2021 has been all about contradictions. I’d describe the last twelve months of my life as a whirlwind, yet weirdly slow to get through. And they contributed to my personal growth to an unimaginable extent, while knocking down my motivation multiple times. Truthfully, I don’t think many of us will remember this year as a fantastic one. A lot of us have lost work, struggled financially, been separated from loved ones, felt suffocated by the four walls that closed in on us, postponed surgeries, missed out on things we looked forward to, had to choose between friends because restrictions got in the way, argued over pointless pandemic -related discussions, and stressed out over the seemingly unending implementation of ever-changing restrictions.
Yet, as so much escaped our control, we’ve held on to what we could – those small and precious moments, few and far in between as they may have been. I learnt to fall in love with the little things – creating icy, matcha lattes from the kitchen I just cleaned, purchasing flowers from the one stall that remained open through lockdown, or meeting friends for long walks on a Sunday morning. And a lot of those seemingly small and trivial goals translated into the achievements that kept me going throughout 2021. It is easy to forget how much has actually happened in one year, so I’m listing my favourites here…
I moved out for a second time from my grandmother’s place and into my dream penthouse in Valletta, early in February. I came across a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in the capital city, with a terrace overlooking the sea, and snatched it up. A lot of my best memories were made on that terrace; sunny mornings sipping on chai lattes with a book in hand, or nights popping open champagne bottles in the company of a friend or two. I’ll treasure the way the sun hit so wonderfully in that apartment, the precious bits of antique furniture, the most comfortable marble shower I could have hoped for, and the neighbour’s singing birds that brought me joy every morning. And then there was the fact that I had a genuinely kind landlord and had everything I needed at my doorstep… it was all magical.
I was partially sad to be leaving the Valletta apartment so soon, but Marcus and I living in separate apartments didn’t make sense considering I was hardly ever staying over at my own anymore, and my Valletta apartment was a bit too small for the two of us. I once feared living with another person; I like my personal space, my creative evenings, and I did not think of myself as someone who could compromise when it came to interior styles. Yet living with Marcus was, almost immediately and has continued to be, simple and lovely. Currently, we both work from home, each in our own space, but it doesn’t get frustrating to be around him all day. Quite the opposite really, and I don’t know if that says anything about how I underestimated my ability to live with another person, or more about how well us two work together. I live in a much more modern apartment for the time being, it does not at all have the quaint, endearing touch of vintage that my old apartment did. But I will say that it comes with luxuries I was never used to having, and it is also a very cosy space at night.
Look, I won’t pretend otherwise – being self-employed in a pandemic is an absolute nightmare. Working directly with small businesses, particularly in hospitality? This past year, I have seen and experienced clients with strained budgets, shipping problems that delayed or cancelled photoshoots, demotivated founders who were forced to shut down their business altogether, lockdown-induced closures or curfews, social distancing rules that capped their earning potential, and the list goes on. And truthfully, I did lose some of the motivation I had. If I’m being fully transparent, I used to take pride in the drive that always felt natural to me; it propelled me to achieve great things all throughout my life. But two years of fighting through a pandemic can really knock the wind out of you. I was stressed for a lot of 2021, just pushing through endless business hurdles while creating artistic work I was proud of. With that said, my business still continued to grow, and as I look back on it all, I feel so fortunate to have worked with wonderful clients who chose to work with me even at their hardest moments. There were several dreamy, exciting projects – and I cannot wait to keep building on those throughout 2022.
At a time when travelling was a challenge and when my business demanded that I stay in Malta, finding the opportunity to leave the island was a real blessing. Marcus and I travelled to Sweden for two weeks in May, which was a relaxing break from the business-related madness we’d been experiencing post-lockdown in Malta. And then we left for a couple of weeks to Paris in July, which were SO enjoyable. Paris is so dear to me, and I feel as though Marcus and I both come alive in a city as captivating as her. We spent four days in Venice in October, which were also splendid – what a city. We closed our travels for the year with a week in Sweden at Christmastime, which was rather packed and tiring in some ways, but it is always heartwarming to be around Marcus’ loved ones back home.
Prior to 2021, I didn’t really know what self-care encompassed, but this past year saw me fall deeply in love with precious, nightly routines. Face mask on, candles lit and incense burning as Sinatra can be heard from my record player; what could be better? I can be quite an anxious person, especially in lockdown or when dealing with other pandemic-related issues, and romanticising bits of life has always been the greatest cure for me. It is probably my best talent; I am a deeply imaginative person and can create a beautiful mental scenario out of most things. This is mainly why I care so fondly about the aesthetics of things; I’m still a shadow of the child I once was, going about life as though it is a fairytale. And so I have found that prioritising my surroundings and treating my senses is the best form of self-care. That includes making sure the interior style I am surrounded by is visually tasteful and that the lighting is carefully tweaked based on the mood I want to set, that I am listening to inspiring music most of the time, and that there are soft, feminine scents around me.
This was one of my biggest resolutions for 2021, because I genuinely could not put a sandwich together a year ago! It was also partially why I moved out when I did, honestly – I wanted to hone my culinary abilities. I would say I’m a decent cook now, and I adore taking on new recipes. Cooking is such a graceful, commendable art. Squid ink risotto with salmon was probably the tastiest dish I created in 2021.
2021 saw me try some physical activities. I’ve never been a sporty person, the only real physical activity I partook in for an extended period of time was ballet. I loathed physical education classes in my school years, except for any that concerned badminton, and I hold no real interest in following sports events either. But I did try bouldering in Paris and instantly enjoyed it. Fortunately, Malta’s very first bouldering gym opened up shortly after, so I’ve had a few good tries since then! It did lead me to realise that I have a crippling fear of heights – I’ll instinctively clam up at times when I’ve almost reached the top, with the knowledge that if I am too tired to descend, there’s no harness to rest on. So challenging myself further and dealing with my fear of heights, as well as increasing my strength, will be my resolutions for 2022.
I came into 2021 hoping I’d find the time and effort to read a book every month. I did not quite succeed, but I’m alright with that. I realised that forcing myself to stick to certain routines felt unnecessary, given that I want to respect the phase I’m in and understand what my soul needs more of in that moment. Sometimes, it’s drawing for several consecutive nights, and most times it’s photographing for my own personal and creative purposes. However, I did make time for reading nonetheless. I read eight or nine books this year, the most compelling being ‘The Therapist’ by B.A. Paris. I read it in two sittings, over the course of one day.
When lockdown first hit, I decided I wanted to create short videos on Instagram that would not only share personal moments of my life with viewers, but also serve as an exercise for me to find the beauty in simple routines. You know – cooking, applying my skincare products, going on morning walks in Valletta, purchasing delicious coffees on the go. I did this every week for several months this year, and it was quite enlightening. I later came to realise that I’d been holding on to it as a routinely task that had turned into a ‘quantity over quality’ thing – most of those videos probably weren’t worthy of being added to a reel, haha! And so I stopped for some time – I’ll only create reels now if I want to share something memorable. But it was definitely a fun pastime on dull days!
I organised a gorgeous rooftop event to celebrate the Summer Solstice in 2021, together with the help of my dear friend MarieClaire. Her and I love organising the occasional event together, as part of our side-project, nat&mar. We don’t really promote that venture much these days, given that promoting events when cases are skyrocketing feels wrong and counterproductive. But it is still a passion of ours, one we’ve been fortunate to enjoy a few times throughout the past two years, despite the madness.