“And still I can’t help but let myself wonder about us. What our lives would have been like; what our mornings would have looked like as the sun came over that horizon once again. How we would have lay under those sheets and stared into each other’s eyes. How we would have walked through those parks knowing our lives were bound together on a shared path. It is true that lost love can bring any man to his knees; with a great weight in his heart, he staggers on alone knowing that it could have been so different. And just like so many people out there, the love-starved and the broken-hearted, his path leaves him haunted by many thoughts and questions. I am still not sure whether love is essential for life; indeed it is the great illusion that we all chase after, but I do know that most people have had it reciprocated in some way by the time their hairs start to grey and skin starts to wrinkle. Now I stare into that mirror, going into old age without ever having been the object of another’s affection. Indeed, maybe I wasn’t born for it. The world needs people like me, I guess. I am ‘the friend’. The ‘interesting one’. ‘The comedian’. I seem to cheer those around me up, and indeed people do enjoy my company, but it never goes beyond that. I see them stare into my eyes and dismiss me as a being not worthy of their affection. And in a way, I no longer dispute it. I understand why they see me as they do. There is something inside of me that will now allow me to be like everyone else. And now I know that love is not going to be given to me by others, I sit in silent rooms and know it is only with self-love that I can survive this life. Flames of romantic love flicker and fade out, but self-love is the eternal bonfire from which I warm my soul. I’m burning up in my own company; blazing up with my own words. And long may I be consumed in these flames.”
~ A Message to my Old Flatmate ~
I remember once living with a man. He was a thirty-five-year-old bus driver who had moved to the U.K from Hungary. We shared a flat together in the city of Brighton. One time I was in the kitchen and he was asking me about my life. “So Ryan, what is it that you do exactly?” I looked at him and thought of how to answer this age-old question once again.
“Well, I work for a bit at whatever job I can find, save up for an adventure and then go on it. I also do a bit of writing too.”
“Oh,” he said. “That’s cool. I wanted to do a bit of travelling when I was younger. I never got round to it though. I guess it’s too late now. You can do that stuff when you’re your age, but at my age it’s not so easy.”
“Why not?” I asked him. “You don’t have any responsibilities. And you’ve got savings. You can start travelling next week if you want to. Just book your flight and pack your bags.” It was at this point he looked at me as if I had just suggested to go out and murder a small child.
“Well, you know, I’m getting old now. I can’t just quit my job and run off into the wilderness. I need to find my own place. Need to settle down; need to get my shit together…”
“Is that what you really want to do?” I asked.
“It’s not what I want to do; it’s what I have to do. Otherwise I’ll end up single and living in a flatshare all my life. No offence…”
“You know, I really did want to do what you do. I wanted to go to South America and Asia and Australia. I wanted to experience other cultures and climb mountains. I still do want to do those things. Perhaps one day when I am retired, but now I need to focus on other things. It’s easy to do in your twenties like you, but at my age there are other things you have to worry about. You’ll understand.”
He went on and on making excuses while I just stared and listened. Looking at his circumstances, I did not see any real barriers in his life; at least not any that existed anywhere else other than his mind. But he was always this way since I had moved in a few months previous – panicking about his age and his situation; talking about how he needed to find his own place, fill it with furniture, find a girlfriend etc.. Never at peace and content with his life; never enjoying it because his mind was constantly stressing about the future. The strange thing was that listening to him I could hear he wasn’t even excited about those things; it was just something he felt he had to do because of social and cultural pressures. It made me sad. As cliche as it sounds, there is so much you can do in life, and usually it was just simply a matter of finding the strength to believe in your own voice. I wanted to tell him this, but in the end I didn’t say anything; I just finished making my lunch and retreated back to my room. But I carried on thinking about those mental barriers people erected to limit their life possibilities. I had met so many people like him with the same old excuses, the same old dogmas – the same old mental gymnastics to justify why they weren’t living the life they actually wanted to. For a moment it reminded me of the film the matrix; when you see people plugged into the social matrix, wanting to shake them out of the spell and wake them up to the reality of life. I wanted to do this to him, but I instead did what I always did and just typed out my thoughts on a computer instead. Here is what I wanted to say to him:
‘You do not have to do the things you think you are supposed to do. You do have to spend your one existence mindlessly adhering to social conventions. There are as many ways to live as there are as many people on the planet; recognise this simple fact and realise you can do whatever you want to do with your life. Yes, the peer pressure will come, the heavy hands of society will fall on your shoulder, your parents will try to usher you to one direction, but stop, look around. Be silent. Have a think to yourself. Is that what you really want? Is that going to make you happy? In this life often the only restrictions to doing things are physics and law enforcement. With an open mind the possibilities are almost endless. You can join the circus. You can build a boat and sail to Spain. You can live in a van and become a rock climber. You can move to China and teach English while writing a dystopian novel. You can do so much, yet the formula has been laid out by the establishment: go to school, get a degree or qualification, get a steady 9-5 job, find a partner, get married, have kids, get a mortgage, live in one place, go on package holidays, watch television after work, get drunk at the weekend. And so many people just blindly accept it, never realising that life is a wonderful opportunity to walk any path you can just about imagine.
Yes, of course there are some limitations. You will need money and to fit in with society to some degree. I’m not saying it’s easy to slip free from the shackles of this system we’ve created, but it can be done. I know this because I have seen it done. I have seen it done by a street performer playing his guitar with a sort of otherworldly passion. He was a man who quit his career job and lived in a van while street performing around Europe. He lived solely off the money he made from his performances. Then there was the American girl who worked half the year in hospitality and on a marijuana farm. She stacked that cash then booked a ticket to somewhere in Asia to roam around for another six months. Then there was the cycle tourist who roamed around Europe on his bike; the pole-dancer dancing her way around the world; the chef living in a cave in Thailand. God, there were so many people out there living life the way they wanted, overcoming those mental barriers that were erected through cultural conditioning. They were people who knew that as long as you have the basics covered for immediate survival, then everything else is just a simple rewiring of the mind. Yes, you will have to overcome not having stability and security (which are also mental illusions incidentally). You will also have to overcome people judging you for choosing to live differently to them. For finding the strength to overcome these things, I recommend the following: meditation, yoga, psychedelic drugs, walks in nature, and time spent experiencing other cultures. These will help your mind to sober up and show you that your mental reality is built so much by your surroundings, and that it’s all relative – that your mind is programmed by the cultural ideology of the place you were born. How you perceive life and what you think it to be about will be completely different if you were born in a different time or age.
When you start to realise this, then you can begin to look around and see through the illusions of your society. You can watch the people so clearly programmed by their media, their peers and parents, and their educational system. You can spot the people not speaking as individuals, but simply regurgitating the slogans of the culture they were born into. Illusions are what makes the system run, and some may argue that the system is important. Well, I think that system is not truly serving everyone and making them happy. Are you happy? Only you yourself can answer that, but I know many people that aren’t. So many people I know are on antidepressant meds and therapy. They are escaping through cocaine and alcohol and television. They are constantly stressing about the future. Society is sending people insane. And this is because their inner voices have been drowned out. The only answer I can say from my experience, is to turn to yourself. You’ve got to get back in touch with your soul and find what is real to you.
Also realise that no one really knows what the fuck they are really doing. 95% of people are following the herd, doing things because they want to fit in and be accepted among the crowd. These people have no right to judge you if you want to do something different. They have not found it in themselves to explore life beyond the cultural safe-farm, so forget about their limited perspective. You will have to overcome fear of being different; of walking your own path. But I can assure you this will fill your heart with a joy that cannot be bought in a goddamn furniture store.
I guess if I’m saying all of this then I should probably also say a little about myself. I am just a guy who one day realised that trying to fit in and do what was expected of me was slowly killing me. I went to university, thought I would get a career job after and become a normal civilised person like you think you should be. But I always knew in my heart that wasn’t my path; and the more I tried to follow it, the more depressed and empty I became. So one day I decided to start travelling the world, living for the experience, finding my own truth from beyond those fences of social normality. It is that following of which has led me to writing these words now. These words came to me by believing in my own voice; by kicking down those barriers in my mind and realising that an empowered individual, in touch with their own existential core, can live life whatever way they can imagine. And you can do the same too brother. You can do the same too. So come on: think about it. Think about taking control of your life. Think about doing something because your soul calls out for it, not because you’re ‘supposed’ to do it. I dare you. Take that trip to South America. Pursue your passion. Stop missing the beauty of life because you’re stressing over what you should be doing. One day you’re gonna be in that hospital deathbed, staring out the window as the light leaves your eyes. At that moment you will realise just how precious your one fleeting existence was, and maybe, as they say, your life will flash before your eyes. So make sure it’s worth watching…’
(yes, in hindsight I realise a lot of this was talking to myself)
~ An Awakening ~
“And there comes a time where you no longer need the acceptance of others. You do not look to fit in or to impress those around you. You toss aside the script and walk out into the world, no longer striving for any form of social validation. Instead, you watch the others run around on the hamster wheel, and you observe the strange way of things – the trivial pursuits and worries, the needless stress and anxiety caused by following the herd. You turn your back on that game and within you a private joy begins to blossom. You discover incredible beauty in the world around you. You find the gold in a sunset, in walking alone in the woods, in watching the rain drops snake their way down the window glass. Suddenly the world is a treasure chest of wonder, and all those things advertised to you on the billboards become meaningless, and opinions of you hold little weight, and money is just a means to an end. And for the first time since you were a child, your curiosity and imagination returns to its natural state. You are experiencing life how it’s meant to be experienced. And you realise it doesn’t matter how any external goals you chase, for as long as your brain is conditioned to constantly think of the future, you will never be happy and content in the present moment. Because peace and happiness is not something to be obtained or purchased or earned. It is not something hidden over the horizon under a rock. Rather, it is a state of being already pulsating inside of you. It is the universal bliss of being alive in the here and now. And it is only when you let the noise of society fade from your mind, when you stop trying to fit in and chase things, that your eyes truly open to what’s in front of you and you finally discover the joy that everyone is looking for.”
~ You’re a Dreamer ~
“You’re a dreamer,” she said to me.
“Yeah, and what’s wrong with that?” I replied.
“Nothing I guess. It’s good to dream. But you need to be realistic too.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well,” she started. “You want to not be shaped by the system, to live your own life and do what you love – I understand that and commend you for it – but you gotta keep one foot in the game, you know? You need a reliable way to make money, and some basic security. I’ve seen people end up in serious trouble when they just march against the system not giving a fuck.”
“Really? Like who?” I said.
“There was this one guy I once knew who had a bit of a crisis and quit his insurance job to pursue his passion of film-making. He lived off his savings and devoted most of his time to directing short films, hoping to break into the industry. Within a year he was jaded and depressed and trying to get his old job back, but unable to. He couldn’t keep up his expenses and had to move back with his parents. The recession then hit and he figured out he didn’t actually have what it took to live on the breadline while chasing a dream. Most people need that safety net. Perhaps you should find a way to have a stable career and do your writing in your spare time.” I paused and thought about it.
“Well, I’m not like most people,” I said finally. “I’m willing to live on the edge to do what I love and chase my dream. And besides, I have no idea what else I can do anyway. If I end up in the gutter then so be it; at least I gave it a try.”
“You say that now when you’re young and full of angst, but seriously you may start to crave a bit more stability. Things about the system you thought were traps, you may start to look at them with desire. You’ll see the value of routine and being able to plan your weeks and months. You’ll want to not worry about where the rent money is going to come from. I’m not saying you should give up your dream to be a writer and do your backpacking trips – I hope you live a life doing what you love, as we all desire to deep down – but just be aware not to be too gung-ho and burn all your bridges. Think about finding the middle ground. I think that’s the best way.”
“Yeah, yeah…” I stalled. I was starting to feel a bit awkward and lectured. Still, it certainly was one of the more interesting conversations I had had on a first date. “I’ll think about it. But whatever happens, I’ll always be that wide-eyed dreamer running toward what I love. Maybe there is a balance, but you gotta make sure that chasing that balance didn’t mean you essentially traded your dreams for comfortable mediocrity. I see that a lot; people giving up on themselves and justifying it by calling in ‘growing up’ or something like that. Ultimately, the people who achieved something special were those who had the guts to go all the way on the pursuit of their passions. Yes, that pursuit can take us to the edge, but some of us are born to live on the edge. It’s that edge which sharpens our steel; which puts force behind our fingertips. It’s that edge where our greatest work is done.”
At this point I could feel the eyes of the surrounding people in the bar on me. She sat across the table and also stared at me, undoubtedly deciding there and then that things weren’t going to go any further than a first date. It didn’t need to be spoken at that point and I was okay with it; the thoughts she shared showed we weren’t compatible on that front. They were also thoughts similar to those of my sister. My sister was a bit like me – critical of the system and a bit ‘alternative’ in many people’s view, but even she had eventually decided to pursue a career and embrace a conventional lifestyle. She rolled her eyes and looked at me with a ‘come on’ look every time I started talking about how I was going to work odd jobs and do medical trials to fund my lifestyle. “You need to find the middle way,” she also said. Suggestions came of finding a trade, a stable job, or going back to school – all of those things that seemed to identify you as someone who had ‘their shit together’. The same suggestions came from peers, from parents and from teachers. I guess people were concerned by my irregular behaviour, and just sharing what I deemed the common sense of the average civilised person – the same common sense that caused them to stare at me like a deranged madman when I told them my life plans.
It’s that balance you need, as people kept saying to me. To me, seeing how far you were willing to go on the pursuit of your dream was like a test of courage and resolve; and indeed, it seemed to me that the greatest treasures were found by those who went all the way. I thought about the great artists who had lingered on the edge before creating their masterpieces. I imagined a teenage Bob Dylan packing his bags and hitch-hiking to New York to perform in small cafes. I imagined Jack Kerouac drifting around the United States with barely a dollar to his name. Bukowski starving in small rooms alone. Orwell working as a dishwasher in Paris. Of course, these were the ones you knew about because they had eventually achieved success after living on the edge. For every great success, there were countless failures you never heard of. Or, as another dreamer put it: “For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.” (Hunter S Thompson)
It did of course occur to me that I was most likely to be one of those trampled souls in the dirt, my dreams dying in a ditch as the sun set on my unsuccessful quest of being a writer. But still, the idea of that was still more appealing than passively drifting through life without any fire in your heart. Even if you failed, you would at least know what it was like and to live with a passion for life in your veins. When I walked the street and stared at the faces and listened to the conversations, I felt sure that there weren’t many out there who had that same passion within them. Yes, many of them had the stability and the security. They had the car on the forecourt and the rug on the living room floor. The fireplaces were all lit and the fridges all full; but just how full was the soul? How was the fire in their hearts? How many were truly excited about what they were doing with their life? Personally, I felt that many people out there lived in a state of silent desperation in which they grew old in lives that saw them staring at strangers in the mirror; and indeed there were maybe only a few souls out there who had that magic spark in their eye. That was the spark of the dreamer; the free-spirited warrior who didn’t compromise or filter down their heart’s desires for the sake of ‘fitting in’ or ‘getting real’ or ‘growing up’.
Maybe it’s just me being a romantic idealist, but I believe the world needs those dreamers. Those runaway spirits; those renegade souls; those rebel writers. In fact, I believe the world needs them now more than ever, and I was proud to be one of them – or to at least be considered one of them, as the girl on the date, as my sister did, and many others did. I think that some of them were even envious that they didn’t have it in them to hurl themselves towards what their souls desired deepest. For me, it was the following of that desire that took me first toward travelling – hopping on that one-way flight to South America after finishing university. Within that came the mountain climbing, the hiking, the long-distance cycling, and finally, the writing and general avoidance of anything that stifled my soul. All of these things were things my soul screamed out for, and answering that call fulfilled me in a way that nothing else could. Yes, I didn’t have much physically to show for it: but if I were to lay down my head and bid my life goodbye, I would not have left this world without too many regrets. And isn’t that what a good life was? To know you lived it completely and authentically and passionately? To know you made the most of your one fleeting existence here on this planet?
That girl on the date, we didn’t see each other again, but that way okay. Some people are not made for our paths, but she did make me think – I’ll give her that. I know that my mind is a little more manic than most. Perhaps the degree in which I live isn’t for anyone, but it is for me. If one day you find me face down in a ditch – my cold dead hands clutching the manuscript of my unpublished novel – know that my life was one in which I actually felt a fundamental joy and connection to what I was doing when I woke up in the morning. I was there in those moments, not someone merely existing like many out there dwelling in dusty offices of the mind and soul, but someone alive and awake to each and every moment. Someone discovering a joy that cannot be bought or sold or manufactured. A joy that comes from living from the core of your being. A joy that comes from answering your soul’s call. A joy that comes from running wide-eyed into life’s wilderness, pursuing your treasure and not allowing anyone else to shoot you down for daring to dream and chase that dream and live that dream.
~ Companions in the Darkness ~
At first, I didn’t really understand what it was about me that drew them all in. I was a person freefalling through my own insanity, and probably the last person in the world to give advice on life, yet they always found me. The messages arrived in my inbox one by one. Hurt people had read my blog online, and ended up in contact with me. This girl from the U.S, she poured out her pain; over two-thousand words of stream-of-consciousness, introspective confession. I didn’t know what to tell her. Her mind was a storm of noise like mine. Was I supposed to quell it? I wanted to help but I just didn’t know how. The thought hit me that perhaps she just needed someone to listen to and acknowledge her thoughts. I guess that’s what we all need from time to time. No doubt it was the reason I wrote away at the keyboard in the first place.
A few days later I was getting messages from a woman having a breakdown in Italy. She was on a bender and telling me she had just broken up with her boyfriend and that her life was in tatters. Usually she was the one giving me advice on life, but now here I was feeling like I should say something to support her. Her messages continued to trail off into drunken, incoherent statements of despair. I was in the middle of my own episode and tried to offer some condolences, but what else really could be done? Again, the basic acknowledgment of her pain from another seemed to help a little.
A week later came some messages from a fellow writer. He sent me his stuff and asked for some direction and guidance. “I want to write from the heart like you do, but I just can’t seem to find my voice.” There is no great secret to it, I told him. My fingertips strike these keys because they have to. There’s nothing else for me to do out there in this world. I’ve been through all that. I’m not compatible with anything else and so I just pour out my mind to get this shit out of my system. He thanked me for my reply before disappearing to continue on his path.
Again and again they seemed to find me. The hurt, the crazy, the lost, the lonely, the broken and the confused. The tortured souls lingered out there in great numbers, and the more of my own soul I shared with the world, the more they arrived at my doorstep. The reason for this eventually became clear to me. Deep down, we crave to connect with people whose hearts share the same pains, and when someone screams out a little with their own, the people who feel what you have felt will come to you like moths to a flame. Ultimately, it’s a cathartic experience to realise you aren’t alone with how you feel; something which alleviates your loneliness and reminds you that you aren’t totally crazy. They needed it from me, and I guess I needed them too. That’s why I devoted so much of my time to getting down my thought process on paper and sending it out into the world. As a great thinker had once realised: “No matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.”
And it wasn’t just online that I came into contact with them. Even out there in real life, they crossed my path. In the bars. In the streets. On the park benches. They wandered into my life as if we were all connected by some sort of frequency. This frequency peaked one time when I cycled down to the south coast of the country to collect my thoughts after the failure of a romance. It was there in a random bar that I met a collection of characters who were also being beaten by the fists of life. First was the sad-eyed man in the bar – a young guy whose best friend had recently killed himself. Then was the heartbroken girl who had just split up with the father of her two kids. Then later on we met an ex-soldier with PTSD who was constantly on the verge of fighting someone. Next it was a homeless man, followed by a man with terminally ill cancer who had six months to live. All of us had been strangers before the day began, yet there we all sat together smoking and drinking beer in a rare moment of belonging for us broken ones. The misery of everyone’s lives subsided for a short while as the music filled the air and the good times flowed.
I eventually concluded that there is some sort of universal force that bonds the damaged souls together. I look out on those streets and see the people who stroll through life easily come together. I watch them dine at classy bars and restaurants. I watch them congregate in crowds of sanity and stability. They are the ones who never know what it is to feel lost, isolated and hopeless. Meanwhile, those who do not know such a life must wander in the outside spaces to find the people who understand. Few things are more powerful than the human urge to be understood and to connect with others who know what you’ve felt, and this is why this universal force exists. It is a way to human connection; a way to remind you that no matter what pain you feel in your heart, there are others out there who feel it too, and if you offer yourself to this world, let the light of your truth shine bright, you will attract those who know and understand what you are feeling inside. Maybe their companionship will help you overcome your pain, or maybe it won’t, but god knows, we could all do with some company when we’re alone in the darkness.
~ In Between Places ~
Living in a hostel in my own country, I had become one of those strange ones who was a drifter in their own ‘home’. There was no way around it when people asked what I was doing; I was without a job, without a place to stay, without a woman, a car, and any real sort of life plan. I was floating in the existential breeze, a modern-day drifter, and no matter how clean my clothes were, people still stared at me like I was a bum when they found out my circumstance. I guess in reality that was the truth these days. After all, I had just spent the last couple of weeks drifting around the country on a bicycle – my few belongings crammed into a couple of flimsy pannier bags while staying in random hostels along the way. On top of that, I had quit two jobs and lived in three cities within the space of nine months. I was out living on the edge and it was a strange feeling because, although I had a decent amount of savings in my bank account, I still felt as though I wasn’t far from being completely in the gutter altogether. I guess that was just the anxiety speaking.
The time spent doing nothing allowed me to reflect a lot on what the next chapter of my life would entail. It seemed the coronavirus crisis had put an end to any international backpacking desires – that world was at least a year away from recovering to its former self. The best thing I decided for me was to get my own place and wait it all out, try and get some words down on paper and some miles down on the bike to maintain whatever sanity I had left. I began searching for a place and quickly found out I was no longer worthy to pay overpriced rent to landlords. Most house shares and apartments demanded ‘PROFESSIONALS ONLY’, as well as proof of income, three month’s bank statements and references – none of which I was duly able to provide. I quickly realised that, even with those savings in my account, I was not able to integrate myself so smoothly into human society. So in that hostel I dwelled, perpetually extending my stay every couple of days, telling people I was looking for a place and was just there temporarily whenever they enquired about my living circumstances.
It seemed I wasn’t alone in being in between places. Another woman in her fifties was staying at the hostel in the week while working as a nurse, before going back to stay at her mum’s on the weekend. Then there was the Brazilian guy working there after leaving his family behind in Brazil. Then there were the people from the council who were put there temporarily while searching for housing. That’s not to forget the Chinese girl waiting to see if her visa was granted so she could stay in the country. All in all, it was a random collection of vagrant characters, and it made me feel slightly at home to be around people whose days and weeks were not scheduled or planned to any civilised degree. At night, we sat in the kitchen and chatted away while the world of society went on outside. The hostel was on top of a hill and I stared out the window and saw the lights of the city shimmer below: settled people in their settled lives, going through the roundabout of their routine existence’. Did I want to be like them? At the moment, for the first time in my life, I felt like I did, but I knew I’d also be feeling lost after a couple of weeks in that life too. No doubt the problem wasn’t my circumstance, but myself (as usual).
My days continued to meander on in the city of Sheffield. I took myself out hiking and cycling in the peak district. I saw some friends and drank some beer. I soon got to the point where I had no motivation to even look for a place to stay and entered into some sort of passive, detached state. I sat in parks and stared into space for hours. I aimlessly drifted down the city streets, deciding at the last second where to turn. One day that random route took me into a rundown bar in a rough neighbourhood. I sat down beside the bar and drank a beer when a guy I had met on a medical trial the year before walked in. We started catching up and I soon realised my situation wasn’t so bad. He confessed to me his drinking and gambling problems, and the fact he had spent a grand in the last five days, as well as his frequent visits to the local brothel. Maybe I had no direction, but at least I wasn’t that low, although the bottle was tempting me more and more. I tried to stay away from drinking heavily to help keep my mind clear, but pretty soon I was back at it with people in the hostel, stumbling to the pub with my comrades of the rootless life. I guess there was no way around it. I needed it there and then to help alleviate the anxiety of my situation.
I continued to look at the options I had and felt no desire toward any of them. A couple of years ago, I would have got on a plane to anywhere that I could afford. But now, something in me had seemingly changed. I was in between places physically and mentally. There was no clear thought process; everything was hazy and it was like reaching the peak of my entire existential journey through life. I was drifting in a smoky mist, expecting to see the sight of a lighthouse somewhere in the distance to help direct me towards the shores of belonging. But the reality was that the shoreline was never going to come. I was a lost sailor out on the ocean of human existence, and for now the fog was thicker than ever – my mind in a state of frozen helplessness. I think many people experience this in their lives at some point, but for me this seemed to be my eternal state. The state of being in between places. The state of feeling lost. The state of total non-belonging to the world around me.
Some more days drifted by and I eventually managed to get some viewings for places to live. I had decided Sheffield wasn’t the city for me and that it would be better to retreat back to Nottingham – the city I had lived in previously before the coronavirus had forced me to move back with my parents. I arrived at the viewing and was shown around the property by the landlady. It was an old Victorian house on a quiet street, occupied with two other tenants – a Spanish bartender and an old sound engineer who lived in a hut at the bottom of the garden. After introducing me to them, she showed me up to my room in the attic conversion. “The previous tenant was a woman who lived here for eleven years,” she said as we entered. “She was an alcoholic and didn’t look after the room too well, so I’ve cleaned it all out and redone it completely.” At that moment I looked around the room and imagined that woman being myself; someone who had stumbled in there one day while unsure what to do with her life, and had ended up dwelling there for over a decade while enslaved to the bottle. It was a grim thought and I looked at the bed in the corner. I looked at the old desk beside the window. The sight of it all made me feel uneasy. There was an aura of sadness and I imagined my months and years passing by between the walls of that small room. I imagined lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling as the fire inside me finally died out. I wanted to run far away from it, but there was nowhere to run to anymore. It was either this, or back to the hostel, or back home to live with my parents. Seemingly, I had been cornered by life.
After the viewing, I went to a park I knew and lay there in the grass. It was a hot September day and the park was full of groups of people, all relaxing and laughing; drinking and playing sports together. It was the same park I had visited frequently the last time I lived there. I walked through it and sat down in my usual spot – a patch of grass beside a tree on the back of the field. Deja vu struck as I beheld that familiar sight, and it seemed I had gotten absolutely nowhere since the last time I sat there. In fact, I had even gone backwards. I had even less direction than usual and I didn’t know whether to take the room. I didn’t know whether to book a flight to some far-off country. I didn’t know anything and I just sat there like a statue frozen in time. Perhaps the future would hold something better for me, I thought; something where I at least felt a connection to what I was doing, but for now I was directionless, passionless and devoid of any real zest for life. Questions about what I was doing with my life would have to be avoided and deflected. I was in survival mode; just holding on until the fog in my mind cleared and some basic way forward was revealed. This was it. There was no great wisdom or revelation like in past times. My guts had gone; my burning desire for life extinguished. There was nothing left to do and, with that, I laid down on the grass, looked up at the sky and closed my eyes – hoping my dreams at least could save me from the reality of life.
~ One Day ~
“Yes, this world often makes you question who you are and whether you’re good enough. With everything seeming like a constant test, it’s easy to succumb to self-doubt and hatred, but one day you will realise things that will cause you to see yourself in a different light, and to not be so hard on yourself all the time. One day you will realise that you couldn’t be the person you are now without having endured what you’ve endured. You’ll stand and face that mirror and smile with what you see in the reflection. Those eyes will no longer appear as sad things, but within them you shall see their shining beauty; the beauty you spent so much time not seeing because you were too busy feeling like you weren’t good enough. One day you will not slouch your shoulders and feel sorrow for your past, but you will hold your head high knowing that you marched strong and true through that storm. One day you will not let the little things get you down, but brush them off with wild laughter in your heart. You will know that life is full of inconveniences, but it’s worth the trouble anyway. One day you will realise that you are a warrior, as much as those in the books and movies, and you’ll see that your scars are not things to be ashamed of, but marks of perseverance and resilience. One day those trivial worries will disappear and a childlike sense of joy will blossom in your heart. You will not be easily beset with gloom, but you’ll find beauty in all the world around you, and life will not be some terrifying task to get through, but a tremendous and beautiful gift bestowed upon you. One day soon you will realise all of these things. And when you do, your soul will smile, because you will look back and see that your life has been a good one, a victorious one even. And with that, you will finally allow yourself to be happy, to be proud, and most of all, to be totally at peace with the person you are.”
~ Accepting the Rough ~
“God, I wasn’t made like they were. Their stable minds and smooth edges. The way they fitted so easily into the system. How orderly the words came out of their mouths. How neatly they wore their clothes and shoes. The way they walked and the way they talked. They were all well-made components of some machine. But me? I was crooked and bent-shaped – a jagged piece of the jigsaw. My thoughts were not those of sanity or sensibility. My heart longed for things that couldn’t be purchased in any store. My soul screamed out for something not in my surroundings. It was a strange way to be and for a long time I was sure I was destined for suicide or madness. I stared into that mirror and saw my demise unfolding before my eyes. Not knowing quite what to do, I went out into the world to try and see what I could discover about myself. I packed my bags and wandered in foreign lands. I drank with strangers, worked dead-end jobs. I climbed mountains and hitch-hiked on country roads. I stared out at sunsets and wrote poetry under the stars. Amid that tempestuous journey of self-discovery, I came to realise that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me. Sure, I had flaws like most people, but I also had many strengths and, I believed, a good heart. And the more I wandered, the more I even came to discover that there were others out there like me. They had walked a similar path and had felt similar things in their hearts. Their eyes shared that same look – a wistful one which held a deep longing for some sort of home. I even spoke to them; became friends with them. Those people gave me a hope I had needed and told me that there is no inherent right or wrong way to be. I may not have been a smooth piece of the jigsaw, but I was myself and that is enough. And yes, I still know my life will be less straightforward than most, but I have found a sort of spirit inside of me that will keep me going on this solitary path. On that path I now stride as I wear my rough edges with pride and know the secret beauty of not fitting in.”
~ A Distant Daydream ~
“Girl, this cruel and crazy world was never meant for us. I always wanted to ask you to run away with me, so let’s plan our escape and leave in the middle of the night. Meet me there on the shores of destiny, where the ships of us set sail to a greater world. Meet me there out beyond the fences, where we slip the shackles of misery and despair. Meet me there over the hills, in the place where the empty-hearted do not dwell, where the skies are clear and the sun bears witness to our own peace and happiness. In those untamed spaces, we shall unite under the banner of freedom. We will walk proudly upon the land of our own contentment. We will find our way among the wilderness to live a life that fills our hearts with a feeling of raw joy. No longer will the clouds rain and the tyrants enslave. No longer will we know pain or fear or heartache. Girl, the time is now. Let’s leave tonight. Meet me there. Meet me there.
~ The Greatest Treasure of All ~
“Kid,” he said. “It’s not all about finding yourself. Some of the greatest advice one can receive at a young age is to go and get lost. Get lost and lose yourself in love and in life. Lose yourself in adventure and music. Lose yourself dancing under a starry sky, or running through a foreign field. Lose yourself in a dream or a moment or an idea. Those who know their surroundings too well become idle; their minds lose their sense of childlike awe and wonder. Inspiration is discovered when your eyes are open in new worlds. That is why sometimes you have to run headfirst into the unknown. Like a river running into the ocean, like a bird flying south. Abandon yourself to something that calls you. Leave behind all you thought you knew. Pack your bags and wander with the wild-eyed; drink with the brokenhearted; dance with the insane. Follow your heart through life’s wilderness and your road shall be an epic adventure to treasure, with your soul enriched with the essence of everything that is wild and beautiful. You’ll be the person who got lost out in the world and found the greatest treasure of all: life itself.”