The 25th of October started sometime in September. I'd hazard a guess around the 9th, when I landed at Oslo Gardermoen, or in the aftermath of that moment, as my train pulled into Hamar, some 50 minutes north, but you can never be quite sure with these things.
I had a suitcase pushing 20 kilograms and rucksack nearing 10, somehow more and less things than I had ever travelled with before, but it was going to be a long tour, I wanted to be prepared. No teapot this time though, having denounced caffeine, amongst my other addictions. I also hadn’t eaten at this point, even after trawling many hours through two airports, a feat that seemed almost inhuman to the prior me.
The month and half that followed this would nourish me more than any skipped breakfast ever could, though it is hard to explain what happened out there because in many ways the events in Norway have collapsed into one experience, I'll do my best anyway.
Hamar is a lakeside town of about 30,000 people, decent for Norway, but London has a bad habit of making everything seem small and contained. When I arrived there it was sitting at an easy14 degrees with the sun resting behind sparse clouds. Kari, or tour manager, drove me to my new apartment, a beautiful open affair with huge windows looking out towards what would be the sunset, revealing glimpses of Hamar’s spacious attraction and the winking golden eyes of the lake out to the left. It was going to be easy to feel at home.
The first week came like a rush, two months after creating the work we were diving headfirst into its breath. Left alone like that, it both settled and fermented, deepening itself without our touch. It grew so quickly in such a short period, on Tuesday we were opening it up, by Thursday we were sharing it with test audiences, that Saturday we had a premier. And the week didn’t stop there, Sunday we danced at the edge of a lake, Monday we were sharing an extract for a community event, and that Tuesday we were back in the theatre for another evening show and I was drinking coffee again.
But it’s the following Thursday where things get interesting. I’ve rebuilt an old ritual in my changing room, in lieu of a vocal warm-up I have been singing along to ‘Humming Bird Stance’ by JGivens and ‘To God All Praise And Glory’ by The Sing Team. Before each show I’ve been opening my bible, a gift from the same friend that gave me those songs, found myself drawn back into it across the previous months. Pray and performance have always sat close together for me, the body is the vessel, movement an expression of something greater, and I am forever praying that my work and the work I do can affect someone in the ways they need. This is different though, and there is an overwhelming core to it. A core Therese and I will talk about driving back from Raufoss that Thursday.
Until this point we have been pretty succinctly a company, the four of usually travelling and training as a collective, but this day had been different, Therese and I travelled from Hamar to Raufoss alone, eating sushi together in a small place beside a giant statue of some man with a tall fur hat, picking Emilie and Nora up at the station afterwards and heading to the theatre.
Afterwards, with the endless dark of Norwegian nights set in, we bid the other adieu and set off into that black space. It’s a phenomenal experience to drive in such darkness, the moon hidden and nothing to see outside your window but the occasional street lamp. Nothing for miles and miles but the edge of the road and the knowledge that everything is a little different.
We talked about God then. I asked about her faith, she’s a Christian, and we went on many long tangents into the world of religion. Therese is a gifted woman, and one of those great gifts is an intense but satisfiable curiosity, which dug deeply into my thoughts and feelings on the subject, as well as more things than I could remember or you could imagine being asked. The subject of uttering ‘love’ came up though and I told her about Rachel (Strickland), about her many wonders, and about how she had told me she loved me first, something I couldn’t remember happening with anyone else.
As we pulled up outside my apartment, Therese invited me to the Church she attended (gently skipping the part about her founding it), happening just outside Larsen, the place that was refuelling my coffee addiction. Sat on the side of the road, our conversation winding down, I got ready to leave.
‘I love you, Oliver.’
One of Therese’s other gifts is having the perfect thing to say to soften my soul.
‘I love you too.’
My apartment was a whole lot cosier then I’d left it.
We got four days off after that, most of them spent in Larsen writing poetry and even a few blog posts. One morning I watched a tribe of old ladies skiing around the lake. Another I found a pull-up bar in a park and did some aerial. I even ate breakfast one day, filling up a tried body with the refreshments it needed, indulging in long yoga practices and morning writing.
I almost didn’t go to Church, stood outside it with 15 minutes until it started, I knew I could choose. Do you ever have those moments where you know something big is going to happen, that walking into that room, saying that thing, is going to change everything? And you’re there at the crossroads knowing that you can turn around and go home, that no one expects you to do the thing.
Standing back by the lake with only 10 minutes to go, watching the waves and the moss blend together in my unfocused eyes, I knew my destination. I checked to see if the cute girl was working in Larsen, (she was), ordered a coffee and did everything in my power to be casual and aloof, then ducked under the arch and into ‘Church’, imagine every second turning around and going home.
I was welcomed not by stone walls, but by a covered wooden area filled with fold-out chairs and tables and outdoor heaters and a litany of people, some I even knew, including Therese’s husband Ruben who greeted me ‘at the door’, and Hannah, who had seen the performance, and more then a few others in the same space. It was homely and alive.
The sermon itself was held in Norwegian, but sat at the front with Therese, I was compelled to listen. My bible sat on the table alongside my notebook. Lin, the owner of Larsen and one of the Churches many founders, preaches something electric, and unable to understand her voice, I am struck by the power of God working through her flesh and bone. I am retaught the power of Speaking In Tongues that day, and the reteaching doesn’t stop.
In my notebook, I write a simple question: ‘Should I move to Hamar?’ Sat together out of everyone's way, Therese asks me, ‘What if you moved to Hamar?’
The notebook ends: ‘I’m in alignment, follow that.’
The day ends after visiting the woods with Therese and some of her family. She shows me her dance studio, and unintentionally displays how incredibly well known and cared for she is in her community. The entire time we laugh about how obvious it is that I am going to move here, and how frustrating that is on my unexacting mind.
With the sun setting on the 22nd, I ring Jem. Sat in the huge yellow armchair of my apartment, looking at the ever-darkening sky, we talk about the changes surrounding us. I tell her about my decision to move to this frozen country, and she tells that it feels like the right thing to do. She calls me beautiful, which makes me feel stupidly ecstatic, seeing as it's my favourite word to overuse and indulge in, and not something I would have pictured her saying. I play it very uncoolly, but seeing as she knows me better than a lot of people, it doesn’t surprise her.
The ending of the Virgo moon also sparks some conversation, and I open up to her about my shifting priorities. Something within me has been growing over the summer and over my whole life, and it is finally blooming again after the first flowers were cut off nearly four years prior. Suddenly I am looking for a relationship with a future. Not just a momentary experience, but something ‘serious’. She greets this development with softness even as I continue to describe it so poorly.
Jem is, and will hopefully continue to be, a wonderfully fruitful part of my life. That night we shared just how vital we had been in developing one another since our meeting four years ago. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. I don’t want to.
I turn 23 on night two of a five-night run. The show is crowned a celebration of me, and I, at least, celebrate. Therese’s gives me a beautiful notebook (which I still can't start). We continue celebrating that night and I find sleep something the following morning. The fasting goes out of the window completely that morning and leaves for a while. I might be an emotional eater, read into all that what you will.
The shows go well, I attend church again and am further moved by the breath of God. The community opens up further to me, and in a new notebook I write: ‘Historic | Human | Home: A new chapter for Oliver Sale.’
From the cards I draw The Empress but feel far from the people it ‘represents’. I begin to feel disconnected from the cards, clouding myself in expectations instead of their truth.
One day whilst praying for a show I can't find the words. My cards tell me there will be The Star and The Sun but I can't even find a word to say to God. I breathe slowly and decide to move on with my rituals, there are always things to finish before a show. I place my right hand beside the Bible Theo gave me, turned open to Proverbs 11:24, and place my weight down into it to stand. Every bone in my body trembles. I try to scream, God is the only one to hear me.
I know I am being cared for even as there is carelessness. I learn the hard way that God is with me. There are no tears that could express this sorrow, there are no tears that could express this joy. I relearn a fraction of what God can be. A fraction.
Almost a week later we are driving back in the tech lorry after four days in Tynset. The night before Therese, Emilie and I Dj’d at the subpar sub-terrain bar of the only hotel in town and managed to get ourselves and one other patron moving. In the lorry, I am texting a soul-partner about their boyfriend and realising that I have some ties to cut. Then I cut them.
It overwhelms me, I cry in the shower with the lights off. Deep, guttural, tearless sobs. This, like the eating, becomes a running theme.
The music of The Mountain Goats and Frank Ocean and a bunch of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts (mostly Jacob Collier) fill my cup daily. I find God in their sounds, and let myself overflow. There’s no Church that Sunday, which is probably good because I am moving out of my apartment and performing that evening. I read my bible to remind myself that a false balance is an abomination, that giving the totality is righteous.
We don’t stop, after that night we leave for a week of shows. Five days in schools, plus an evening show on the Wednesday for good measure. Tuesday we cross a mountain range in a car, barely speaking, I listen to Jacob Collier and Leon Bridges on repeat and think about the way everything is connected, the trees blur into one green and orange skyscape, the mountains touch the blueness of the lakes, capturing the heavens themselves again and again. I write a poem called ’the most beautiful place on earth’.
Each of us is ready to break when Wednesday comes, and thank God Pia was there to release some of that tension. Emilie and I walk together, having been trapped in only talking as a group, and let our frustrations and challenges flow out for the first time in a while. It feels good to ground together, after finding such pointless frictions.
The show, 9th October, is the best of the tour. The piece, filled with our emotions, more and more clouded which each day, finds its light again. It is something to savour, not just for the audiences but for us. People cry and I get it. We have connected again, and we are rewarded with a cancelled show the following day, which means rest, finally.
Sat in the hotel in Otta with the rest washing over me, I record Dear ‘ ’ in the bathroom. In the darkness I watch myself regretting my actions and letting that be okay. It hurts and keeps hurting, and for the first time in the six months between, I don’t run away from that.
Emilie and I spend the evening together, and I read her cards. I’m optimistic about her future, even though I know it will be intense and formative. She’s got a whole world to conquer, I know she’s going to do it.
Therese drives me up to Church, moved from Larsen to a school in the mountains for the autumn holidays. It’s quieter than normal services, and we sit around a large fire pit talking and cooking sausages and roasting marshmallows. I dress appropriately (almost), and don’t melt my trainers, and connote to feel at home. It reminds me of spring holidays in the lake district with my family and our friends, sat around campfires as the damp darkness of England’s north creeps across the landscape. I can’t help see myself in the kids that now litter the cold edges of the fire, and see that I am not them anymore. Twenty-three starts to feel a little older than twenty-two.
I take my new age down the mountain, walking along leave strewn paths, unstable in my footing, clear in my direction. It takes me four hours to get home, no longer my apartment but Therese’s. A room that is going to be mine come January. The walk takes me around the lake, and I listen to children laughing in amongst the trees. Staying close to the water is easy, even if the path disagrees. By the time I stumble across a spiral of feathers and wood and brick I the sun is low over the water and I am hungry but still. I wait with it for a while and think of my Spiral buddy Jennifer. She loves this country, I’m starting to see why.
With the night fully arriving I drink coffee in Therese’s living room, and then we are dancing and then I am even dancing, and I let myself be seen, which feels alien after all these performances. Therese continues to show me new gifts as we drive to Kongsvinger, including her great eyes and her gentle, determined soul.
Our last night together as a company we eat Kabab and drink too much. Good questions are asked, and the night folds itself together sweetly. I ask about the best night of everyone's life, the answers are as fruitful as you would hope from such beacons. The last show sails past. It is over, and the words roll over and over my mind. It feels good even as things continue to stick.
In my last Sunday, the preacher is less powerful, I am thinking about flying that afternoon. I am thinking about leaving somewhere I want to stay. I am thinking about going to Manchester in a few weeks, and about marriage and children and being an adult and Jem and impermanence. I’ve never been so broody in my life. Then I go to the airport and feel myself left behind.
I don’t tell anyone I am back straight away. I let myself trickle out instead. I think about juggling and holding my breath and learning to handstand. I wear waves on my trousers for a few days and only leave the house once. I eat better again and I don’t have to cry in the shower. My bible feels less like a crutch.
I get an email asking me if I would like to share some work at The Playground for their two year anniversary. ‘There Were Waves Without You.’ Leave my new notebook and becomes alive. I overthink it for a while.
On the 24th October, I send out a message, ‘If you had to describe me at my core, what would you say?’
At first, I send it Serena as she knows me the best and worst out of everyone in the world, then I sent it to a bunch of other, sporadically. Sometimes there’s a great reason, somethings there’s just a feeling. Jem is on the list, obviously. I consider sending it along the cut ties but decide that’s a bad idea.
Rachel replies that evening with the perfect response:
Rachel called me God. Rachel who always says Goddess, called me God. It shakes me.
‘To be fair, I’d say that about anyone, but still true’
I am somewhat grateful for the stipulation. Sleep takes me soon after, and when I wake there are things to do and a few more answers to indulge upon.
‘Jesus is King: A Kanye West Film’ plays as replies roll in. Washed in gold and brown and heavenly blues, I fall in love. I am struck with a smile of silent ecstatic adoration. The tightness of the camera's the power of the music, the simple editing and composition and text and minimal maximum approach to film making. I want to share that experience with everyone. The album hasn’t dropped.
I am already halfway to St. Pauls before I decide to go. The queue leads out the door but I sit myself in the private chapel and wait for God. I know what I am praying for, I know why I am looking for.
I am looking for Love.
Seems pretty pathetic to me, to go and cry to God for affection, especially when I am so loved. To speak without air in my lungs, unable to clutch the words that claw at Gods being, a child lost and alone. The Empress has been everywhere in my cards, dancing with The Lovers and Death.
Maybelle responds to the question saying:
Hey. If I had to describe you at your core?
For some reason, the name Michelangelo came into mind, and I had to Google what was it about him that made my mind draw that connection.
I feel like at your core, you are sentient and a creator. Like, literally. You are a Creator. And back then, when the Michelangelo sculpture was made, it was during the italian renaissance - the height of European art, poetry, literature, philosophy and yet it was also the wave that brought forth change and growth
As I am typing this, I feel like the term 'Creator' is how I would describe you at your core. But Michelangelo sits more cozily into my association with the Creator
The national gallery is added to my list. In the cafe, I talk to Rachel, purge out the ideas of myself, begin to find a version of ‘There Were Waves Without You’ I think will be interesting and true to me.
A young woman holds her phone lens close to a painting of a flower, I can't help but chuckle as she does, the two of us alone in this small room, then ask what she was photographing. She gets me to see the crispness of the petal, the way it seems to sit, fresh. She is an artist, but she cannot make her flowers alive like that.
We cross paths throughout the gallery, I think about asking her more questions, mostly about pigments and technique, but also for the sound of her name. Stood in awe of one sky scape, I hope she will be close enough for me to direct her eyes like she did mine. It will become clear to me that she is not as interested in landscapes as I am, watching her walk right past many without much interest, pinned to the detailed work of the body instead.
Sat on a bench, looking up at a gigantic biblical work, she catches my eye. I let myself sit back and see, the size of her body in comparison to the painting, the contrast between the reality of the people here with the fiction of the art work. how alive everything can feel, especially when it reaches up from the floor to the ceiling. She turns and waves at me, a beaming smile on her face. I smile back but do nothing. She wanders into one room and I let myself wander into a different one. The album hasn't dropped yet, I realise, so I play 'Waves' from The Life of Pablo. Washing myself in it, washing myself through the gallery, I find myself standing before Christ. Beside him a man with disproportioned is as surprised as I am. On his lapel, a small shell rests, 'a sign of the pilgrim'. Checking my pockets reveals my own green rinsed symbol of journey, another gift from Mrs Strickland.
The album finally drops. I look around to see if the woman from the gallery is in Blackfriars station, missing my train by moments. Faces look like hers, or like other people I know, there’s a jacket that reminds of Manchester somehow, someone's voice over the phone sounds like calling home in the autumn. People are littered across my mind as I crumble into ’Jesus is King’.
And it really is a crumbling, every bone pressed into it, unable to settle myself. The train is packed with London, people to whom this explosion of humanity is normal. But I am not from here anymore. The album ends as the city trails itself away. I liked it enough, but the silence is welcomes over the sound.
My eyes fix themselves on the sky, a mottled orange-purple expression overwrought with clouds that try to suffocate it.
'The heavens declare the glory of God.'
I put the album on again as the quiet arises. It's a masterpiece.
The Fighting Temeraire - Joseph Mallord William Turner.
I do not own this image.