If you regularly read my blog, you will know that I normally just post my pieces of creative writing without any sort of casual ‘blogger’ chat (sorry, not sorry) – but today I thought I’d break that trend just to introduce my brand new book…. (insert drum roll)
No Filter Necessary is my latest collection of writings, the third book in an ever-growing catalogue of work. It is a book that is made up of my stories, thoughts, notes and poems – all of which offer a revealing exploration of my own consciousness, characterised by my introspective and existential voice. People have described my work as “poetic”, ”raw and honest’, and that it shows the world through the eyes of the soul-searching outsider. No topic is off-limits (sorry Mom and Dad) and I write about cheery things like depression and social alienation; about alcoholism and failed romances; about being off the rails as my world falls completely apart around me.
This first-person, autobiographical style of writing is something I’ve been exploring and evolving for the last three years now since I properly started my writing journey. That journey began with me walking away from a creative writing master’s course at university back in 2017. I knew from the very first class that my path was not on the course, and just a few weeks after starting, I quit and booked a ticket to Mexico to carry on travelling the world and following heart through life’s bewitching wilderness.
When I returned from that trip, I started a blog called ‘The Thoughts from the Wild‘. The concept of this blog was to post pictures of people hiking in nature with some sort of internal dialogue about life or society. This concept allowed me to finally find and develop my writing voice – one that I have continually been evolving through the completion of my first book The Thoughts from the Wild, my follow up book Scraps of Madness: The Notes of a Wanderer, and now my new book – No Filter Necessary.
It’s been a journey of constant experimentation to work out what exactly it is I am trying to do with this artform, but I feel that this piece of work is the most fully realised version of the vision I have been pursuing for a few years now. While I am happy to a degree with my first two books, I feel they were full of teething problems that I have sorted out to complete my most accomplished piece of work yet (of course, I would say that – but it’s genuinely how I feel!) If you wish to purchase it, please find the UK version here, and the US version here. For anyone else in a different country, please just search the title name in the book section and it should appear near the top of the results.
Thanks for reading, and I will leave you to the opening section of the book. Otherwise, stay tuned for more introspective, autobiographical madness in the near future. Ryan 🙂
No Filter Necessary
“Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with their own blood.”
No Filter Necessary: a brief note
“But why can’t you just speak up about how you feel? Why can’t you just say what’s on your mind? You don’t always have to keep it locked up inside your own head. Please – just share something with me….”
It was in a hostel in Vietnam where I heard those words. I had just spent the last week travelling around the north of the country with a Danish girl. Naturally we had bonded over that time and formed a close connection. One night we were sat in the courtyard drinking beer and smoking cigarettes when she started to tell me about her troubled past; about her eating disorders, her mental health problems, and the childhood beatings from her father. I sat there nodding my head and listening in, just as I had done so many times before with others. Often while travelling I had found myself in the situation of being someone’s momentary therapist. On mountains paths, sunset shorelines and in smoky bars, I had stared into the eyes of others and listened to them share their secrets. Tales of pain and desperation. Tales of trauma and heartbreak. The suicides of friends. The divorces of lovers. The abuses of childhood. The emptiness of unlived lives. So many people had opened up and allowed me to go beyond the surface level of their character. But as she started asking me about my own issues, it suddenly hit me that I was always the one listening in, but never the one sharing any issues of my own. I stalled and puffed on my cigarette, trying to stop my mouth from spewing its mess and madness upon her. “Just open up and say,” she said, spotting my stalling. “You’ll feel better from it, I promise….”. An awkward silence ensued until I eventually mumbled a few vague things about past battles with depression and a general feeling of being lost in the world. She nodded and congratulated me on opening up, but we both knew I was holding back – that I was alone with my thoughts as I had always been. An atmosphere hung in the air until we eventually moved on from the conversation as we went to bed and sank into the silence of the night.
That moment in Vietnam stuck with me and over time I came to think about why it was so hard for me to share what was on my mind. I guess I was never too good at speaking up about how I felt. Staring into the eyes of my fellow humans, I often thought they would throw me into the nearest mental asylum if they were to see the contents of my head. It was something I had felt from a young age. All throughout my childhood, I spent my time daydreaming and getting lost down the rabbit-holes of my own mind. I lived inside a world of my own making, while sending out this surface-level character that would go out and interact with the regular world. A mask was on; a filter hiding my true colours. As I got older there were times when things started to get stormy beneath the surface. There were times when I felt hopelessness in my heart; when I felt the demons encircle me in the darkness. No matter how bad things got, I never sought to let my thoughts see the light of day because, as I said, I thought they would just be dismissed as nonsense by other people. And besides, even if I wanted to talk about how I felt, I just couldn’t seem to find the words. It was like there was an ocean of thoughts inside my head, and speaking was like trying to get them out through a bathroom tap. So on I went wandering through life, lingering in that solitary world inside my head, often drowning in my own thoughts and feelings.
One day I was sitting on my bed when, struck by a moment of sudden inspiration, I went online and created a blog. It was a blog inspired by a YouTube channel which played ambient music alongside pictures of people hiking in nature. Often I listened to that music and stared at those pictures, wondering what those people were thinking while in such beautiful surroundings. Getting into the heads of those people, I began to upload the photos onto my blog alongside some sort of introspective dialogue about life or society. The blog was called ‘The Thoughts from The Wild’ and it soon started to grow as people resonated with the things I was writing. I wrote about social isolation. I wrote about wanting to live true to yourself. I wrote about pain and love and hopes and dreams. After a while, I realised that the words I was sharing were the things I had always wanted to share with the world. By stepping into the heads of other characters and expressing myself through a pseudonym, I had seemingly found a way to drain that ocean of thoughts inside my head. The blog continued to grow as tsunamis of truth poured out of me. My heart became less heavy. My true colours could be seen. And I felt good.
Over the next years, I grew more and more connected to the process of writing. I was still not totally able to express myself face to face with another person, but I was able to get down my thoughts truthfully onto paper. Through the art form of writing, I was able to finally show people that solitary world inside my head. This book is the latest journey into that world. It is a collection of thoughts, notes, short stories, and poems – all inspired from a life of what would typically be called that of ‘the outsider’. The writings reflect a period of life in my twenties that was marked with excessive physical and mental wandering. In it lie the truths of my journey. The pain and the ecstasy. The joy and the despair. The light and the darkness. In it lie the things I couldn’t say to that girl that night in Vietnam. It hasn’t been easy for me to write some of these things, and I still feel strange about sharing my deepest secrets, but I hope sharing the contents of my own mind can inspire others to do the same. Because right now in this world so many people are wearing masks and letting their true colours be filtered out. We are characters on the stage of society, and I believe many are going insane because of it. But what if we could all throw away the mask for a short while? What if we could open up and share the secrets of our hearts? Just imagine how different the world could be if we all found a way to let the filter fade and our souls show…
~ A Piece of Me ~
They say broken hearts can’t be healed, and it’s true. They can be pieced back together, but always they will show their scars. Those scars tell my story and it is one of pain and madness. I have stood in rooms of darkness staring into nothingness. I have crawled through swamps and sewers of desperation. I have screamed out alone in the torture chambers of my mind. My soul has been ravaged by a world in which I didn’t belong. Into those morning mirrors I stared, seeing the latest damage being seared into my soul. Often, I couldn’t help but look at that reflection and wonder what would be left of me? When the years had run their course. What would be left of me? When the storms had rained their rain. What would be left of me? When the demons had had their way with me one more time. I didn’t expect there to be much. The storms would continue and this heart of mine would continue to bleed out over the years. Still, sometimes I collected that blood and poured it into a poem or story. It gave me relief and some people out there even seemed to like it. This was our nature. We were all parasites of each other’s pain. The blood and guts of others give us the fuel we need to continue on. It is our nature to feast off the scraps of another’s soul. I hope this piece of mine gives something to you.
~ Beaten ~
Eyes full of sickness and sadness, I stared at the dancefloor with a feeling of resentment. There they all were: those happy people with their happy faces. They moved effortlessly across the floor like they moved effortlessly through life. No doubt they all lived sane and orderly lives of structure and stability. They didn’t know my pain, my madness. They didn’t know what it was like to linger always on the sidelines and stare on in. I stood there doing exactly that, leaning on the bar while watching them as they moved and grooved. I downed a double whiskey coke while continuing my distanced observation. I drank another one then realised my friend had left with a girl. I looked around for any possible chance with a female before conceding defeat and heading for the door.
Exiting the bar and stumbling out onto the street, my eyes beheld a jungle of kebab shops and neon lights leading me through the city centre. I watched as drunken revellers shouted, scoffed food, and clambered into taxis. The human race was a wild species that had been tamed by its own creation of civilisation, but there was still a certain level of anarchy we allowed to unfold. This was best witnessed at 3am on highstreets full of broken bottles and broken minds; on highstreets where couples stood screaming at each other; on highstreets bearing piles of puke that were symbolic of the inner sickness of our society. The sight of it all made me sad and it was at this point I remembered it was my first time in Sheffield and that I was supposed to be staying with my mate who had just disappeared. I had no battery on my phone to contact him and suddenly found myself in the situation of having nowhere to sleep. Not an ideal situation, admittedly, but by that point I was too drunk to care.
Lost in the blur, I carried on staggering down the sidewalk until three men started speaking to me. I must have said or done something slightly disagreeable because the next thing I know I was getting the shit kicked out of me on the floor. Kicks and punches rained down upon me. My body ground against the pavement. Venomous words of hate filled my ears. The beating continued for a good thirty seconds until the blurry figures ran off down the street and disappeared out of sight. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. Blood dripped from above my left eye as my ribs ached and hip throbbed with a friction burn from the concrete. I knew immediately that my body was going to have more scars – more symbols of defeat etched permanently into my skin and flesh.
Still not knowing what to do or where to go, I wandered aimlessly around the early morning city streets while looking like someone from a horror movie. Eventually a policewoman picked me up after some bystander spotted me in my gory state. I told her what had happened as she drove me around town in her car. I guess I was expecting to get taken to a hospital, or perhaps to the police station to file a report, but in the end she just cleared up my wound and dropped me outside a closed train station. I got out of the car and stood there alone in the cold winter night wearing just a t-shirt. Cuts to the public services in Britain had resulted in this; underfunded and overstretched, they looked for any way to avoid you utilising them. Consequently I stood there shivering and staring into the empty station, waiting for the damn thing to open. My ticket wasn’t until noon, but I decided that I was just going to board any train I could. If only there was a train off this planet, I pondered.
Finally the station opened and I went inside and sat down on a bench in the corner. Back on the sidelines again, I resumed my distanced observation of the human race. I watched the smartly-dressed business people get ready for another day at work; I watched the mothers quickly glance at me and look away in horror; I watched the little kids snicker and gossip about the wounds on my face. Those looks followed me onto the train where I tried to sleep but was woken up by a ticket inspector who told me my ticket was invalid for the current service I was on. I got out my card and paid for a new one as the conductor kept his distance. Thirty minutes later, I arrived in Derby where I was meant to switch trains to Nottingham. Looking at the board, I could see it would be a fifty-minute wait in the cold until I could catch the connecting train. Suddenly it was all too much and I left the station and paid for a £30 taxi back home.
I think it was about three o’clock in the afternoon when I awoke finally sober. Being too tired to clean myself first, I had collapsed onto the bed and left bloodstains all over the sheets. I grabbed them and threw them in the laundry. I then went into the bathroom and stared at my beaten face in the mirror. Back in a normal state of mind, I could finally see the severity of the beating I took. There were deep cuts, bruising and bumps around the left eye, as well as a few scratches on the right. It was a sorry sight to behold and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be going on a date with a girl later that evening. Maybe it could be rearranged, I thought. I then spoke to a friend on the phone who convinced me to head to the hospital to check for a concussion. I walked there for an hour as people continued to look at me like some sort of circus freak. Reaching the hospital, I stood and looked up at that grey building with its rows and rows of windows – windows in which the dying lay dying; windows in which those old hearts beat their last beats, those lungs gasped their last breaths, and those eyes soaked in their last bit of light. I guess that’s where we all end up, maybe with a few relatives and flowers beside us if we are lucky. I headed in where the doctor inspected me and told me that I didn’t have a concussion but that I needed to be careful. I then asked if there was anything I could do to stop the inevitable scarring around my eye. No solid advice was given.
All things considered, I sat back and knew it had truly been a night of disaster. Perhaps the most disastrous of any night out I had been on, and there had been a few dramas along the way. I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, but apparently the gods had a few more tricks up their sleeves. When I returned home, I checked my jean pockets and realised I had lost my passport at some point during the night. I also remembered that I was supposed to be starting a new job in a few days, and that I would have to turn up on my first day with my face looking like I had just ten rounds with Mike Tyson. That’s not to mention what the girl would think of me when I showed up to the date. It was a sorry state of affairs and, all of a sudden, a strange feeling fell over me. I touched the wounds on my face and felt like crying. It was the realisation of the horror and futility of it all. The world was relentless pain and agony, and no matter how good things got, you were always just a short way away from being stamped down by the boots and fists of life. I was only one week into the new year and already it was looking to be another one of misery and destruction. The gory reflection in the mirror said it all. I was a beaten soul, scratched and scarred and stained with a dirt of which I’d never be clean. It was a sight I had beheld many times in my life – physical and mental wounds that gathered over the years; wounds that told the story of my turbulent path through life that seemed to only get worse and worse.
I continued wallowing in my self-pity until something strange suddenly happened. Out of nowhere, I burst out laughing. I stared into the mirror and laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt. I then walked back into my bedroom and laughed some more. I even did a little dance in front of my wardrobe mirror while marvelling at the absurdity of my appearance. The misery subsided and out of nowhere I felt a strange determination within me. It was something that always appeared in moments when I was stuck in the swamp of despair. The more this world tried to stamp me down, the more I just wanted to rise up against it and bare its blows. No doubt I was still just in shock, or on the way to losing my mind totally, but I looked at my reflection and told myself I was going to make sure my life would be lived before death had its dirty way with me. With that thought in mind, I showered, put some cream on my wounds, drank a beer and got dressed for my date.
It was going to be another magical evening.
~ “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 asked.
“There was this one guy I once knew who had a bit of a crisis and quit his insurance job to pursue his passion for 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 – 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’d 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 trade 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, although even she had eventually decided to pursue a career and embrace the idea of a conventional life. 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 felt the need to share 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 the heart. Even if you failed, you would at least know what it was like to live with a genuine 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 much fire was 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 quiet 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’.
And yes, 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 did, 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 graduating from university. Within that came the mountain climbing, the hiking, the long-distance cycling, and finally, the writing and general avoidance of anything that did not truly fulfil me. All of these things were things my soul screamed out for, and answering that call gave me a fulfillment 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 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 the world around them. 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.