The power of the word “Yes” bitchslapped me in the face when I was busy eyeballing a chocolate éclair in a café window one morning. At 24, I was going through one of the worst breakups of my life, pining with the force of Adele & Gatsby put together. I spent my time saying No, thankyou to everything in sight, having one of the most joyless uncreative periods of my life. After months of sulking, and 5 extra kilos to boot, I woke up that morning after dreaming that I fell in to the Dubai creek, between the South and North-bound sides of the Maktoum Bridge, knowing fully well that I don’t know how to swim (yes, I know it’s a life skill & it’s super easy to learn!) I went through the rest of the day feeling restless, as though something was idling within me, a rocket waiting to launch.
A pattern I repeat often as I reach the tail end of the “letting go” process is that I clean out my closet. Half cleanse, half hunt, throwing out the unnecessary & finding little reminders of happier times. This particular cleaning spree unearthed a dinky keyboard that was given to me by aforementioned perpetrator of heartbreak (P.O.H.) So uncool was this keyboard, that it didn’t even have a power chord. It ran on 6 AA batteries and had one half-decent sound on it, “harpsichord.” That idling feeling was back, that rocket, lodged in my throat, waiting for lift off. I started fiddling with the keys and out came the words –
“Jumpkicked in the heart,
defeated from the start,
champion of broken hearts,
ding, ding, ding!”
This was the first song I ever wrote on a keyboard and it showed up for me when I needed it the most. It became the first song of mine to get reviewed in Rolling Stone ME magazine (R.I.P,) the first music video I ever made & the song that marked the beginning of my first full-length album.
It was that day that I realized a fundamental thing about myself. I was and never will be a cynic. The world of “No” was never appealing to me, I laugh at the thought of self-preservation, arch my right brow at the idea of playing down my feelings. I was not “all or nothing” – I was just “all”, all the time. This bullshit, lay in bed till lunch, making a pro/con list about bathing, was fun for a while, but it really wasn’t me.
Saying yes brought me back to life, in a true sense. It led me to meeting extremely special people who made life good again, returning to my favourite things, like traveling solo, writing, interviewing and then meeting and jamming with Nitin Sawhney in his home, seeing Regina Spektor in concert after taking two overnight trains to reach Berlin to cry-sing-along as she performed “Samson.” I also woke up to my first snow at a boutique youth hostel with the fastest wi-fi I’ve ever experienced and reconfirmed that I really don’t like broccoli on a pizza! All of this happened on the same 3-week trip. It was happening, I was “coming into my own.”
Before all of this, I would often find myself in situations where I had stretched myself too thin, overcommitted, double-booked, working from equal parts good intention & guilt at all times. It was obvious, I had it all wrong! The key wasn’t knowing when to say “No,” it was knowing how to say “Yes!”
I thought it was about running away from getting into situations where I felt undervalued, overworked, creatively or emotionally stifled in some way. What I figured out was that it really should be about running towards the other end of that street. Seek situations, people and opportunities that set the stage for me to soar, for me to work without the slightest fear of being undervalued or overworked, without fear of being judged if and when I fucked up –
Seek all of that, that makes me say “YES!”
All photos by the brilliant Naomi Rader