Moving Beyond Hard Times: Ethel Cain Writes For Clash

"You know deep down what you need to be happy..."

Any time I find myself having a conversation about what it means to be happy or healthy – which is more and more often these days as that increasingly becomes one of the things I crave most – I find myself going back to one particular statement. “You know deep down what you need to be happy, and it’s up to you to create it around you.” I first said it to a stranger, drunk at a party, but I never forgot it. Nothing incredibly revolutionary, but it’s a conclusion I’ve stuck by all this time. The world is a very scary place, with no regard for your well-being, so I’ve taken it upon myself to create my own little environment that brings me peace, at least when I’m home.

Now, there is obviously a great privilege to be found in people who can afford safe spaces in luxurious locations with all the comforts the world has to offer, but I’m not talking about comfort on that scale; I mean the tiny little things that make a difference in your day, every day. When I began apartment hunting to move out of my parents’ house at 18, I told my friends and future roommates that my only need in the vetting process was to be able to see trees outside my windows.

“The sight of green through the blinds makes all the difference,” I insisted. 

I’ve kept that insistence in every single place I’ve lived since. And of course, even the sight of greenery outside your bedroom window could be considered a luxury in today’s definitions, when you take the effects of urban sprawl and the ever-festering housing market into account. But it’s the only luxury I’ve ever stamped my foot into the ground over, because I know what it means for me. A home that does not welcome me will never give me rest. 

I’ve lived in six houses since moving away from home six years ago, never staying anywhere longer than one year’s lease. It was accidental at first, but now I move almost out of tradition. For the first four houses, all located in Tallahassee, Florida, I had little to no money the entire time. I was not the most financially responsible, either. I spent my silly little dollars on silly little dresses to twirl around my room in by candlelight after skipping dinner yet again, purely out of lack of food in the kitchen.

I had struck up a habit; I spent all my time lurking around old-abandoned buildings, or antique stores run by old women in antique chairs with a cat in their lap and a box fan on the ottoman in front of them. I collected bits of other people’s lives, slowly but steadily. Doilies, small wooden pieces of furniture, rusty farm equipment, old combs and hairbrushes; nothing was safe from my sticky fingers. The baubles I didn’t pluck for free from the falling-apart ruins of someone else’s home, I spent all the chump change I had on. 

For the first time since I was a child, I was beginning to feel happy again. 

I was also beginning to realise I had a knack for fun that didn’t cost a dime. Returning to the same vein of thrills I enjoyed as a kid growing up in rural North Florida, I returned to the outside. I spent a great deal of time in parks on trails winding their way through the woods, barefoot most of the time. Then I began to find all the local creeks and swimming holes, and I began wearing less and less and running, jumping, and climbing more and more. I found that contentment was not in excess, but in simplicity. In the ability to enjoy the little things in life, and in stopping to smell the flowers. I continued to fling myself upon nature and all she had to offer, as well as the bits of people whose stories were lost to time and swallowed up inside her. I made music as often as I could in between my little adventures, detailing all from lustful musings to red-hot disdain and everything that fell in between. It was a diary, and I was obsessed with it. I started it only out of pure enjoyment to myself and no one else, but it found us some success and money after a few years. 

This, of course, only led to the purchase of even more rusty trinkets, old lady dresses, and gasoline to drive around and find new nooks and crannies to hide in, all of which continue to bring me an indescribable amount of joy.

Currently, I wake up each morning in my South Alabama museum of oddities, drink my long swig of cold water straight from the jug, and flit about in my dusty, wood-panelled palace. I am content to blend the sweetest nostalgic magic of my childhood with all the glory my 20s have to offer. I’ve rediscovered my vein, and I keep my finger on its pulse at all times. I’ve found the little things in life that make me happy, and luckily for me they are things that can never be kept from me behind walls built by someone else.

As for now, my lease is nearly up for this house, so I’ve been spending all my days browsing rental websites like I’ve done every summer so far as an adult. I sip from my jug of water, next to my open window, and I click through every single picture looking for a view with as many trees as I’m gazing at right now.

Ethel Cain’s magnificent new album ‘Preacher’s Daughter’ is out now. Ethel Cain will play London’s Omeara on December 6th.

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