short stories

~ The Search For Meaning ~

the fighter

~ The Search For Meaning ~

“So why do you do it if you don’t make much money from it? It’s a lot of time to devote to something isn’t it for a small return? What’s the end goal here?”

I looked into his eyes. Those eyes of normality. I cleared my throat. I went ahead and explained how I wrote my books not for fame or fortune, but instead of a strong need to fulfil myself from deep within. To do something that stirred my soul. To create some meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Okay, maybe I left that last part out, but I could see from his blank expression how he thought it was strange that I devoted so much of myself to something which wasn’t rewarded by money or women or a firm pat on the back from your boss. Mostly my writing was only read by a small amount of people, but still I typed away at that keyboard like a madman anyway. It was something I was driven to do with all my heart and blood and guts. In the world, I looked around at things I was supposed to desire. I saw jobs that gave you money, prestige – hell, sometimes even your own parking space – but nothing that really was going to make me content and fulfilled at my core. Some of those jobs really gave you quite a lot of money after a while, but what could I really do with it that actually fulfilled me? Buy some new clothes? Drink some higher quality beer? Gamble it all away at the races for a cheap thrill? 

Looking around at my surrounding society, I essentially saw myself stuck in a soul-sucking system where people were forced to consumerism, alcoholism, gambling and whatever else it was they did to try and fill that inner existential void which inevitably widened every year. Many had children and this kept them busy with a purpose for a couple of decades, but I wasn’t too attracted to that prospect either. After all, if you had children just because you couldn’t find any meaning in your own life, it seemed selfish to bring more people into the world who would have to face the same recurring existential dilemma. It seemed that it wasn’t just me who was uninterested in creating a little miniature version of myself to bring some purpose to my life; I was now part of a generation where people were spawning fewer human-beings into the world than ever before. Consequently, we now lived in a dystopian world where there were a growing amount of people trying to find something to get out of bed for, or to keep them busy with – or to simply just do anything that stopped them staring into space thinking about the monotony and banality of it all. The life of tedious and trivial repetition. The life of watching other people’s lives on soap operas. The life where many people’s greatest aspiration was bossing around a bunch of bored people in a dusty office room.

I guess it was that desire to transcend the monotony of the ordinary which led me to writing – to strumming away on this grubby keyboard right now. Travelling on backpacking trips had kept me busy for a few years of my young adult life, and it really was true that travelling and exploring other countries and cultures had kept me fulfilled to a degree, but eventually the novelty of it had dried up and I needed something else to stoke the fire within. Modern society seemingly had nothing to offer me, and so I now tried to create some meaning by locking myself away in an isolated room as I obsessively tried to create the next literary masterpiece. 

The attempts to make our lives meaningful were often extreme and I figured many of us would have been better off in the hunter-gatherers times where you spent your time gathering food and supplies while enjoying the leisure that came alongside that. It seemed to me that so many people out there had been spiritually murdered or left unfulfilled by the sedentary and relatively easy lifestyle of modern life that gave you comfort in abundance, but left you feeling like you were some sort of robotic cog in a machine. There it all was lined up all nicely for you. The animals slaughtered out of sight and packaged neatly on supermarket shelves. The clothes and furniture delivered right to your front door. The partners available at the flick of a finger on internet dating apps. Comfortable office jobs that you had absolutely no connection to. There was no real fight to be had; no great battle to be won. Some still chose to join the army and be thrown into some sort of oil-war out in the middle east, but that was a desperate measure at best. 

A life without real meaning was torture to some people and consequently the search for it often came out in violent and ugly ways. One only had to go to a football match and see the twisted, cursing faces of people in the crowd screaming out their inner frustration at a referee simply trying to do his job. Their lack of meaning and inner fulfilment led them not only to venting at sporting events, but to the bottle – the pill – the powder. It, of course, led them to political things too. When Brexit happened in the U.K, many people suddenly saw something arbitrary to fight for. With newspaper headlines rallying you to fight for your country like there was an actual war going on, so many people jumped on board to give themselves a sense of identity and purpose that they had been missing for a long time. In their shouting faces, I saw the pain and lack of meaning in their everyday lives which had drawn them to this ‘war’. Ultimately this is what happens when a man or woman has no true calling or belonging in their everyday life – they latch onto whatever the hell it is that makes them feel their lives have something worth fighting for.

Our quest to give our lives purpose was like a thorn in our sides and often I wished I could live a life as purposeless as a cat, just sitting around and being content with sleeping and the occasional meal here and there. Naturally this desire led me to an interest in Buddhism which celebrated the notion of the purposeless life. I researched a lot about Buddhism, reading books and watching youtube videos. I soon found myself meditating often and feeling the benefits of the Eastern philosophy. Western society was all about achieving success and status and chasing promotions and whatever the hell it was that was supposed to make you happy. But with Buddhism, you went the opposite way – you eliminated desire and then had everything you ever needed right on your front door. With this in mind, I went through a period of embracing the purposeless life. I meditated twice a day and went for long, slow walks in the parks. I stopped stressing and straining at work. I quit being anxious about the future and things out of my control. The lifestyle was a welcome change but after a while, the desire to find some purpose came creeping back like an incurable disease. Couple that with people constantly asking you what ‘your plans’ were, then it was only natural that my desire to create some specific goal or point to my life came back.

So I went back out into the world and looked at what I could do to make my life meaningful. Of course, by that point, I already knew without question the direction I would take. The feeling I got when I read those messages that came in about my writing was like spiritual heroin. Via my blog and self-published books, I had already inspired people to change their lives, quit jobs and pursue their deepest dreams and desires. That feedback was something that stirred my soul beyond anything else I had experienced in this life; it gave me a pleasure which couldn’t come from any drink, drug or woman. I needed more of it so I sat back and planned to write another book, and then another one – and even if my writing only had an effect on just a handful of people – then that was the existential purpose of my life. To write, write, write. To share the contents of my soul. To bleed my brain dry. To pour everything onto the page and hope that it had an effect on some poor soul out there in the world. 

It’s been a long and slippery road but this is my third book of writing and I now feel like I have manufactured more meaning in my life than ever before. Hell, I’ll even go as far to say that I think I’ve discovered my own meaning of life and now feel qualified to give some advice. Well, here it goes if you’ll forgive me. Are you also staring into those skies and spaces and feeling existentially empty? Are you also yearning to feel like you’re living and not merely existing? Well, if I may put forward yet another tiring opinion from the growing amount of keyboard philosophers out there: not much makes me feel alive in our modern society, and maybe I don’t have all the answers, but I know that strumming these keyboard keys right now is a better fight than stressfully chasing some promotion or saving up for something I don’t actually need. I guess if I had any advice it would be not to mindlessly grab at what’s in front of you. Don’t try and fill an internal void with external things. Don’t try and obtain happiness through material goods or whatever the hell it is your parents and peers tell you will make you satisfied. Spend some time alone and get to know yourself. Find what makes your heart and fingers twitch a little faster. Find what makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. The world around you may have got you confused, but deep down inside yourself you already know what you need to be complete and fulfilled. Let it be revealed to you slowly and surely in solitude and silence. It’s there – your true calling – waiting for you to stand up. Waiting for you to take it. Waiting for you to make sure you are living a life, and not just existing in one.

short stories

~ Finding A Mating Partner In The Modern World ~

(an extract from my upcoming book ‘Alien Nation: The Notes of An Outsider‘)

internet dating

~ Finding A Mating Partner In The Modern World ~

I lay alone on my bed, scrolling on my phone. It was a simple flick of the finger left or right. After all the centuries, this was what human evolution had brought us to. The mating process was no longer done out on the plains of life, impressing the opposite sex with a dance or song – now it was a simple matter of carefully selecting and uploading some edited, filtered photos of yourself and hoping some fellow bored person in the local area would swipe right on their smartphone. It was a process I found absurd and downright detestable, but the boredom and monotony of everyday life had ground me down too, so there I was: scrolling, scanning and searching for something I knew wasn’t there, but curiously allowing myself to engage in the motions of modern-day dating for some sort of cheap giddy thrill. I guess a part of me did enjoy the simplicity of it; I had gotten tired of all the standing around on dark nightclub dancefloors hoping some girl would come drunkenly stumbling into my life through a hazy blur of neon lights and insufferable pop music. I no longer felt the attraction to drink myself into oblivion before staggering home alone and waking up with nothing but a hangover and looming sense of existential dread that filled every crack, corner and crevice of my lonely lair of residence.

Instead, I now lay there in that room of isolation and continued swiping on my phone. I looked at the profile of each girl that arrived onto my screen. There was a general mass of girls – all with those office job titles, nice makeup, dresses and bios saying they loved Chinese takeaways, Netflix, G&Ts and ‘a bit of banter’ – the sort of girl that would have one conversation with me and dismiss me as a madman. I had once heard a friend refer to the generic type of guy as a ‘Fifa default 1’ (a reference to a virtually-generated and standardised person on a computer game) and I couldn’t help but feel the same when sifting through the girls that arrived on my screen. Tens of thousands of women around me in close proximity, yet the vast majority were like clones of some type produced by the effects of modern media and advertising. Two decades of reality TV shows had turned a high proportion of British women into clones with strenuous pouts, excessive make-up and desires for men straight out of an episode of ‘Love Island’. Where were the women out there for me? The women with some eccentricity and individuality? The women who hadn’t been corrupted by their looks or how many likes they got on Instagram? No doubt many of them would never go near these apps, but still, I thought I’d swipe right and hurl myself into the mess and madness of modern-day dating. A man had to try his luck, right?

The mindless swiping carried on until I eventually started to get some matches. Some matches didn’t result in a conversation. Some conversations kicked off and ended quite suddenly. Sometimes it was ten or twenty minutes of small-talk before the other person found someone else to talk to. After a while I got chatting to one girl about hiking after she had seen one of my profile pictures of me in the Himalayas. Naturally I got excited by our mutual interest and let myself type away frantically. I entered a verbose wall of text about my hiking trips before asking her what hikes she had done and which ones she wanted to do in the future. Suddenly seeing how overly keen I was to chat with her, I was swiftly dismissed. No more replies came my way. Turns out she wasn’t too interested in hiking after all. 

I dusted myself off and persevered onward through the virtual wilderness of filtered photos, generic bios and forced conversations. I tried to work out the general script you were supposed to work through when initiating a mating request, but the rules of the modern dating game were confusing and complex. Human interaction could have been so simple, yet there were all these random hurdles and hoops to jump through to arrive at having a chance to connect with another member of the opposite sex. Just to even have a shot you had to fit all the categories of being attractive, funny, charming, keen (but not too keen), as well as having the usual social checklist items of a career, a car, a place of your own and a whole load of other things which I naturally didn’t have. Beyond that there was another set of unspoken rules which I didn’t totally understand. Altogether it was a massive drain of time and I started to wish that I could take myself to the vet and get the snip. Having this ingrained desire within you to find a mating partner seemingly only caused you a life of pain, heartache and confusion. The sheer amount of effort required just to get laid was obscene. The thought hit me that perhaps I could use my energy and time in a more productive way. Volunteer at a charity? Learn to play an instrument? Build a spaceship and escape this forsaken planet once and for all? It was a nice thought but in the end the reproductive urges ingrained in me from millions of years of evolution were too strong. I picked up my phone and carried on flicking through the profiles…

After a few more matches that went nowhere, I gave up on Tinder and migrated to the app of Bumble. Bumble was different in the fact that it was the woman who always had to send a message first to get the conversation started. Naturally this helped a little knowing that the girl was interested enough to go as far as put her pride aside and contact you first. Suddenly the hunted had become the hunter. Besides that, the demographic was different in that it was filled with girls who were a bit more serious about finding an actual partner, rather than the ego boost of Tinder which was full of girls who didn’t really want to talk, but just scroll through the long list of men that wanted to bang them. 

The swiping continued and eventually I got speaking with some girl called Rosie. She was undoubtedly pretty and seemed like a genuinely nice person. Observing more of her profile and speaking to her, it quickly became apparent she was a regular accepted member of the human race with a steady career, a house and – unfortunately (from my perspective) – a child. She said she wanted to see if there was any ‘chemistry’ between us. I was now twenty-seven years through my life and the human-beings I had met that I had any real chemistry with I could count on one hand. The odds were thin I realised, but I arranged the date anyway. I knew she was an extrovert and no doubt more confident about meeting than I was (given that she had been in the dating world for some time), so I dealt with this fact by swiftly necking a bottle of red wine before going to meet her. She said she liked ‘confident men’. I wasn’t too shy by this stage in my life, but a bottle of wine always broke my introvert shell to help me appear to be gregarious, charismatic and have the confidence of a regular human-being capable of love and acceptance. The wine flowed down my throat as my extroverted alter ego awoke to engage in its latest spell of schizophrenic madness.

I turned up at the bar early so I could be a gentleman and get the drinks in for when she arrived. I walked in and got chatting to some French guys to try and switch me into a talkative mode. After a quick chat about why British girls wore high skirts in the middle of winter, I sat down at the table with our drinks ready to face the music. A couple of minutes later she walked into the room and sat down beside me. There she was: the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. The thing to save me from a life of lonely madness. The thing that completed me as a member of the male sex. Predictably, I was in love at first sight. Naturally I had to put that aside and play it cool as one was supposed to in the first date scenario. We got to it and started shooting the small-talk back and forth. We sipped our drinks and spoke about our lives and interests. We pretended we were both totally perfect with no flaws or failures or possible ‘red flags’ that would compromise us as a potential partner. Just like I had anticipated, I felt as if I was in some sort of job interview. I thought I was passing with flying colours, but she apparently saw straight through my mask of alcohol-distorted confidence… 

“You’re really nervous aren’t you?” she said probingly.

“Well, we’re not all experienced internet daters like you.”

My quick retort caused her to let out a little laugh followed by a smile. Perhaps it wasn’t hopeless after all. At that point I was feeling brave and confessed it was the first-ever internet date I’d ever been on; this sparked some jokes about the nature of dating, along with some stories of the car crash dates she had been on in the past. All of a sudden the conversation was flowing freely along with the drinks. Feeling that drunk confidence begin to surge forth after the third drink, I pulled her towards me and started kissing her. The kissing carried on through the night I carried on reeling off the well-recited script of the standard first date – making jokes, acting like a gentleman – pretending I was James Bond or something like that. Remarkably she seemed to eat it all up. This was it, I thought to myself: internet date number one and I had successfully struck gold. What were the odds? Who knew mindlessly swiping on an app on your phone could get actual results?

The next couple of weeks we spoke every day and went on to see each other numerous times. We drank and ate out together. We watched TV around her house. Hell, we even went as far to sleep together a couple of times. Things were going quite well until it slowly became apparent that we were very different at our cores. She was authoritarian and wanted a life of following established traditions. She said she wanted her child to be a learner of cultural codes and conventions, rather than have the values of being creative and unique. On top of this, she was career-focused and said her greatest motivations were what people thought of her and how much money she earned. All things considered, it was safe to say that our values were somewhat slightly different. Up until that point, I had tried to hide who I really was in order for her to accept me, but there was only so long I could hold in my alien nature before it drunkenly spewed out all over the place. That moment happened one night following my fifth glass of wine in the closing time hour of a Wetherspoons pub. Engaging in our latest spell of dating small-talk, I was no longer fully able to pretend that I was a normal human-being compatible with mainstream society. I threw my mask of normality aside and let my unconventional views blurt out of my mouth. I spoke of why I had spent so much of my twenties travelling rather than forming a career. I spoke of wanting to live a life true to my own values and not those of society’s. This first declaration of my true character was met with an awkward silence followed by a clear moment where I could see her mentally packing her bags and sprinting far away over the horizon like some sort of scared deer. The conversation then stuttered on until we finished our drinks and got up to leave. We kissed and said we’d speak soon, but I knew it was over there and then. The next day I received the ‘I don’t think we should see each other any more’ text. As anticipated, I was back alone in the wilderness of life and love. 

I was dejected but not defeated. There were plenty more fish in the internet ocean and I picked up that phone and started swiping away like a madman once again. Again I faced the intimidating masses of women out there looking for a potential mating partner. There were women who were single mothers, women who were self-proclaimed princesses – women who clearly bitter about men but were there on the dating apps anyway. It truly was a battlefield of potential mines waiting to tear you apart one way or another. Sometimes the horror of it all almost caused me to chuck the phone aside and declare a vow of abstinence for life. I had heard about these dating apps for a while, but now having finally used them, I could with my own eyes see the sadness and madness of it all. All these hurt, lonely and complicated people trying to connect to someone or something in the virtual wilderness. You could see in their pictures and bios who were the wounded ones, the desperate ones – the ones who were just there to stroke their egos and fill some sort of internal void by being lusted after by men they would never dream of meeting. God only knows how bad the male side of it was. Observing it all, it was clear to me that human interaction had become some sort of terrible joke and that I was now truly a part of it. But for whatever reason, this was now what had to be done for our survival as a species – this twisted comedy was what was necessary to continue the horrorshow of the human race.

The comedy continued and eventually Tinder came good with a girl called Sophie. She was the classic ‘hot girl’ – long blonde hair, pretty, big lips, tall and a great figure sculpted carefully by yoga and PT sessions at the gym. Somehow she was into poetry and philosophy and all the weird stuff I was into. A female lover of Alan Watts and Rumi – something I had only imagined meeting in my most outlandish daydreams. It almost seemed too good to be true and I approached her cautiously wondering where exactly she had set her traps. There was no way a girl that attractive would not have some way to tear you to shreds completely. I thought of the way the female praying mantis killed and ate the male after he was done mating with her. I wished myself some luck as I moved in closer.

It took a few cancelled meetings but we finally met up in a bar while we were both out drinking on the same night. The conversation went well initially, but after a while she kept walking off to speak to other guys. She only half seemed interested in talking to me, and the other half in looking around and making sure other men were paying attention to her. She never really asked anything about my life – the same as she did when we texted over the phone – and I started to wonder if she really was the girl she said she was. For a lover of poetry and philosophy, I expected her to be discussing the meaning of life rather than cracking jokes about what I was wearing. Well, I knew it seemed too good to be true and after half an hour of her showing no interest in me, I finished my drink and retreated back home alone to my lonely lair of residence. The texting predictably faded out over the next couple of days until she stopped replying altogether. I eventually found out a previous ex had reached out and asked to meet up with her again. Well, that was the end of that disaster before it had even gotten started. Probably for the best. At least she hadn’t eaten me.

My morale was dropping fast but I carried on my little dating experiment with a few more car crash dates as I tried to find some basic human connection. It was soon becoming a massive consumption of time and money, but I was determined to see that there were people out there you could connect to without having to pretend to be someone else or have the body of a Greek god or something. 

Finally, I had one good date with a girl from Birmingham who was a fervent traveller like myself. All things considered, the date went the best out of any I’d ever been on. We both shared the love of travel and had visited many of the same places. With this fuelling our connection, we drank cocktails and kissed all night; we held hands as we walked from bar to bar; we even agreed “there would definitely be a second date” as I walked her home. Needless to say, I found it quite strange when I never received another message from her after that night. By this point I didn’t even have the energy to ask her what had happened or gone wrong. My emotional energy was drained and I tossed my phone aside and gave up on the whole internet dating thing a rest. Humanity and its strange ways was simply too much to bear at times and there was only so much one could take before losing their mind completely.

In the meanwhile, I went about my life and considered how people actually made the whole mating partner thing work. I observed the couples walking down the street. I saw their kisses and their hugs. I watched their hands connect as they walked side by side. All I could do was wonder how in the hell they ever got to that stage. What was the secret formula? What was it that I was missing? Finding a mating partner in the modern world was like running the gauntlet through the nine levels of hell. How did people make it through with themselves still intact? How did people make it work? Like I did so often when I was confused by human behaviour, I studied the animal kingdom to see what they could teach me. I watched birds sing to each other on tree branches; the squirrels chase each other’s tails; the dogs sniff each other’s arses. Again, it was simple and direct without all the tedious trivia us humans had managed to create. I had to wonder how we had taken the whole thing so far into the realms of madness? Surely the gods would never forgive us for the absurdity of internet dating and all those thousands of ridiculous profiles, scripted conversations and shallow interactions. All the dates that went nowhere; all the dates that led to more dates that went nowhere. The hopelessness, the desperation – the mindless swiping right or left as you slowly went more and more insane. It made sense why the average human heart was a total battleground by the latter half of one’s life.

Feeling disillusioned with the dating scene, I retreated back to the old tradition of standing on dark nightclub dancefloors hoping some girl would drunkenly stumble into my life through that hazy blur of neon lights and insufferable pop music. I stood on those sticky floors and watched the human race interact with each other. I watched the males initiate the mating process as they tactically stumbled closer to the nearest female. I watched the quick glances between females to express whether or not they were interested. This was it: we were back to basics – operating as brash and animalistic as the animal kingdom. I could almost imagine David Attenborough himself narrating the scene in that husky old voice of his. All these creatures flailing their limbs, trying to bond and connect with another. All these creatures trying to fulfil their primal needs and desires. And I was one of them, prowling around, looking for some sort of victim to take home. I continued my hunt until I eventually got lucky. I picked up a girl near the bar and lured her to the smoking area for a drink and chat. After twenty minutes of small-talk, we decided to get a taxi back to mine. The night went well. We sealed the deal and she stayed until the morning. It was then lying in the haze of a Sunday morning hangover when we got to chatting about our lives. After a few minutes, she found out I was 28 and living in a flatshare. She also found out that I didn’t have a stable career and owned about six t-shirts. Such traumatising revelations caused her to get out of bed, quickly pack up her things and shoot outta there without exchanging numbers. A forced goodbye kiss on her way out and she disappeared back into the barren wilderness of life and love never to be seen again. I wished her some luck on her way.     

And so one month after starting my dating experiment, there I was once again: back alone on my bed, locked away in my lonely lair, done with women and general human interaction until the end of eternity. The desire to find a mating partner in the modern world had subsided after all the chaos of the last few weeks. Better to be a loner, suppress those urges and save yourself from all the mess and madness that was waiting for you out there. The horrors of trying to connect with another human-being were simply too great in this day and age. I was going to leave them all to it and embrace the quiet life of some sort of celibate monk. Running. Reading. Writing. Meditation. Yes, that would be the trick to keep me healthy and happy. The decision was made and I let out an exasperated gasp of breath and felt myself sink into my mattress. I then stared at the walls. I stared at the ceiling. I twiddled my thumbs. Suddenly the loneliness struck me once again and I looked over at that phone: that portal to a possible connection with another human somewhere in the hostile wilderness of life and love. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge – they were all waiting to try and connect me with another person close by. Sure, maybe I had experienced some bad luck so far, but perhaps things were about to change. Perhaps this emptiness in my heart could be filled. Perhaps there was a chance to connect with someone or something or anything….

I reached over, picked up my phone and started swiping one more time.

thoughts

~ Towards the Dream ~

man walking night

“You’ve gotta hold on to them. Those dreams and desires that haunt your heart; that stir in the depths of your soul; that scratch and claw at the walls of your skull. It is easy – it is so very easy to listen to those voices of fear and doubt. To keel over under the weight of the system. To abandon your deepest desires for the sake of a comfortable and crowd-pleasing existence. It takes something a bit extra to abandon such notions and walk fearlessly in the direction of your truest life. And yes: the journey won’t be easy or straightforward. Doubt and discomfort will be felt. Isolation will be experienced. The reflection in the mirror will stare back with testing eyes. But the beauty of living a life totally true to yourself will give those eyes a unique shine – a shine that is hard to find in a world where so many let their inner flame die out without a fight. Don’t let that fate be your fate. Don’t let yourself become another wanderer in that wasteland of broken dreams. Be brave enough to follow your heart. Have the courage of a warrior; the mind of a dreamer; the spirit of a hunter. Have the guts of someone who chose not to settle for life, but who instead felt the glory of what it was like to run full-speed in the direction of their deepest dreams and desires.”

short stories

~ Medical Trial Madness ~

~ Medical Trial Madness ~

The first time I heard about it was while travelling around Australia. I had just been working an overnight job in Adelaide in which me and my friend had spent a few hours pulling down some plastic sheets that covered the clothing racks of a department store during a smoke test. Following this highly skilled work, we were sat in a McDonald’s joint at dawn watching the streets begin to stir with life over a morning coffee and breakfast bagel. As we discussed the different ways to make money while backpacking in Australia, a fellow worker on the table beside us interrupted with some friendly advice.

“Why don’t you guys do one of those human guinea-pig things?” he said, chomping away on a sausage and egg McMuffin.

“One of those human guinea-pig things?” asked my friend.

“Yeah, you know, one of those medical trial experiments? You just go into a clinic, take some new medicine, and then you stay in there while you have your health monitored. When it’s finished, you come out with a few thousand dollars in the bank. Easy as bro.”

Immediately we both stopped eating and turned to face him like he was some sort of holy prophet. The sound of ‘a few thousand dollars’ to broke backpackers was like the sound of heroin to a smack addict. Being as desperate for money as we were, we naturally disregarded anything to do with the safety of testing unknown drugs.

“And how do you sign up for one?” I asked, salivating at the prospect.

“Just go onto their website and register bro. Their clinic is in town. I’ve got a surfer friend whose been doing them for years now. He just knocks out three or four trials then goes and surfs and gets drunk in Bali for six months or something. Pretty cruisy ‘ey?”

“Unreal,” said my friend. “And anyone can do it?”

“Pretty much bro. As long as you can pass a drug test and don’t mind getting stabbed with a needle a few times a day.”

Me and my friend turned to each other with a look of curiosity. After a few seconds of silent contemplation, it was decided. Right there and then in that McDonald’s joint, I realised that a glorious new career beckoned upon the horizon of my future. So far in Australia, I had been a factory line operative, a party-hire event worker, a fruit picker and a bartender – but now I was to venture into the pharmaceutical industry where I would nobly donate my body and time in the pursuit of trying to rid the world of the many illnesses that plagued humanity. Oh, and also to afford another month or so of travelling around Australia while getting drunk on cheap wine.

It was just a couple of weeks later when I walked triumphantly out of my first medical trial. I had just tested some new medicine to treat Asthma while staying in the clinic for five nights. I walked back out onto the sidewalks of society joyfully breathing in the fresh summer air, skipping down the street, feeling the sun’s rays bouncing off my skin. I was like a man in possession of a great secret; I had just spent the best part of a week lying around, being cared for, being fed, playing ping pong and pool while getting paid over a thousand dollars for all of it. Instead of forking out on pricey hostels, I had found a way to get all-inclusive free accommodation plus a large sum of money. I stood there on that street and looked up at skies above knowing that I had found my true calling at last. Some were born to be doctors, some teachers, others – presidents. Me? I was born to be a human guinea-pig. It was a pivotal day in my life and to celebrate my new profession, I went online to book myself a trip to go and cage dive with some great white sharks with the money I had just made in the clinic.

Over the next few years, I continued venturing in and out of the human guinea-pig industry. Returning home to the U.K, I found I could only take part in a drug trial every three months, so I had to be calculative about when and which assignment I wanted to take part in. I was still travelling on and off somewhere out in the world, so all the trials acted as a convenient way to top up the bank account in between adventures. My equilibrium of life became some sort of comical cartoon where one moment I’d be hiking in the Himalayas and the next I’d be confined in a clinic having some nurse monitor my urine whilst being pumped full of drugs.

I thought maybe it would just be my way of life for a short while, but I soon realised that this lifestyle was somewhat sustainable. Due to the entropy of the universe, there was always a wealth of work to be had. My many assignments in the guinea-pig industry included testing drugs to treat diseases and illnesses such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, neutropenia, cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s and that old notorious bad guy: cancer. Each one varied from three to eighteen days in clinic and helped contribute to whatever adventure I was planning next.

As the needles pierced my skin and the blood was drained from my body, my financial health and travel prospects flourished. I made money to go hike in the Himalayas; I made money to go party in Central America; I made money to go walk across Spain while drinking red wine every day of the summer. It was a simple transaction and, truthfully, the whole damn thing seemed too good to be true. The money was great and even the trials themselves were a pleasant experience. Inside those clinics I found fellow wanderers like myself living out on the fringes of society. Inside those clinics I found a way I could sit around playing on an Xbox all day while not feeling guilty about wasting the day away. You didn’t have to spend a single penny while you were in there, so essentially everything you earned was total profit and savings. Hell, it was even tax-free as the money was classed as an ‘inconvenience allowance’ and not a payment. Yes, for once in my chaotic life everything fit neatly into place, but naturally such an unconventional line of work brought about the naysayers.

“You don’t know what they are giving you.”

     “You’re only thinking about the money.”

     “Don’t you care about health?”

     “Sort your life out and get a proper job you hobo…”

Maybe those naysayers were right, but I couldn’t help but dedicate myself to the profession anyway. No doubt I was blinded by the money, but it seemed that being a human guinea-pig was my true calling. I had tried and failed hopelessly at almost every other profession the human species had offered to me. I had no common sense or dexterity to do any of the trades; I was too open and honest to deal with the bullshit and bureaucracy of the business world; and I had even become disenfranchised with my degree profession of journalism. It seemed that nothing in this society suited me except lying in a bed and being fed some drugs while having my blood sucked dry by a pharmaceutical company that saw me as a mere subject number in a scientific study. It was a funny situation, I guess. My friends all had job titles that included: ‘marketing manager’, ‘graphic designer’, ‘business consultant’, and ‘systems engineer’. I suppose ‘human guinea-pig’ didn’t seem to fit in quite as well with those on the surface of things, but the more I took part in those drug trials, the more I realised that such a line of work drew many parallels with those other conventional professions.

I remember lying in bed on one of the studies and getting talking to a middle-aged man on the bed next to mine. We both began speaking about our lives and why we were doing the trial, and how many we had done, and what we were planning to do after the trial. Naturally with him being a middle-aged human who had successfully reproduced, I presumed he was a functioning member of society with a career and confident knowledge of what he was actually doing in life. However, after talking for ten minutes, it turned out that miraculously I somehow had a better grip on life than he did. He was spontaneously doing the two-week medical trial after just quitting his job as a store manager for IKEA. He explained to me how the long hours and time away from home had gradually ruined his marriage and social life and left him empty on the inside. He went on to say how he finally decided to quit after his friend had killed himself after also working as a boss for IKEA for twenty years. The death left a profound impact on him. It turned out he was doing the trial to give himself some time alone to think about his next move in life so he didn’t end up as another suicide case driven to the ledge by the cold, mechanical world of business.

Right there and then I realised that the job of a human guinea-pig was no different than many jobs and professions out there. In the process of trying to obtain money, I went and stayed in a set place for a certain amount of time where I gradually had my blood sucked dry by some company that saw me primarily as a number on a screen. Maybe it was a bit more nonchalant and ‘to-the-point’, but it didn’t seem to be so different from the IKEA job that man had told me about. At least with medical trials, it was a lot clearer how it worked: “Look you need money, and we need your body, so come in and sacrifice your freedom and health for a set period of time, and we will reimburse you with a financial payment into your bank account.”

If anything, I had to applaud them for their honesty. Many faceless companies out there tried to confuse you with sneaky slogans like ‘career progression’, ‘success’ and ‘bettering yourself’. Many companies out there tried to make you feel good, when really you were just spending the best years of your life confined in some small space doing some menial task as your health was damaged by the stress and the inevitable lack of exercise that came with being too tired to do anything after work. Maybe medical trials were no different in regard to how they used you, but I respected the fact that at least they were a lot more transparent about proceedings.

As I carried on my career in the guinea-pig industry, I realised that the IKEA guy wasn’t a one-off. Often I came across people who had dropped out of the rat race and started doing trials in an attempt to afford extra time off during the year, or a way to supplement an adventurous lifestyle like the one I was attempting to live. Mostly they were on the other side of forty. I figured that this was because it was usually at that age many people awoke to the fact that they had squandered their youth working at a job they had no interest in for a company that had no interest in them. Finally realising this unfortunate set of circumstances, they set about simplifying their life and finding a way to afford to actually spend time doing what they cared about – whether that was travel, art, sports or even something as simple as gardening. It was a sudden sidestep to say the least, but mostly it was a good score: the trials themselves were a nice retreat from society and allowed a person to sit inside all day and maybe learn a new language, play the ukulele or – in my case – work on some existential memoirs they had been wanting to jot down for a while. Of course, there was the obvious possibility that something could go wrong and you’d get elephantiasis or something, but overall it was a risk I was happy taking.

And take I did. The years went on and on and so did those trials and adventures. Sometimes it was taking a pill to stop nicotine addiction, sometimes it was an injection to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Eventually I managed to get into the routine of doing three trials a year. With this money supplementing my chaotic lifestyle of bohemian travel, I usually only had to work an actual job for no more a few months a year. The situation was strange, but a good kind of strange – although I did think maybe I had gone a little too far when I was sat in a toilet holding a container under myself as I went about my business. I had ended up on a trial which required us to give a feacal sample at least once every day. I specifically remember the awkwardness of walking through the clinic ward while holding my container to go and place it on a tray alongside all the other guinea-pig’s cluttered pots of feaces. I thought of how my friends would be handing in coursework, or important projects of some sort they had completed at work. Me? I was quite literally handing in a piece of shit.

Eventually, after trial number twelve or thirteen, friends and relatives started raising eyebrows that I was still continuing my career in the guinea-pig industry at a relentless pace.

“This is getting ridiculous – you can’t do it forever.”

     “You need to think about getting something solid behind you.”

     “You need a proper trade or qualification.”

It was the standard script that parents, teachers and professional human-beings could recite at any given moment on any given day. Even my sister, usually generally on my side with most things, had her eyebrows raised along with the others.

“Have you not thought about what job you actually want to do?” she said, sitting across from me on the sofa. “You’re twenty-six now after all. You need some security. You can’t rely on testing medicines all the time.” I was disappointed by my sister’s reaction, but I understood her position. By now my sister was twenty-eight, studying a physiotherapy degree and preparing to finally fit herself into the paradigm of society after a decade of floating around. The psychology elements of her degree made her feel like she could understand the chaos of my mind, and she sat back into the groove of the sofa and studied me like she was a therapist and I was her patient. I got into the swing of it and went ahead explaining that by doing a medical trial, working three months and then doing another one, I could afford to travel over half the year for the rest of my life while working on my writing projects. There was no nod of agreement; just a look of bewilderment, of concern – of outright fear. It was a look I would have to learn to become immune from if I didn’t want to be caged by the judgemental nature of the human-race which was always ready to cast those glares and scowls upon you in the millions.

I thought inside the clinic was safe from such judgement, but I began to see a lot of people in there were also insecure about whether this line of work was an acceptable way of surviving in this world. The middle-aged people were usually comfortable with them as they did them in combination with some other line of work. But the fellow guinea-pigs my age were often chatting away about other plans or studies or ventures to show that medical trials weren’t their final destination in life. In particular, I met one guy called Daniel, a couple years older than me in his late twenties, who had been out travelling the world the last few years and had now returned home to face the screeching music of ‘the real world’ – an experience I knew all too well.

I saw him scribbling fastidiously in his notebook. “What are you writing?” I asked.

“Ahh, just trying to get some plans down.” I looked down at the page where bullet-points and ideas were littered everywhere across the page. There was a long list of possible job roles and courses, all as varied as a kid’s pick n mix candy selection.

“Wow, you’ve got a lot of plans,” I said.

“Yeah, well, you know how it is. After travelling for so long you’ve got to get yourself in shape and figure out what you want to do with your life. You can’t rely on doing these trials all the time really, can you?” Immediately I started to recall the conversation we had a few days before in the ward. He had told me all about his travels and how much money he was making as a club rep in Sydney, and how he had planned to go back out there, then later go to Canada, and how he hoped to do all these wild and exciting and adventurous things.

“But what about all the other things you planned to do?” I asked. “I thought you were thinking of doing another couple of medical trials and then heading back out to Oz?”

“Yeah, that’s true,” he said. “But I’ve been thinking about it. I’m twenty-seven now, and I’ve got no relevant experience in my field of study since I graduated. Looking at jobs while in here has made me realise that I’m a bit out of the loop, you know? All my friends here have stable careers. Having to rely on medical trials to get by isn’t what I want to be doing in my thirties. Maybe the travels can wait a bit for now.”

Naturally, I was surprised by this reaction. I wanted to question him on his sudden U-turn of thought but decided against it. It already seemed like he had enough going on inside his mind. Hearing it off someone like me how he changed his mind so drastically probably wasn’t going to help. But it was true: he had waltzed into the study excitedly talking about all his travels and his plans to continue his adventures after Christmas, but now, in less than a week, the pressure of society’s expectations and the fact he was getting money from medical trials had started to wear down his idealism of travelling the world. It made me slightly sad and I avoided talking to him any more about those plans he was constantly scribbling down in his notebook of anxiety. It was clear to me he could easily get some quick money together doing this then head back out to Australia in the new year to continue the life he had proclaimed to love so much. But the situation of coming home and having no ‘real job’ and testing drugs for money had left him spooked. His stance had changed, and he had retreated back to the world of social normality. His fleeting guinea-pig career was over just as it was getting started.

After that encounter, I kept thinking more about my emerging occupation as a human guinea-pig. I thought of Daniel, my sister and all the concerned others. Maybe it was true that an individual couldn’t rely on testing drugs forever, but all in all, I was happy with the line of work I had chosen for the time being. Maybe it would cause me health problems in the future, and even knock a few years off my life, but overall I was content with the fact that it at least it afforded me months of freedom where I could venture out into the world and live a life of exploration and adventure. I was content that I was at least living the life that allowed me to explore my interests and passions to the full. We were all slowly decaying and dying anyway, so why not do something that at least allowed you to have fun in the small time we had available here? Why not try something a little different? As a great philosopher once said: “better to have a short life full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

Well, here’s to you Alan Watts – writing this while temporarily enclosed in a medical trial clinic so I can get some money to go out hiking in the mountains again. Here’s to a glittering career of testing new medicines and blowing the cash on adventure. Here’s to helping cure humanity’s ills while sitting around playing on an Xbox. Here’s to social alienation and awkward pauses whenever someone asks me ‘what I do’ for work. Now, if only I can get rid of these purple spots on my skin…

 

 

thoughts

~ Rolling The Dice ~

the spirit of the wild
~ Rolling the Dice ~

“Life was relatively straightforward if you listened to your brain and followed sensibility and convention. But to be truly and totally yourself? To follow your heart through the wilderness? That’s where the real action was at. That was the gateway to the treasure. Yes, on the journey you were guaranteed isolation, doubt and a whole load of other things, but you were also guaranteed thrill, adventure and a deep inner fulfilment the likes of which could not be purchased in any store. In this life those that truly follow their heart are few and far between. Most will dilute themselves down in order to find an acceptable place in society; most will sacrifice their passions for convenience and trade their dreams for security. It takes something different to abandon such notions and follow the heart with reckless abandon towards one’s deepest desires. Perhaps it even takes a little bit of madness. After doing this for some years, I’ve come to realise that yes – it is a life of pain and discomfort. It’s a life of unpredictability and risk. You may not make it. You may end up going insane. Hell, you may even die alone in some roadside ditch. But giving it a shot is what has made my life an adventure to write home about. It has made me able to look into the mirror and be proud of the person staring back at me. In those eyes I see the wildfires of life; in those eyes I see the unbreakable spirit of the wild. In those eyes I see the look of someone who went out and experienced life, rather than let themselves walk safely to the grave without ever knowing what it was like to taste true freedom.”

thoughts

~ The Silent Submission ~

~ The Silent Submission ~

“It’s a world of broken people with broken hearts. Of minds full of desperation and desolation. Of starving souls sitting behind desks and staring into space, dreaming of something distant and out of reach – something that can not be purchased in any store or downloaded onto any computer. It’s a world of people tightly gripping onto steering wheels as they try not to go insane on the morning commute. A world of people scrolling on their phones to try and connect with someone or something. A world of people drifting down the sidewalks of life, following someone else’s path and not their own. The absurdity pervades and I like so many others have stared up into those skies dreaming of something to take me away from all this madness. The human condition. The suffocation of society. The struggle to hang onto who you really are as this world strikes you from every angle. Few make it through the machine without being torn up beyond repair. Out there on those streets I stare at the passing faces and see eyes losing their light, hearts losing their fire, minds losing their madness. I see tired faces of sickness and sadness. I see mouths that move but do not speak. This thirst for life in my veins will not let me succumb to the same solemn fate. The wilderness in my heart roars out for some kind of glory. The glory of breaking free from it all. The glory of taking your mind back from the machine. The glory of making sure your life is one that is lived totally to the full, and not stutters slowly into a silent submission of the heart and mind and soul.”

people walking street

thoughts

~ A Hidden World ~

~ A Hidden World ~

There is a world inside you that remains hidden. No matter how much they stare or try to understand you, no matter how many words leave your mouth, no matter how often your eyes meet their eyes – there is a place beneath the surface that they just never see. And even with all those drawings you sketch and words you write down, there isn’t enough ink in this world to truly show another the space in which you reside. That expression sometimes helps, but ultimately you know you’ll find yourself standing again before eyes that remain blind to your nature. Because there is a world inside you that remains hidden. And as the days drift by and you sit in the crowd listening to those foreign conversations, as you observe the human race like you are on safari – as you retreat again and again back into the depths of yourself because you know that they just wouldn’t understand – you learn to bare that private burden of isolation and separation. Being alone in the crowd becomes commonplace; biting your tongue becomes commonplace; staring longingly into skies above becomes commonplace. As those years go by, you learn to exist in the solitary spaces and sink deep into the ocean of your own inner being.

Make no mistake about it: it can be scary and isolating to feel like you’re a stranger amongst your own species. Not everyone has a way of being that can be so easily understood by others, and consequently there are certain people who choose to instead exist alone within the private world of themselves. If such is your fate then do not despair but learn instead to inhabit that world fully. Find inner peace and nurture that space within. Let the flowers grow in your heart; let the sun shine in your soul; let the doves fly in your mind. Raise the flag of joy within and rule that kingdom proudly. And if you ever meet someone who ever fully does understand, when they finally venture in and tread those first footsteps, they will see a world so beautiful that they will look at you in the crowd and smile, knowing that there is a heaven on earth hidden behind the eyes of an angel.

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