At 12:01am, January 1st, 2014, I was in an apartment in Sliema, Malta, with a bunch of retired 60 year old Serbian doctors who were blasting American pop music and dancing like popcorn. I was stillness in spinning. I put on my long black jacket and my hat and my scarf and I walked two blocks down the hill to the Mediterranean Sea. I walked along the coast until I found the place where the sidewalk dipped down and delivered me to the edge of the island. I sat on the rocks, my black suede boots getting almost soaked every time a wave crashed. I stared across the bay toward St. Julian where there was a massive party happening in the top of the tallest building in Malta. I could see the club lights flashing purple and white. I imagined all those people in their sparkling dresses with their bubbling champagne. I thought about how I was in a place no one I know has ever been. How everything I was looking at was only for me. How solitude was the one place I never looked to find peace until that moment. I’d always looked to solitude for answers. But the most important thing I learned in 2014 is the thing I learned exactly as the clock struck midnight: answers aren’t interesting.
I never wrote much about my time in Malta because I felt protective over this thing that had changed my life. I was everyone and no one in Malta. I walked around like a ghost. I walked the rocky shores of the island alone, looking in tide pools, watching the sun sink into the waves. I rode the bus to a far away town called Mdina that is completely walled in, a citadel. Malta was empty. Everyone was gone for the holidays. Each morning, I’d wake and walk down to the water where I’d buy a crepe from a man and his son who owned a little food stand on the bay in Sliema. Then I’d walk the beach at The Exiles and think about what that means to be an exile and think about all the writers who have been that or who have used that word and think about all the writers who think they’re the only ones and think about all the writers who romanticize solitude and who romanticize being misunderstood and who romanticize bourbon and who romanticize distance. And how I am and am not one of them.
On my walks, I would discover things. Like the abandoned beach resorts next to the water, all rusted and crusted over by the sea, broken, shattered, crumbling into the rocks below. Like graffiti. Like the active military training base that looks like the moon that I accidentally wandered onto that had signs that read “active military training could be in session.” Like the fancy private school that looked like a castle and the small British military cemetery that overlooked it. And the temporary skate park some crew of dudes was building between the two.
After my walks, I’d go to this one little cafe that sat across the bay from Valletta, the capital city of Malta. I’d get a fancy hot chocolate and sometimes pasta and sometimes salad and I’d read 1Q84. Because the first time I ever saw or heard the word Malta was when I read it in The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. And that’s why I went. And I’d sit in the cafe and read 1Q84 and think, my god, this is a love story like mine, and this is a fate like mine, and I will come home to the man I want to be with. But when the New Year arrived, something shifted in my heart, and I began to fear rather than chase that fate and that love. And I thought, my god no, I do not want this, I do not want to not be free.
I think that at 12:01am on January 1st, 2014 in Sliema, Malta, my body was entirely reconstituted. I made a decision. I made a decision to document every day in the life of my new body for a year. I recently told X that I wanted to see what my life looked like without him. And maybe that was a subconscious part of my decision. But that thought never struck me until I said it to him a few weeks ago. I think I just wanted to see what my life looked like in general. Not just when I was adventuring, but when I was still, too. What I’ve learned is, I’m never still. Even in my stillness I am spinning, or being spun around, center or periphery, but never not awake, never not looking, not for answers, but for the sake of it.
Some of the photos I’m most proud of are photos I took in Malta. The place where I was the most silent I’ve ever been. This island will always feel like a dream, like a life imagined, unreal in its perfection. If there’s anything that broke me back into being, it’s this.