June always feels like a new beginning. One prefaced by an ending, often a large one: the last day of school before summer, the bell ringing shrilly through the halls of an elementary school as children rush out into the open, feeling freedom on their fingertips. A high school graduation, students lining up in rows, black robes swishing as they walk swiftly into their new endeavours, leaving behind the stale air that comes with false identities and forced cliques. June ushers in freckles and beach days, teaspoons of sugar poured over freshly cut strawberries, damp hair and campfires. It is made for shy smiles and pink sunsets and it makes the world feel gilded and glorious.
This year, my June was split in two. I rounded out my time in Leeds, cramming two weeks with art exhibitions and concerts and coffee shops and brunch dates. I flew home, binge-watching nearly the entire second season of Queer Eye while I pushed through an eight-hour flight. Back in Canada, I moved my bedroom around until it felt perfect, covered my walls with prints of Patti Smith and photos of Mick Jagger, started an internship at a music magazine, and attempted to reconcile my new life and my old life and the life I had in England. There was one breakdown; a good cry in the kitchen while I melodramatically proclaimed that I have no idea what I’m doing and that I’ll never be a writer and that nobody will ever want to read my poetry or ask me to sign a book. There has been a lot of baking and catching up on Fixer Upper and teaching myself how to write longer prose instead of sticking myself into a box that only includes blogposts and poems. Things have felt heavy, but they have also felt free, and a month that holds that kind of duality is not easily forgotten.
As per usual, the month’s playlist is a hodgepodge. It feels appropriate this time around, a digital representation of the mismatched cities and the polarizing emotions and the tension between new and old. I like watching how the output of my existence bends and curves to match the inside of my mind, reflecting joy and confusion and obsession and inspiration right back to me. That’s what the act of making a playlist is, and this form of documenting who I am and how I’m growing will never get old.
At the beginning of June, I watched Patti Smith play to masses of golden bodies at Victoria Park in London. Near the end she played ‘Pissing in a River’ before moving swiftly into ‘Gloria,’ and the latter has stuck out in my mind ever since. It was the first addition to the playlist, and one that snowballed into half a dozen songs pulled out of the dregs of history. These tracks – the ones that are decades-old – are my present, my new discoveries, but for so many others they are the past, the remnants of teenage antics and endless dreams of a better future, and I like how it feels to toe the line between the history that has already been written and the history we’re shaping at this very moment.
Two weeks later, on my first day back in Toronto, a troop of us waltzed into the Air Canada Centre to see Harry Styles. My smile was massive and never seemed to falter. Abby and I carried our hand-painted flag through the crowd, twirling the pink fabric until it settled on our backs. I wore a suit, the lapels adorned with enamel pins of Basquiat and Patti Smith, and I will likely never feel cooler. I added ‘Kiwi’ to the playlist a few days in advance, listening to it on repeat to prepare myself for the last song of the encore and the inevitable hysteria unleashed by a boy who knows exactly how to get an arena of twenty-thousand people to dance and sing for him.
‘Michelle’ by The Beatles was added after it soundtracked a dreamy Gucci tailoring campaign, the video featuring Harry Styles and a chicken in a chip shop, an image that I never knew I needed in my life. ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ was a favourite in Leeds, one played in cafes and vintage clothing shops, a track that I’ve become borderline addicted to and that I often struggle to switch off. ‘Jackson’ by Johnny and June Cash is one of my all-time favourites, and something about the humidity and the unrelenting sun makes me want to sing an endless rhythm of We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.
‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ by Peter, Paul, and Mary was an accidental cliché, added a week before I left England. I saw the track mentioned online and was immediately reminded of how much I adore it, of how beautiful the lyrics are, of how I’d like to wrap myself up in the promises uttered throughout the song. ‘La vie en rose’ is a track I come back to over and over again, a song that makes me feel fancy and dramatic, one that’s perfect for summer nights when the sky seems to blush in the presence of the world. ‘Love the One You’re With’ by Crosby, Stills & Nash is on there simply because it makes me feel good, and when it comes to music, that is often enough.
There are new discoveries, too. ‘Oom Sha La La’ by Hayley Heynderickx was playing in & Other Stories while I tried on a baby blue dress that I really wish I hadn’t left in the shop. ‘Wandering Romance’ by Jorja Smith is sultry and effortless, and I love how it feels against my skin. ‘Babe’ by Sugarland and Taylor Swift and ‘Butterflies’ by Kacey Musgraves are on there because summer makes me believe that I actually like country music, a sentiment that usually wears off by the time September comes around. Regardless, I like the twang and the over-emotion and I’m happy to indulge myself for a month or two.
The final entry is perhaps the most important one. At the end of the month, Florence + the Machine released their fourth album. I listened to it on the train to Toronto, curled up in a window seat, wearing a yellow shirt that matched the sun. ‘South London Forever’ made my heart race and my mind start moving in figure-eights as I made desperate attempts to hang onto every note, every word, every chord. The song moves like magic. The best lyrics – But did I dream too big? Do I have to let it go? and Everything I ever did was just another way to scream your name – seem to be pulled out of thin air. It is a song that has already nestled itself inside my heart, and one that I’ll pull out a year or two from now when I’ve moved myself back to London and the city where my soul feels like an entity that hangs glittery and unmissable above my head.
June felt hazy and clear at once. The warm days make life feel like it’s digging itself under my skin, and at night the cool air and cloudless skies allow me to open my lungs and take a deep breath as I learn how to renew myself with each sunset. The things that are important – my writing, my relationships – are growing and expanding, thickening to mimic the lush greenery that shades the world and makes me feel safe. When I wake I make a conscious decision to lead with love, to use the hours ahead of me meaningfully. This growth isn’t easy. It stops and starts and stutters. But the songs that play through my mind and across my chest are companions, blips on the radar of someone else’s years of transformation, and I’m glad I get to weave them so tightly into the fabric of my own learning.