No Beginning
by Emma
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Almost exactly three years ago, I moved out of a small, near-lightless apartment into a beautiful, drafty, sun-dappled mansion with three total strangers I'd found on the internet. The building was gorgeous and ancient and full of errors: one of my bedroom walls wasn't really a wall at all, almost every window had a crack in it, light switches meant nothing. Our landlord - who had hard eyes and a tool belt that he used to hold multiple beers - hated coming around because the house reminded him of his ex-wife, so the rent had stayed fixed for the better part of a decade, with the unspoken caveat that no one should ever bother him for anything, lest he break the spell. When the front door lock broke we just took the back stairs; when the back stairs seemed to be rotting through we just agreed to keep an eye out. We had a house where four people could keep all their things, work all day on separate projects undisturbed. The future loomed, but it was not there yet. Why fuck around?

Living there was beautiful and fun and freeing; my life rebuilt itself. I bought and assembled a stereo for the first time in my adult life. I had no money, then got some and spent it. I was heartbroken and then healed, I read some books and wrote some writing. We had a glassed-in dining room that sat above the trees, overlooking a patchwork of neighbours' backyards; in the morning, sitting there drinking your weak tea, you felt like you were floating, impossibly, just above your life.

Almost exactly one year ago we were all sitting there eating breakfast together when our landlord came in unannounced, a strange man carrying a tripod in his wake. Both of them blinked in the sunlight. I'm selling the house, he told us, instead of hello. This guy's gonna take some photos. That was it. Or the start of it.

This year I did not keep many lists. Instead, I lived permanently in a state of buzzing panic while I waited for someone to buy the house we all lived and worked in - trying to account for every future possibility while blocking it all out at the same time, arranging my life so that I'd be ready to jump from it at any time, like a moving car. More days than not there'd be viewings; we'd sit in the kitchen trying to "just act normal," as the real estate agent advised, while strangers walked through the house with their shoes on, touching things in our bedrooms and asking us if we were sad to be moving out.

After a few months the house didn't sell, so our landlord hired a father-son team to cover over the flaws on the outside of the house without fixing anything inside. The repair guys believed the earth was flat and leered at us through our windows, moving in thick clouds of weed smoke while they built complex scaffolding around our doorways. In the mornings I'd wake up to birdsong, hash-smell, and the sound of two adult men discussing the giant plexiglass dome the government had placed over the whole planet in order to keep us all fooled.

I stopped reading. My writing got less and worse, needed more drafts and was strung through with a taut, vibrating worry. People asked what I was working on and I would say a book of poems but really I was working on the quiet and complex process of not going completely insane. I tried to keep a record of my dreams so I could eventually do this thing Dan used to, but it turned out that in every single one someone was mad at me. One day, I went to get my tarot cards read; the woman looked me in the eye and went I am not in the habit of giving advice but you need to get out of wherever you're living. She wrote it down on a piece of paper, but on my walk home there was a thunderstorm and the whole thing got soaked, her advice bleeding into itself, blotting until it was unreadable.

When your home is not a home any longer, you start building smaller ones elsewhere; in albums, in public spaces, in other people's lives. This year I fell hard in love, and I travelled - to Texas, to New York, to Montreal, to Sackville. I started going to the movies at least once a week because in the dark I could breathe, unwatched and unworried. I listened to a few albums a lot of the time, and I got much worse at writing regularly here. My survival felt contingent on my ability to keep a tight grip on my attention, to not allow myself to be moved too much. I loved a few albums furiously, and did not go exploring much beyond them for fear I might unlatch something I couldn't gather up again.

Chance gave me a joy whose pitch and pace I clung to, tried to match; Solange got deeper and sweeter with every listen. Nap Eyes showed me how to swirl while staying steady. Kaytranada shone an even light, Carly Rae and John helped in very opposite ways, Doro echoed, Un Blonde dreamed, Dream Whip made things lighter, Drake did Drake. Carlo made me a tape that kind of saved my life. I listened to the Disintegration Loops a lot of the time, and floated inside Ben Babbitt's soundtracks with my big headphones on while the flat earth guys hammered away outside my window. When they sold the house, I walked to and from apartment viewings listening to Young Thug to cover up the feeling that someone was wringing my insides out like a wet towel. It is hard to listen to music when you do not want to know how you are feeling.

In poems and in essays, the turn is the trickiest part. The writing that sticks with you hardest usually has a line or two, somewhere near the end, that gathers up a crucial theme and twists it, makes the ground shift something under your feet. Done right it's like a key in a lock, a punch in the stomach. But it's hard to do. It is embarrassing to read old drafts and watch yourself desperately grasping for a turn. At the end of the year I always feel a small echo of this feeling watching everyone trying on their conclusion-voices, adding up the contents of the year and offering an assessment as though any of us knows anything about anything. As though tomorrow weren't right there in front of us, exactly the same size and shape and colour as today.

I do not have a turn for this year, but I am dangerously close to attempting one. A month ago I moved into a new apartment, and now all my stuff is in one place. I put up shelves and fixed my stereo. I am poor and out of practice at feeling comfortable but I have woken up every day feeling as though some new, small part of me has been undone. I got jealous of a poem yesterday and it felt like seeing a colour I'd forgotten. I have been walking around listening to the songs on Sean's list, and one of them made me cry in the grocery store. I have no idea what is going to happen to me this year, but I am excited to let myself be untied by music. I am excited to learn how I listen again.

Posted by Emma at December 31, 2016 5:32 PM

I would like to give you congratulations on coming back after such a period of life turmoil. I am happy you made it out to the other side much more than intact. Glad you came back to write and let us know how things have gone - also can't wait to see what music has helped you make it through.

Posted by Gilbag at January 1, 2017 5:14 PM

Thanks for sharing this. Your writings deepen my listening experience so much: Whatever you do, keep up the good work!

Hope you have a great 2017 ;)

Posted by ToM at January 1, 2017 6:17 PM

This is phenomenal.

Posted by JSY at January 1, 2017 7:02 PM

Thank you.

Posted by JSY at January 1, 2017 7:06 PM

I truly loved reading this. Haven't visited the site in many months, and this was a perfect piece to stumble into on my trip back here. Thanks, Emma.

Posted by Jade at January 2, 2017 2:59 PM

I know this feeling. Thank you.

Posted by Patrick at January 9, 2017 2:22 PM

The turn. You put it into words. Tearing up. Thank you.

Posted by Brayden at January 10, 2017 4:22 PM

This was wonderful, thank you!

Posted by Karin S at January 15, 2017 3:32 PM

Just brilliant. I think we are all wondering what song made you cry, so we can cry with you.

Posted by Laura beth at January 15, 2017 9:54 PM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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