I write like a maniac because I’m terrified that I’ll forget something. I don’t always trust my eyes – don’t trust the memories of my favourite band on stage in front of me or the smile that might have conveyed more than a smile usually does or the way the rooflines in Paris jutted into the path of the lavender sunset. There is so much more to every moment than what I can see with these rose-tinted glasses I seem to wear so permanently. There are feelings and thoughts and sensations, and I want to remember them. I want to remember the longing for something that was never quite there but that could have been, the feeling of my favourite sweater enveloping my neck while I drank coffee in a new cafe, the rain that seems to pool on my forehead and in the ends of my curls when I’m too stubborn to pull out an umbrella. Writing is a way to capture all the details and nuances, and that’s why I do it so feverishly.
I texted Laura yesterday to say that Leeds feels so far away that it seems like we were never even there. It’s only been a month since we returned to Canada, and yet I can already feel the fear of losing all those memories – the memories of meditating in the park at golden hour, of interrupting study sessions to talk endlessly about love, of watching Call Me By Your Name at Hyde Park Picture House and walking through the tiled arcades and having Indian food and mango mojitos at Bundobust.
The memories aren’t slipping yet, but they’re already going fuzzy around the edges. I still remember what I wore on my first full day in the city and I still remember buying a 99 from an ice cream truck on a warm day in April and I still remember listening to jazz music and talking about how badly I want to learn to play bass and I still remember all the nights I returned to my dorm room thinking that life couldn’t get any better. But I don’t remember the pub quiz questions or the things I said when I wanted to say something else entirely or the type of plant I had on my desk that I had affectionately named Patti. Maybe I’m remembering the important things. The people and the freedom and the days when my heart was on fire. But I wish I could remember it all. And that’s why I write.
There’s a track on Florence + the Machine’s new album called “South London Forever.” The entire album is amazing, filled with chants of hold to each other and reminders that it’s such a wonderful thing to love and odes to Patti Smith and New York City and drinking too much coffee. But that track is the one that makes me think of England and of Leeds. How she speaks so lovingly of her days with the people she cared for, how the whole thing seems dreamlike and imagined, how ephemeral it is when she recalls the details. It’s a song that makes me want to write.
I have always felt like Florence’s music aligns perfectly with my own existence. “Shake It Out” has carried me through nearly seven years of heaviness that has always led to clearings of fresh air. “Third Eye” was released when all I really needed to hear was that I’m deserving of all the things I wish for others. And now there’s this record, and there’s Florence creating a monument out of the years that have passed, and there’s me, trying with all my might to do the same for Leeds.
It’s not that I expect everything to dissolve. It’s not that my memory is so bad that I’m certain that it will all slip away before the year is out. It’s that I want a physical reminder. Some sort of proof that it wasn’t all imagined, that it happened and it was real and all the things I remember matter now and mattered then and will matter in the future.
Florence is the guide. So is Patti Smith. So are Frida and Basquiat and Joseph Beuys and Georgia O’Keeffe. So is Robert Mapplethorpe. So are Richard Hell and Sam Shepard and Tom Verlaine. So is Donna Tartt. So are Rimbaud and Bukowski. Art may be about self-expression, but for me it has always been about remembering, about leaving something behind when we go, and all of these minds do it so beautifully.
I love the way Patti remembers, how she writes in Just Kids of sacred alignment, of the fact that she and Robert were both born on Mondays, of Robert’s first solo show landing on January 6th, the birthday of Joan of Arc. I love the way Joseph Beuys remembers, how his stories seem fantastical but for him were the truest of truths. I love the way Rimbaud remembers, how he exclaims in Evening Prayer that “from time to time my heart is like some oak whose blood runs golden where a branch is torn.”
I love how Donna Tartt remembers. How her books feel like monuments to time past, to art and history and antiquity. I love how Sam Shepard remembers, and I like thinking about the half-moon he had tattooed on the web between his thumb and forefinger, a nod to the weeks he spent in love with Patti Smith. I love how Robert Mapplethorpe remembers, how the visions inside his head became portraits and photographs that we can still hold in our hands even so many years after he left us.
It comes down to this: I consume art so I can be part of the lives of others. I consume art so I can understand what they’ve seen and how they’ve felt, the places they’ve been and the faces they’ve fallen in love with. I consume art because I see myself in the artists I admire, and it makes me believe that I can follow them.
Art is a document. It puts me in contact with the creators. It makes me want to live a full life, a rich life, a life that’s bursting at the seams, so that sixty years from now I’ll have hundreds of journals and poems and paintings and photographs that show the world how much I loved being alive. Art makes breathing something beautiful. Art makes listening to my favourite song something beautiful. Art makes sadness and anger and uncertainty beautiful.
I know the memories will always live in my mind and my heart, no matter how faint they may become. But the act of creating something out of those memories makes them all feel sharper. Makes them feel real and tangible. It turns thoughts of love into an envelope of warmth. It turns fleeting glances into eyes that will stay on mine for years and years. It turns people into statues and sunsets into paintings and simple sentences into notebooks full of poetry. Art makes everything stay. It makes me believe I can pile my life up and carry it around with me, every moment a mark on my skin that I can read and sing along to and stare at. That’s why I write. That’s why I use art to remember.
At the end of it all, I think every one of us wants to leave something behind. I’d love to fade away and know that there are thousands of people who have my poetry or my memoir on their bookshelves. I’d love to know that they underlined my words, that what I’ve written spoke to them, that they got my sentences tattooed on their arms or scoured bookstores for a first edition of the first anthology I ever released. I’d love to be someone’s Patti Smith or Florence Welch or Frida Kahlo. Yes, I’m making my art for me. But I’m also making my art for the world. And when I use my art to remember, there are so many more chances for me to do exactly that. To love the world in the best way I know how, just like all the others who came before me.