I lost my sentimentality. I left it somewhere in Tallinn. Perhaps it’s hidden beneath the folds of a duvet cover, or squashed between bottles of cleaning spray in a cupboard in a hostel. Maybe I left it in Riga, dropped it into the river Daugava, distracted by the sound of Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer” playing on repeat through my earphones.
I used to look to the past and see it as part of the present, as though it walked alongside me like a spectral Siamese twin. I was a Russian doll, with each layer representing a past version of myself. If you opened me up entirely, you would find I was empty.
I came back to my life in Glasgow after ten weeks away, and it all looked the same. A few new shops had opened, one or two had closed, but overall it was the same city I had left behind, submerged in the same grey haze of rain and clouds. I, on the other hand, had changed. I change my personality every three weeks, so it shouldn’t have come as too much of a shock to me. But the changes I’d undergone in the Baltic States were more than my usual rebranding, and I’m still trying to find a balance between my new self and my old life.
Glasgow was the first place in the world that felt like home to me, the first place I had a real sense of community. For three years I saw this city through rose-coloured glasses. I came back from Estonia, and all of a sudden I was like “lol nope.” Maybe I haven’t lost my sentimentality, as such, perhaps I’ve just transferred it to Tallinn.
The day I got back from Estonia, I looked around my bedroom at the sheer amount of stuff I had accumulated over the years, and felt alienated from it. I’d been awake for over 30 hours, and I refused to let myself sleep until I had decluttered. I had good intentions. I was going to get rid of all the clothes I didn’t absolutely want or need. I folded them and put them into bags, ready to donate to charity. Those bags have sat in my wardrobe for nearly three weeks, which feels like an apt metaphor for my emotional baggage. It’s one thing to set new standards for yourself, but it’s another to actually stick to them.
This week marks the beginning of my 4th and final year of university. I have a helpful rhyme to describe my time in Glasgow: 1st year Eliza was a mess, 2nd year Eliza was depressed, 3rd year Eliza was stressed, and 4th year Eliza? She’s the best. As you can see, I’m an optimist.
This summer I learnt how to say yes. I learnt to stand up for what I believe in. I learnt to make new friends. I learnt when it was time to stay, and when it was time to go. I also learnt the all-important lesson: you do not need to prove yourself to people. It’s a cliche to say “be yourself and the right people will like you for who you are,” but it’s a cliche for a reason.
Last week I was feeling bad. I’d blurted out some private thoughts when I was drunk and annoyed, and I had a few regrets. I’m still learning when it is and isn’t best to keep my mouth shut. The next day I stood in the toilets of a pub basement, wearing a vintage dress, doing my makeup for a show I was about to perform in. I had this moment of “THIS is who I am” and everything felt aligned. I stopped beating myself up about mistakes I’d made, stopped focusing on the negative, and let myself have a couple of hours where I wasn’t a flawed human being trying to navigate a complex world, I was a performer, and a good one at that.
The biggest change this summer is that I feel comfortable in who I am. I have become a strong woman who works hard and goes after her goals and is damn good at what she does. I am confident in my abilities and my appearance and my intuition. I learnt to trust myself. I still screw up — I’m human, after all — but I support myself, I no longer go into self-destruct mode the moment I veer off course.
There’s this line in the song ‘The Darkness’ from the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that goes “for so many years I’ve used the darkness to feel, but now there are things in my life that are actually real” and maybe that’s the difference between 4th year Eliza and my previous personalities. I’ve always been sunshine cloaked in a layer of melancholy, but it’s not who I am anymore. I’m sick of clinging on to every sadness, defining myself by everything that’s hurt me, as if that’s the only way to make sense of the person I’ve become. Those chapters are closed. The real Eliza isn’t sad and broken. Sure, I write dark and twisted novels and I spend a little too much time imagining scary dystopian scenarios, but underneath it all, there ain’t that much darkness. I gravitate towards hope, that is my nature.
When I was in Estonia (my favourite sentence starter…), I got talking to this man. I’d just come back from a week in Latvia, and I sat in the hostel bar waiting to see my former coworkers, and this older man started talking to me. He kept buying me ciders, and we talked about climate change. He asked me repeatedly: do I actually think my generation can save the planet before it’s too late? I said yes. I think things will get a hell of a lot worse before they get better, but I can truly picture a better world. I can imagine countries working together to create a sustainable future, instead of fighting each other and destroying the planet further. I can envision a utopian future. Maybe it’s simply that I can’t comprehend the human race dying out before I’ve even reached middle age, but I am an optimist, I will always see the light at the end of the tunnel, because otherwise what’s left? The man, who was nearly 60, then told me I was “the kind of girl mothers want their sons to bring home” and I soon realised he’d been hitting on me and THAT was the reason he’d bought me upwards of 7 ciders and talked to me for four hours. Awkward.
This year I want to embody the lightness within me, I want to let it shine out, instead of hiding it beneath my melancholic shell. I want to write, I want to perform, I want to fully embrace the person I am. I want to take pride in my achievements, shout from the rooftop about my novel, tell people my travel stories, fill my heart with the love of old friends and new friends. I want to excel academically, I want to take steps towards building my career. I don’t want to squish myself down into previous ideas of who I am. The new Eliza is no Russian doll, nor is she the emptiness inside them. The new Eliza is whole. This year I will surround myself with people who give love freely, who give compliments without reservation, who cheer for my achievements as if they were their own. I have worked hard to become the woman I am now, and I won’t let her down.
I am a tad impulsive. When my instincts tell me to get up and go, I run. I quit 2.5 jobs this summer, I hopped back-and-forth between three countries. I usually say the first thought that comes into my head, and I can change half my personality in the space of a week. It often seems like I don’t think before I act, or that I take the easy way out. Sometimes I am just plain flighty, but often my impulsive actions come from a place of self-trust. When I do stick to things, I commit fully. I have spent the best part of 7 years working on one novel. My commitment is not something to be taken lightly, because once I commit to something I am ride or die.
As someone who has been known to quit things at the drop of a hat, I am in awe of what I can achieve when I don’t give up. I read my novel now and compare it to the version I wrote at 14, and it is an entirely different book. I put in the hard work, I hunted down my writing weaknesses and destroyed them. I used to suck at descriptive writing. I revised my novel over and over until I became excellent at it. I have a unique descriptive voice, the prose of my novel has a poetic slant to it, and I read it and know it is entirely my own. I wouldn’t have discovered that voice if I settled for the dialogue-heavy novel I wrote 7 years ago.
There are two things in my life I have devoted that level of commitment to: my novel, and myself. I compare the woman I am now to who I was at 16, or 19, or 2 months ago, and I am a different person. It’s time to clear the bags of old clothes from my wardrobe, and the bags of old emotions from my psyche. I don’t know where I will be in a year from now. I have a plan, I know where I want to go, I will put in the work to get there, but nothing is certain in life. What I do know is that this is the last year of life as I know it, probably my last year in Glasgow, my last chance to see who I can build myself into before I leave this university. I don’t want to look back on this year and see it as yet another trainwreck. I want this to be 4th time lucky, and I will put in the work to make it so.