The impressions made by my trip to Liverpool last week are still with me – the strange dream-like quality of walking along streets with names that were familiar but overlaid with so many layers of change that the appearance of an entirely memorable site or location came as a sudden jolt.
The story of Liverpool was all there in the places I visited – the proud history of the city and its docks, the terrible, long drawn-out decline, the regeneration that has completely transformed the city’s waterfront. And in a location that on the surface looks so unpromising, a new creative community that isn’t about top down ideas of what a successful city should look like, but is instead built on the initiative of people living there.
Although the developers who are circling the area use already hackneyed phrases such as ‘vibrant’ and ‘thriving’ to describe the Baltic Triangle, the story is much more nuanced and interesting than that. It’s not just another city, another development mecca, although of course, there’s a real sense that it could become that. For now, it feels more like the people of Liverpool are picking up some of the threads of the city’s history and in the warehouses and workshops that were once at the heart of its grandeur, are creating something new.
What can we learn from this passionate, enthusiastic community who are so committed to creating something new in the wreckage of the city’s industrial past? The violence of that era of decline, the ravaging of the city is evident in the deserted ruined buildings in the area – it’s a city whose people have been through terrible times and where many still are.
How, when the impact of those years is still evident, do people manage to see the possibility of something new emerging?
It’s that switch between the two modes, the lament of loss and the capacity for hope that I am finding so difficult these days. For the first year after losing Mark, I felt as if I was functioning to a degree, managing to get up each day, travelling, seeking new experiences, reading, writing, meeting friends, going to the cinema, to the theatre. But now I have the feeling that my energy for maintaining all that motion is leaving me, or at least my commitment to investing my energy in that way is going. In part I think this sense of winding down is due to me trying to put more energy into my work – I just don’t have the energy for all those other things. But my increased focus on working and the outward direction of my life has also emphasised something that I’ve been been aware of all along to a point that it no longer seems tenable – the fact that my life seems to lack any centre, and therefore any real meaning.
Life seems to have become a series of events, experiences, encounters and conversations, and I find myself wanting to withdraw from the constant merry go round of it all. In part, as I’ve said, this is because I’m tired and putting my energy into work, but it’s also because of a heavy weight inside of me that questions whether any of this has real meaning. My life before had a centre, a person and place I returned to. My relationship with Mark was at the heart of things and without that core it feels like I am in a hall of mirrors, encountering a number of realities with nowhere to return to and make sense of things. At the end of the day I can feel shredded, bouncing off different conversations and reactions to me, without the experience of returning to someone who I can rest with, find myself again. I know too that I need to find that place within me again, to find a place where I can rest, a place I can move outwards from and return to as home. This isn’t going to be easy, and it’s perhaps why I feel the need to withdraw from a lot of the activity that I associated with keeping going, not giving up… It’s quite scary to consider letting go of that dynamic, to fall through all the layers of life that I’ve built up around me and arrive at a point where I really don’t know what any of it means.
Someone I met from Liverpool last week said he had to leave the city because it kept going down and down, getting worse and worse, but perhaps it had reached a point where it couldn’t go downwards any further, and something new had to start to emerge. It’s the clarity of that endpoint I am seeking, of recognising that the scene I find myself in is indeed bleak, there’s no getting away from that fact. I can’’t yet fully comprehend what comes next, how to make the transition from acknowledging the loss to beginning to imagine what might be built in the ruins. It strikes me that to build something new and beautiful, you have to be able to understand what it is that you value in life, what is important, how you want to live your life from now on. At the moment it feels like I am still living in a tin shack, a makeshift shelter that has served me well as I’ve fought to survive the loss of Mark and my life with him. As I survey the landscape around me, it seems those foundational questions about life are the ones I have to answer otherwise all the busyness of building might not amount to very much.