Homesick. The word conjures up such a whirlwind of emotion; the first time you spent away from your parents as a kid, the feeling you were too proud to admit was slowly swallowing you as you bravely stepped out from under their wing for a school trip, the feeling that brought you to bitter melancholy when you realised that perhaps you weren’t quite ready to fly out into the world alone, aged eight…
I’ve had flashes of it as an adult too, touring far flung countries, usually when I wasn’t having a brilliant time, but it’s been at least 10 years since I cried my eyes out in a Sydney hotel suite due to a killer combo of jetlag, sore legs from the flight (I remember describing the sensation as feeling like someone had smashed them with a hammer) and everything looking topsy turvy and just too bloody sunny. On that tour, playing festivals around the world, I was given a series of gorgeous hotel rooms to myself that on low days I found incredibly depressing because I had no-one to share them with, because I was working. I remember the nicest ones being those I got to spend less than 4 hours in, arriving late from the gig and having an early lobby call for the next flight. All glamour, all the time.
Complaining about this sort of thing is nonsense really, isn’t it? Poor me, being paid to travel the world and play music, staying in luxurious accommodation. I’m really not whingeing – on balance I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my oddball career so far and I appreciate the opportunities I’ve enjoyed – but occasionally I think it’s useful to share the reality of situations that a lot of people think are 100% brilliant all the time, because nothing is 100% brilliant all the time and none of us should feel guilty for being sad sometimes.
Caveat: I’m not talking about clinical depression-level, need-to-take-medication sad, the kind of sad you can legitimately refer to as an illness, the kind that shouldn’t be dismissed or joked about – just your run-of-the-mill oversensitive, introverted, artistic songwriter / adventurer-level sad – which can be very sad indeed, and never at a useful time. And oh, heark at me qualifying the level of sadness so no-one thinks I’m piggybacking on peoples’ “real” issues! This has always been part of my problem…
It’s not always homesickness. Last year I learned once and for all that it’s okay to feel shit sometimes in scenarios where I feel I should be enjoying myself. I found myself crying my eyes out in an Insta-beautiful AirBnB apartment in New York because I was having a sad few days, and no amount of “I’m in an awesome place what’s wrong with me?” or “the flight here was SUPER expensive, I must cheer up now” or “everything is great, I’m making a music video with Tanya Donelly this weekend!” thinking was going to change that fact. Sometimes you can’t “just cheer up”, however much you want to (and sometimes you don’t want to). Sometimes you have to ride it out and all you can do is be kind to yourself to help ease your mood back upwards, and sometimes you have to remove yourself from the situation to make that easier on yourself and the others around you. In New York I rode it out with the kind understanding of my boyfriend Tim who, if he felt exasperated with me (and how could he not?), hid it very well. He’s the best one.
Last June I broke my foot. I mentioned it a few times (A LOT) online, because I was so very pissed off about it. It was a complete nightmare – it hurt, I couldn’t do anything I wanted, I needed help doing everything, I found recovery really tough, I got frustrated and angry and cried a lot and generally was a terrible patient and I was incredibly hard on myself for feeling that way because, well, some people don’t even HAVE feet. Writing that down makes me laugh – while it’s true some people don’t have feet, and I’m sorry about that, it doesn’t alter the fact that my foot hurt and I felt rubbish. A healthy dose of perspective is definitely required to keep one’s first world problems in check, but it’s okay to feel pain and annoyance.
Despite this great wisdom of mine, I wasn’t prepared for the gut wrenching wave of homesickness that hit me about 10 days ago. I’d been having such a nice time; I was feeling happy and creative and settled (my earlier blog posts are completely genuine), so my first feeling when my mood nosedived was guilt. I’m lucky enough to have been chosen to come and take part in this incredible, funded, programme, where I’m hosted in a lovely family home by some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met. I know people are watching my adventures unfold from afar with a degree of “lucky her” in their minds, and I want to live up to my self-proclaimed musical adventurer role, fulfilling my obligations to the British Council and to my generous hosts.
But, you know, nothing is 100% ecstatically amazing at all times – that’s how we’re able to tell when things are brilliant and when they’re bad, and then feel better when they improve again. My feelings had very little to do with what was going on out here, though at my lowest moment I did write a now-hilarious list of “Things I Hate About Indonesia”. Examples: “rice” and “mosquitoes can go fuck themselves”. Cutting stuff. It didn’t help that I’d got it into my head that I’d be playing full sets of my songs to people out here and sharing my experiences as a songwriter, producer and session musician when the reality was that I was there mostly to observe.
I couldn’t help how I felt. I wanted to go home. I wanted to change my flight, whatever the cost, and get on the first plane back to Bristol so I could hug my boyfriend tight and run home to lie on the sofa where my dogs could jump on top of me, and we could have pizza from my favourite place and get cosy under a blanket and watch anything at all on Netflix, holding hands. This little vignette has me tearing up a little even now I’m feeling okay again. I’m so lucky to have such wonderful creatures in my life. It’s no wonder being almost 10,000 miles away from them has an emotional effect.
It didn’t help that I didn’t have the best time in Yogyakarta. We had four days off before playing a world music festival in Bandung so I decided to fly to “the soul of Indonesia” to appreciate some art and culture and have some much-needed introvert alone time.
I did have one brilliant day in Jogja – art curator Emily and I went on a fantastic bike tour of surrounding villages then visited a bunch of art galleries at speed before she had to zoom off (literally – on the back of a motorbike taxi) to catch the flight back to her residency. After that I had the best, and coincidentally the cheapest, massage EVER followed by dinner at my local mall. I felt like I was getting the hang of Asia, as I so proudly tweeted then and there.
However, on balance it was a crappy trip. On day 1 the over-camera’d tourist horde at Borobudur got in the way of me having the moving sunrise-over-the-Buddhas experience I’d hoped for, and then back in town I got neverending hassle from men offering transport whenever I tried to walk even short distances, culminating in one of them shouting “You’re so stupid! You’re so stupid!” in my face because I walked away from him when he was trying to make me go into a puppet museum. FUN.
While I understand that people are just hustling to scratch a meagre living, and as a Western person you become a walking $ sign to some of them, their intentions are usually friendly in this country. However, not being able to walk anywhere without being stared at, yelled at or grabbed for a photo just wore me down after a while and after hiding in a cafe for a couple of hours trying to get the courage up to walk the 7 minutes back to where I was staying, I spent the last afternoon and evening of my trip holed up in my hotel room with only bakpia for sustenance, basically waiting for it to be time to leave for Bandung the next morning. For the record, I never want to eat bakpia again. I loved it before!
5 weeks, I’ve realised, is about 1.5 weeks too long for me to be out of my busy, creative life and still be Happy Laura.
When it’s a physical issue people are quick to help. I was feeling so spaced out because of all this that I cut my finger open reaching into my toiletry bag (oh hai razor!) right before we were due at a gala dinner at the Governor’s house in Bandung last Friday night, and I was very quickly given concern and strips of cloth to pull tight around it under the tap (it was a big cut) and plasters for when it eventually stopped bleeding for all of which I’m very grateful.
I don’t think I’m good at hiding my feelings, but people often don’t know what to say to someone who is essentially a stranger amongst a group of people who know each other really well, let alone someone who doesn’t speak your language. I’m very far away from anyone who truly knows and cares about me, and all the texting and Skype and Facetime in the world doesn’t make up for that (and wifi is pretty terrible here anyway).
I have centring tactics that I use to keep a hold of myself when travelling, which work brilliantly for about 3.5 weeks, as I’ve just discovered, and have helped me to cheer the fuck back up over the last 10 days. I’d love to know what you’d add to this list – let me know in the comments!
+ writing a diary / keeping a scrapbook
+ crafty stuff like drawing, painting, knitting
+ exercise – preferably daily, otherwise my bad foot starts hurting and gloom descends. Running here is impossible so I’ve been doing YRG at least 5 times a week except last week…oh, coincidence?
However cool I try to be with everything so as to make sure my hosts feel valued etc, it’s also been 10 years since I lived with anyone other than my dog/s and boyfriends. It’s hard being around people all the time! And yes of course I’m being professional and everyone’s being welcoming but it hurts when no-one asks if you’re okay. No-one has my back out here in the way they do at home, and that’s not a nice thing for an extended period of time. No-one knows me deeply enough to know if I’m all right, or care enough to ask if I’m okay. That’s probably the thing I miss the most.
I could depress myself by making a list of all the things I miss about home, but mostly it’s my boyfriend and our dogs, living in my own place and being able to do what I need and want to when I need and want to do them. Independence! I also miss not having to put bug spray on before getting into bed. I HATE MOSQUITOESSSSSSSSSS. I’m lucky that I have such great things to be grateful for.
The phrase “this too shall pass” is a really valuable one to remember in times like these. The clock will tick on regardless of my existential crises, and I know if I keep drinking water and eating my greens and getting fresh air I’ll feel better eventually. Saying it’s all a matter of perspective is a bit too simplistic because it implies I could just buck myself up and “get over it” etc, but while I know my recovery period can vary from hours to days to (thankfully rarely) weeks, I also know everything will be okay eventually. In the meantime I have all these colourful photos to remind me that the bad stuff is far outweighed by the good.
This too shall pass.
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