluctant, because you know they’ll get something out of it. To swap books and share articles and copy and paste poems and photos and quotes, using all those forms of expression to communicate secrets and meaning. All of that feels special.
I like forming connections with art and over art because it means you’re talking about or contemplating or experiencing something meaningful. You’re not feeding energy into the bad, venting about awful days or tiny annoyances. The connection is based on things you adore or appreciate, and you can tell by the way eyes light up and voices move faster and bodies seem to spring into action, ready to gesticulate and add emphasis when needed. I want to hear about what people love, what makes them tick, what they’ll take to the grave, and so often art fits itself into all of those boxes.
I’m writing this because I want to push myself to form connections like this more often than I already do. I want to compliment someone’s band tee or comment on the book they’re carrying around. I want to get wrapped up in conversations about what my friends and acquaintances are inspired by. I want to recognize the art that exists in their bones, whether they’re the one making it or simply appreciating it. I don’t want to subsist on conversations that barely skim the surface of what our lives are about. Art is where the walls come down, where the mind opens up, where the heart starts speaking instead of being stopped by the brain. And it’s at that intersection that I want to get to know all the people who I want to keep close to me for a long time.