Window with a tree outside, cat lying on bed, teapot and cup on table in front.
Today I looked outside and the tree right outside my window had changed in colour. Its leaves, usually a bright green, are now a decisive, almost shocking, sunshine yellow. This tree, growing on the other side of the street, right opposite to my studio, covers the majority of my view. It was one of the reasons I chose this apartment, because I wanted to see a piece of nature everyday while living in the city. But I hadn’t noticed. The gradual change in hue, the subtle transformation. It all went past me, as if I wasn’t here, every day, in this apartment, facing it. Autumn is my favourite time of year, and when I feel most like myself. Maybe because I was born in October, maybe just because after years of working in constant sunshine I learned to appreciate the fickle weather, its rains, winds and sudden drops in temperature – it’s like a climatic adventure ride. Autumn is also the season for many of my favourite things; creativity, staying in and laying low, red wine, hot tea, reading, movies, melancholia and escapism. I’ve spent the past months recording and producing a song called Autumn, photographing its Fall-themed cover art, filming a music video in Finland’s cold, foliage-filled scenery, growing a seasonal playlist, throwing an Autumn art fundraiser, preparing for a First Snow-themed concert, awaiting and then obsessing over the 10-minute-version and short film of All Too Well, following at least 20 Instagram accounts solely featuring Fall scenery, locations, décor, poetry, films, outfits, and foods, and yet… I never saw Autumn happening right outside my own window. In real life. Without filters or time lapses, without carefully curated photo setups or even the perfect soundtrack. In silence, on its own time, without asking for attention, this tree did something magical, something miraculous, and performed the truest act of Autumn. And I didn’t notice. A few months ago I got stuck. During what was supposed to be my Summer holiday in Finland, I switched jobs and got myself into a bit of a visa pickle, leaving me stranded (figuratively, because in actuality I was safe and sound at my sister’s place) in my native land for months longer than was planned, unemployed, broke to my bones, in an expensive limbo. It was a strange time, on one hand filled with stress, uncertainty, and desperation – on the other, a surprise gift of borrowed time, long days filled with nothingness, an empty calendar, and a wandering mind. In many ways it reminded me of the time I got to spend home from work during the pandemic. It was a gift of time – but it came with a price. On both occasions there’s been an undercurrent of worry and fear, a terrible sense of guilt and restlessness, a deep state of apathy and procrastination. On both occasions, I have learned that time is not unlike many other gifts in life: if you get it for free, you’re not going to appreciate it to the fullest. I remember spending hours inside my sister’s apartment while she was at school, in front of her big windows, staring at the view, watching the trees change, the clouds move, the birds fly back and forth. I listened to the rain. I measured the winds, considering whether a window could be opened. I felt a constant urge to be outside, to be in it, surrounded by it, somehow immersed in it all, instead of observing it through glass. And I remember in those moments realizing, that this is our life now. We live through a glass. Whether it’s a window or Windows, a sunscreen or a phone screen, we’re just observing. Behind the glass. Craving to be in it. Bitter and jealous about all the things we see in there that we don’t have, and even the things we do have but that don’t look as tempting in a photograph or a video clip. How many times have you seen something on social media, felt the familiar sting of FOMO or jealousy, and then a second later realized you have the same exact thing in your own life? You just had that fun get-together with your friends. Or that cosy night of movies and popcorn. Or that lovely walk in nature. Or that perfect sweater. You just did it in worse lighting, without a filter or a banging song in the background. Undocumented. Unobserved. YOU LIVED IT instead. And the sad part is, sometimes the realization of that is not a happy one. “Why didn’t I post it?” I’ve been back in New York, in my “real life”, for a little over a month now. Coming back was a strange experience. After all the plot twists in my visa story I decided not to tell anyone about my return until after I was actually in the country, past immigration and my feet steadily on Manhattan ground. But weirdly, when I was standing outside the laundromat on Upper East Side, in a summer dress in bright late summer sunshine (the previous day in Finland I’d worn a winter jacket), with a phone in my hand about to post a “SURPRISE, I’M BACK” video, I hesitated. Because the three days I’d spent here, in secret, under the radar, I had experienced something new. I had seen one person, sworn to secrecy, with whom I’d spent a long day of nothing, blissfully wasting time lying on my bed, feeling like we were paparazzi-chased celebrities hiding from the world, sneaking to meet out of their sight, when everyone thought I was on a different continent. I posted a picture taken in Finland, and tagged Finland as my location. I responded to friends, asking when I’d be back, in vague statements. I had never done anything like this. Apart from belated posts after travels or stock music photos used for new announcements I had never cheated on social media. And it made me realize how incredibly, frighteningly easy it is. I watched people comment things like “Hope you can come back soon” and felt like a liar. Or, like a publicist. You choose.
We were not meant to live behind glass. We were not meant to be observers in our own lives. We are not supposed to be the audience – we’re supposed to be right there in the arena. To see someone experience something is not the same as experiencing it for ourselves. To read the story is not to write it. Now the stories on our screens exist in picture and sound. In the near future they’ll undoubtedly exist in smell and touch, too, and the lines of reality will blur further. During the pandemic we all learned that a human connection via screen is not the same as being physically with someone, in the same space, together. Isn’t this true for everything? To see Autumn leaves in an Instagram reel is not the same as standing in the midst of foliage, with wind playing with your hair and the fresh air filling up your lungs. A cute picture of a pumpkin spice latte and a candle is not the same as sitting with a friend, talking about our lives over a steaming cup. The world is filled with big corporations telling us they’re the same. To stay on their screens, settle in, get cosy. No reason to go anywhere else. The whole world is right at your fingertips, just a remote control button or a touch screen click away. But it’s not. It’s a hologram. A reflection. An exquisitely crafted, highly intoxicating, addictive universe. But not the world we were born to experience. I hope this article makes you step outside. Without a phone. Without headphones. Just to be. Just to exist with the world for a moment. To watch a bird. To smell the air. To notice a tree. And see how it feels not to share any of it. And in silence, in your own time, without asking for attention, you might transform, too. Wishing you moments of steamy cups and deep thoughts, Love, Petra