short stories

~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

pexels-photo-212286

~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

“Seriously, what’s the point?”

“The point to what?” I asked.

“Life, of course.” She rolled her eyes. “All I’m doing is working, eating and sleeping – just struggling to get by and survive. It all seems so meaningless. When am I actually going to live?” I paused for a second, trying to think of a helpful response.

“Maybe you need a change of environment,” I suggested. “Or perhaps to go on an adventure?”

“Adventures cost money,” she said. “And what little I have I need to keep a roof over my head.”

“There are ways to do it,” I told her. “I’ve never had a lot of money, or a good-paying job, but I’ve found ways to get out and see a bit of the world.”

“That’s because you do those medical trials,” she snapped. “I don’t want to do that. And besides, I’m getting too old to travel now. All my friends are starting to buy houses and start families. I’ll fall behind if I go bum around in a foreign country now. I’m almost thirty, you know?”

“So?” I snapped back. “You need to stop caring what people think. You say you want to really live so open your mind and explore something new. Who’s to say a little adventure won’t give you a new perspective on life? There is more to life than just ticking boxes and trying to fit in with the crowd.”

“Is there? You went out and travelled the world, but yet here you are back home seeming unhappy with your situation once again. Face it: the best thing one can do is just find someone you can tolerate and settle down and maybe go on a nice holiday every now and again while trying to not go insane. Those who do anything else usually end up homeless or something.” This time it was me rolling the eyes.

“You are looking at those people and thinking they have ‘arrived’ or something because they have the classic components of a ‘normal life’. In reality, many of them feel just as lost and confused as you, if not more so because they are trapped by contracts and commitments. Maybe they are looking at you and wishing they had the freedom and lack of responsibilities you have? The grass is always greener on the other side. Don’t be fooled. Create your own reality. Write your own story.” She shook her head with a look of annoyance. I could see she was reaching the end of her tether.

“You know what, you give all this advice but look at you: you’re almost thirty and you have never had a proper job, you live in a flatshare with people you don’t like, and you don’t even know how to drive. I don’t think I’ll be taking advice off you, thank you very much.” An awkward silence fell over us for a few seconds before she looked away. I opened my mouth to say something but decided against it. The conversation was beyond saving and I walked off to leave her alone with her thoughts. 

I should have just brushed her frustrated comments aside, but her words stayed with me for the rest of the day. I thought I had some wisdom about life, but maybe she was right and I really was just a no-hoper that no one should have taken advice from. I guess I was a bit of a loser by society’s standards. I was quickly approaching the age of thirty and had never had a ‘proper job’ (whatever the hell that meant), a girlfriend, a car, my own place or even an Instagram profile with a load of pictures of myself on a beach in Dubai. I was now at the stage where I was clearly ageing too. I looked in the mirror and saw the hairs on my head begin to grey, as well as the first wrinkles start to make their mark across my forehead. Apparently I was now an official adult, fully grown, but with absolutely none of the things that were expected of me at this age. I guess I had at least seen a bit of the world and climbed a few mountains, and done things many only dreamt they could do, but how much further could I really take it? Maybe my current method of living was not one that was sustainable past your twenties, and that I was just going to end up homeless like my friend suggested. The thought of it all made me also think: seriously, what’s the point?

The point to our lives? The point to our paths? The point to our struggles and trials and battles? It just seemed that it was an endless fight. No matter how far you had come or what position you were in – whether you were poor or rich, famous or obscure; whether you were in a relationship or single; whether you were young or old or good-looking or bad-looking – the one thing that stayed the same no matter what was that you were perpetually dissatisfied and always looking for more. True contentment and fulfilment was something you only read about, and the few who said they had it were usually lying, secretly trying to fulfil inner voids with whatever vice they could find. All in all, life just seemed an absurd joke in which no one really ever got lasting happiness or inner peace, and that people were constantly searching for it like my friend. Like she had alluded to, so much of it was a struggle to get by – when were the times when we actually arrived? When we actually lived?

I guess the futility of it all is what led men and women to get ‘fucked up’ – as many tended to call it. The bottles, the joints, the pills, the powders – whatever recreational substance you chose on the quest to alleviate the pain of being human. That was what I did that very night as her words continued to grow in my mind. I poured myself a large glass of red wine and prepared to sink once again into a bubble of being comfortably numb. This was it: the universal vice. No matter what culture or creed you were from – no matter what age in history – one thing that stayed the same was that people always looked to get out of their ordinary states of mind. It was the great escape; tricking your brain into thinking that something exciting was happening because the reality of your normal life was too much to bear at times. All across the world, weekend warriors could be found finishing work on a Friday evening, then heading straight to a bar to pour that poison into their blood so they could momentarily escape the dreary drudgery of human existence in a hazy blur of liquor, neon lights, and late-night takeaways. Then there were the pill-poppers who lived for the raves; working and waiting for that next time they could use up all the happiness chemicals in their brain in one swift swoop. Ultimately, then came the comedown which brought them sharply back to the gnawing aches and pains of reality which was always waiting for you.

That reality ceaselessly consumed each and every one of us. The girl I had the conversation with continued, I knew one day she would have it a bit easier, perhaps even have the house, the partner, the steady career and a few offspring running around on a rug in the living room. But I also knew she would still be standing beside the curtains and looking out at the world, dreaming again of something more – something that would finally allow her to feel like she had arrived. She resented her situation now, but she would also still find new things to resent her future situation. Even for me, I was now at a stage I always hoped I would be – having seen all the places I wanted to travel, wrote a couple of books and had a bit more confidence about who I was – yet I was getting easily derailed by a simple conversation with a friend; spiralling down into a state of unhappiness and alcoholism and feeling like I had gotten nowhere over all the years. I guess this is it: the reality that human-beings were never meant to be happy or content or satisfied. Our brains have gotten too big. We contemplate and think too much for our own good. We now look at the animal kingdom in jealousy that they live so simply in the moment without our trivial pains and worries and concerns and conundrums. What is left to do but get drunk and try to find a point to your absurd and trivial life. Even if it’s just supporting a football team, or teaching yoga, or searching for love, or writing a book. What’s the point to it all? I’m not really sure either, but if you have any original ideas, do let me know. We’re all secretly grasping at straws here.

      

short stories

~ Just Another Fool Beneath The Ether ~

 

caminoo

‘Sorry for the mess but there is a form of madness that possesses this slowly decaying heart of mine. It corrupts and consumes me; it pulls me relentlessly into the unknown lands beyond my horizons. Towards that ineffable something I have ventured my entire life. Beyond those horizons I look out for something on those rugged mountain trails, sitting in smoky bars in foreign lands, staring out wistfully at the red ocean sunsets. My brain knows I can be nowhere else other than the here and now, but this heart of mine will never fully grant me the peace that it needs. Maniacally it shall beat its way toward its inevitable death, and until that happens I am cursed and blessed to be out on these wild plains, wandering wide-eyed among these mountains of madness – relentlessly hunting the horizon for a home that doesn’t exist in this galaxy, or the next…

‘Just Another Fool Beneath The Ether‘ 

Paths colliding. People meeting. Mouths speaking their secrets. The sun setting on another perfect day of doing nothing other than moving forward through space and time. I had been walking another seven hours in the blistering heat of midsummer Spain, edging ever more closely to the final destination of Santiago. The path up until now was a hazy blur of old towns, blue skies, red wine and fields of wheat flowing magnificently toward the horizon. It wasn’t just the road to Santiago that was my path however. So far it had been a twisting and turbulent road through the first stage of adulthood as I stumbled around the world, working odd jobs, hiking mountain paths, getting drunk with strangers and trying to find out just what it was exactly that was corrupting this heart of mine. Behind me I had left a trail of footprints, crazy encounters and empty wine bottles – the blood and bones of my experience scattered in various ditches around the world. 

The art of living without a plan had seemingly led me to many interesting places, and as ever I had no plans after the walk was done. Like many of my fellow pilgrims, I was just living for the moment like some sort of new-age, drunken buddha. There was a sort of simple bliss about this walk through Spain that stirred something in my soul. Waking up everyday with no plans other than following some little flicks of yellow paint; hand washing my clothes in streams and hostel sinks; meeting random people and sharing the contents of our minds before parting ways forever – not much had made sense in my life so far, but the last weeks had made so much sense to me that I was slightly confused about it all. It was almost enough to make me feel like a holy man, but in reality I was just another fool beneath the ether, dragging my feet through the dirt, getting drunk and staring up into skies not knowing what the hell it all really meant. Whatever. It didn’t matter for that moment in time as I continued walking with my new companion Lee while discussing our favourite writers. He was a fellow countryman I had first come across as he posed butt-naked for a photo while facing out into a mountainous valley. I knew he was one of the crazy ones from the off and it was only natural we had ended up walking together. Our love of writers had led us to picking up the pen ourselves, and I shared some of my poetry with him while he told me his plans to document his past drug addiction in a book called ‘the scum diaries’ – surely a tip of the hat to another one of the crazies: Hunter Thompson.

Later on that evening, we met up with a couple of Americans Lee had befriended on the trail. They were a mother and daughter from the state of Montana. We had dinner with them and enjoyed paella and red wine and tapas snacks, tossing the words back and forth – the usual El Camino-inspired chat which was typically a philosophical exploration of life, travel, culture, jobs, and the question of why the hell it actually was you were walking eight-hundred kilometres across a country covered in sweat and blisters. The question fell my way once again and I gave the answer that had now become slightly routine over the last fortnight. 

“I feel a bit like the odd one out,” I started. “Everyone seems to have a reason to walk – something they’re looking for or hoping to find out about themselves – but, personally, I feel like I’m walking just to walk. If I had to choose an ideal life it would be waking up everyday, strapping my backpack to my shoulders, and just putting one foot in front of the other to get to the next destination. It’s a simple life and a nice one. All you have to do is eat when you’re hungry and sleep when you’re tired. Hell, I’d do it for the rest of my life if the path didn’t end, maybe just stopping off in a town every now and again to work and save up a bit more money. To me, it would make a lot more sense than the typical life back home.”

Of course, I knew at that moment I sounded like another hippy throwing out cliche statements, but the words I told them were true in my heart. It was what I had been feeling since the moment I started walking four weeks ago back in France – this feeling that life could be so wonderful and simple if only we allowed it to be. They looked at me and smiled, the American mother saying good for you and inviting me to stay on her farm back in the states. They then showed me some pictures of their lodgings and mountain surrounds and asked me whether I’d want to ever settle down and lay some roots somewhere. I told them that I wasn’t sure right now, just that at the moment I couldn’t imagine doing it. 

After we were done with our drinks and philosophical musings, me and Lee headed back to the hostel through the town that was now coated in twilight as the sun had sank below the horizon for another day. Now a little tipsy from the drinks at the bar, we stumbled back in good spirits and chatted about our love interests while on the camino. I liked Lee. He was another starry-eyed dreamer like myself – a wild and flamboyant soul, the sort you rarely bumped into back on the streets of everyday life. He was a little bit older and seemed a little bit wiser than I. Or maybe he wasn’t; maybe he too was another fool beneath the ether not really knowing what the hell what he was doing. Well, it turned out that it may have been the case as we both got hopelessly lost on the return, wandering off out of town on some downhill road into the darkness of a random farm. Lee eventually got his phone out to redirect us back to the hostel where we found a new drama awaited us. Bed bugs. It was a common concern when walking El Camino de Santiago. The lodgings you stayed in were huge dormitories frequented by thousands of people every year, and it was only natural that the little critters made their homes in those well-worn mattresses. This time it was so bad that the whole hostel had emptied out as groups of bleary-eyed backpackers sat on the steps outside discussing what to do. Among them were some other friends of mine, two Spaniards and a Brazilian girl. We chatted about the situation at hand, before I told them my story from when I had run into those dreaded bed bugs about a week previous in an old church, causing me to try and sleep in the hostel toilet cubicle for a few hours in the middle of the night, before giving up when a fellow traveller started violating the cubicle beside me with violent diarrhoea.

My tale of misfortune drew some laughs from my friends and perhaps even planted a seed about what we could do with our current situation. Well, it had already been planted by my friend Damien, but it was quickly blossoming in our minds. At first it seemed like a joke, but the more we discussed it, the more it seemed a good idea to get drunk and start walking through the night. After flirting a bit more with the prospect, the joke had now become a plan. We looked at each other and made the decision. At that moment a fellowship was formed. A mission set. We grabbed our bags and headed off back into town to buy some supplies for the task ahead – five bottles of red wine sold to us a reluctant restaurant owner closing up shop for the evening and paid for by Lee – a man now in good spirits at the prospect of the spontaneous adventure ahead.

Our mission began as we started walking under the stars and the moon, making our way out of town while passing the bottles of wine between each other. We had a speaker to play music and head-torches to look for the flicks of yellow paint that guided us in the direction of Santiago. A sense of perfect disorder was felt and at that moment we were comrades – “the wolves of the night” as Lee had christened us in Spanish. Our mission seemed to have as much cause and purpose as the armies that marched to war, and every step forward was a noble one – one that would lead us to a victory of something I couldn’t quite explain, but I knew was something worth marching for.

The marching continued through the night as we passed through farmlands and small villages full of barking dogs piercing the silence of the night. Feeling as pensive and philosophical as usual, I talked to my comrades about the camino and everything else that went through my drunken mind. The Brazlian girl was the only religious one of us walking this Christian pilgrimage. She told me she was walking it as a tradition and doing it for her mother, before going on to ask me if there was anything I was looking for while on this pilgrimage. I took a swig of the wine while thinking of my latest answer to the question. “I really have nothing I’m looking for,” I told her. “This is it. The here and now of the experience is all that matters. I feel like the more you look for something, the more you miss what’s under your very nose. There’s a quote I like in zen buddhism: “With zen buddhism, one does not find the answers, but the questions disappear, and when the questions disappear, one arrives at the insight of what is in front of you.” She looked at me and smiled, entertaining my madness. My philosophical ramblings were as edgy as ever as we continued on drinking and trekking under the stars. At one point fatigue hit and we stopped for a quick nap on a bench somewhere in a field, before we got up and carried on with our mission. 

The path carried on and soon the first embers of daylight could be seen on the horizon. We were just a few more miles from the next town where we could stop and rest, but at that moment I realised I was too drunk and tired to go on. I told the others to carry on without me and that I was going to sleep on a field beside the path. This was deemed to be a foolish decision by my comrades who informed me that there were wild pigs roaming the countryside that could potentially cause me harm. It was news to me, but I was too drunk to care and collapsed into my sleeping bag in the grass. They carried on down the trail until they eventually drifted out of sight. Would I see them again? I hoped so, but nothing was certain right now as I passed out alone in a foreign field under the stars. I looked up at that diamond sky and smiled like the drunken fool I was. Truly, I was a man lost in a dream, tumbling down a rabbit hole that had been getting stranger and stranger as the years had gone on, and had perhaps now reached its peak somewhere in the countryside of northern Spain. 

About three hours later I awoke to the sounds of birds chirping and hikers talking from the nearby path. I looked at my surroundings – the empty field, the bales of hay, the bugs on my backpack, the sun now beating ruthlessly down upon me. I had awoken in many bizarre circumstances around the world over the last years, but it seemed I had now reached the most bizarre of all. I was hungover, tired; my hair was full of leaves and twigs and bits of grass. I had accumulated a few more mosquito bites. My backpack was disheveled and it appeared I had misplaced a few more items of clothing. I stood up and thought back to the past twelve hours and just burst out laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. To many my life was a complete joke or a mess, but as I looked up at the morning sky, my existence made perhaps more sense than it ever had or ever would. I had a contentment in my heart; a feeling of pure joy in my soul. The world around me glistened with magic and I may have been just a bum with a backpack and no plan, but at that moment I was richer and more complete than any man in the world. This was the way of the camino and the way of my life. I was a hopeless wanderer, a dreamer, a pilgrim, and perhaps most of all: a fool. But I was a happy fool, and truthfully that was all I ever really wanted to be.

short stories

~ Lost in the Virtual World ~

smartphones

~ Lost in the Virtual World ~

It was sometime when I was sixteen years old that I came to school one day and found everyone shifted to a strange new state of existence. There they all were: heads down to their hands, totally absorbed by whatever it was they were holding in them. I walked closer to see what it was that was causing them to permanently reconfigure the skeletal structure of their necks. I reached the circle and saw them all clutching their precious new possessions. It was the arrival of the smartphone – a small device, no bigger than a notepad, which sat in your hand and connected you to the entire world. Clearly a new age was upon us. We had lived in trees; we had lived in caves; we have lived in farms and towns and cities. Now we were living in hyperspace – connected and communicating with each other via satellite signals and apps. I looked at the transfixed faces of my fellow classmates and knew something had changed for good; seeing just how much this device yielded a sort of otherworldly power over the person it belonged to meant humanity was in for a wild new trip.

I resisted the urge to get a smart-phone for years and, as a result, I became an alienated member of society. At first, there were still a few of my kind left – those people using those heavy Nokias and old flip-phones – but quickly they were becoming a breed on the brink of extinction. There were many times where I sat left out in social circles as people exchanged things over their phones and sent Vines and Snapchats. Soon Instagram was taking over the world as selfie-taking spread like a contagious virus – evidenced by the fact that the word itself even made it into the Oxford English dictionary. I watched curiously as my species became possessed by the need to pose, take and post pictures of themselves whenever they could. Even their cats and dinners weren’t safe. Apparently, whatever meal was on their plate somehow needed to be shared with all the random people in hyperspace, desperate to see one more time what a mediocre plate of spaghetti bolognese looked like.

It was a confusing time altogether and I tried to get by in modern society without owning this new organ of the human body. It was something that quickly left me out of touch with many people. I recalled a girl in a bar asking me what my Instagram and Snapchat was. When I told her I didn’t have them, I was met with a look of shock and horror – as if I were a time-traveller from a prehistoric age. Another time I was laughed at for not being able to get directions somewhere on my phone. Soon the alienation of not having a smartphone continued to grow at a sharp rate. So often I sat in a circle of friends, unable to speak to any of them as it seemed social media had overtaken real social interaction. There was a certain irony to it all and I wondered what exactly this shift in human behaviour was leading to. Perhaps soon we’d just sit at home and control virtual versions of ourselves? Perhaps we’d be able to ‘like’ people on the spot and our value in society would be judged on how many followers we had?

It was a scary thought and one that kept me from joining in on the madness, but eventually it got to the point where I could no longer get by in society without having a smartphone. It seemed that everything was geared to this one device that now ran the world. I couldn’t even get a taxi with my friends without being seen as tight for not paying anything toward the fare they shared over the Uber app. I couldn’t even purchase a goddamn bus ticket in some cases. Getting by in the world had become too difficult, and reluctantly I went and got a smartphone to join the masses in this strange new era of human behaviour.

At first, I was quite good with it; never using data or the internet while out of the house, not downloading any apps, but just using it absolutely when I needed to while enjoying the camera that came with it. It wasn’t long however before I found myself getting sucked into the vacuum of hyperspace. After getting relentlessly asked for my WhatsApp, I downloaded the app and quickly found myself part of numerous groups and conversations. There I sat staring at the screen as the notifications flooded in throughout the day. After a year or so, I found myself part of a bunch of chats that made that phone constantly ping. It was easy to see how so many people got sucked into that vacuum and spent hours of their day in a hypnotic trance as they stared at whatever it was that was on the screen. It was either you ignored everyone trying to contact you, or spent hours of your day replying. Like a baby that wailed, the phone was always there commanding your attention and it was easy to cave into its incessant demands.

One day I realised I would have to join the thing I despise the most: Instagram. On the most part, this photo-sharing application was the great tragedy of our generation, creating millions of narcissistic and self-absorbed millennials whose sense of self-worth was dependent on likes and followers and emoji comments. This constant need for social gratification off random people on the internet had led to a mass of people who dressed up their lives with masks and makeup and filters. It had led to people who made out that their lives were constantly amazing, when really they were anxious and stressed and getting by on antidepressant medication. Often, I wept for the state of my generation who had now become so fake that being real was sure to leave you as an outcast. However, like everything else in the world, there was still some good out there, and Instagram gave a platform for genuine artists, singers, writers, dancers and whatever to share their work. My Facebook blog had crashed as Facebook was experiencing a mass exodus of users, and I realised I would have to post my work on Instagram if I actually wanted a decent amount of people to read it.

The problem I had found immediately was what I wrote was typically longer than twenty words. One of the byproducts of the age of the smartphone was that people now had the attention span of a newborn puppy on cocaine. Relentlessly, they finger flicked and scrolled away at the neverending content that filled their screen. If something was going to take more than thirty seconds to read, then the odds were that it would be swiftly dismissed. This meant my longer pieces of writing didn’t really have much of a chance of being read by the entranced thumb-twitchers of the world, so I focused on turning some extracts of my writing into succinct, easy-to-digest quotes and memes. It worked to an extent I guess, although it made me feel limited into what I could share, and it was definitely going to take a miracle to become popular on a platform where ‘instapoets’ had amassed millions of followers for posting things like ‘true love never quits’ in sleek and stylish memes.

Still, I got on with it and tried to find my place in the modern world where this device had completely changed the way we behaved forever, and most definitely not for the better. Sure, things were easier in many ways, but people’s mental health was suffering as it became a socially-accepted form of addiction. People’s minds were like overcharged computers, saturated and frazzled by relentlessly checking their phones and notifications throughout the day. Some days I found myself with a headache after allowing myself to get sucked into numerous Whatsapp chats. Other times I found myself getting anxious about what some stranger in America was commenting on my posts on Instagram. It was a device which had the power to completely take over your life and it appeared that no one was safe from its tyranny. Even my parents – who had always been slightly ‘technologically challenged’ – had conformed to this new state of existence. One day I walked in the front room to find my mom with her head also embracing that permanent shape of facing down at her hands. She had gotten a new tablet for herself and now spent hours of the day scrolling through tabloid news stories and looking at holiday packages on travel agent websites. It appeared that even the older generation were getting sucked into this smartphone vacuum, even going as far as overtaking the youth as the core user base of Facebook. Yes, you could now find your grandparents sharing Daily Mail articles to the social media world. And let’s not forget about the new members of human society. Now you could find kids as young as three years old with their faces glued to those tablets and phones. Many parents had discovered they could keep them transfixed by those devices and thus spare themselves the hassle of actually having to entertain them themselves. There on Instagram you’d find Timothy, just four years and three quarters, posting selfies with his latest toy or comic.

All things considered, it’s a surreal time to be alive and who knows what the state of human interaction and behaviour will look like with the technologies of the future. Right now, you’ve got people like Elon Musk trying to connect AI to the human brain. You’ve got the sex robots being developed by horny tech gurus. There also are bio cells that could lead to people becoming ‘amortal’ – meaning they will live indefinitely without being the victim of a car accident or fire. Smartphones will soon be able to control everything in your house as well as provide a database for everything you’ve ever done or said. It’s a strange and scary time to be a human-being. No doubt some of you may even be reading this right now on a smartphone or tablet or whatever other device is now out there to keep you transfixed. Well, if you’ve made it this far at least you had the patience to read more than an Instagram meme. Thanks for that. Oh, and please remember to follow my blog on social media: @thethoughtsfromthewild. A part of me would really ‘like’ that. Cheers.

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short stories

~ Social Distancing? No problem ~

solitude

~ Social Distancing? No Problem ~

The great crisis of our generation came almost out of nowhere. It was just after the turn of the new year when reports of a novel coronavirus spreading through China started appearing in the media. At first it seemed like something very far away – a drama unfolding in the far east, something similar to the outbreak of SARs virus a few years before that quickly petered out into nothing. I guess it was that sort of scenario which people expected again. After all, we were a generation who was regularly being told the world was about to end: swine flu, bird flu, ebola, the climate crisis, Donald Trump – we had read about our imminent destruction many times before as editors fervently created sensational headlines to shift newspapers. So, it was only natural there was a sense of ‘here we go again’ when Covid-19 started featuring on the front pages of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

However, fast forward a couple of months and the disease had now started spreading throughout Europe. A side effect of the virus was seemingly the sudden urge to travel the world, and consequently hundreds of people had brought the virus over with them on their holidays and business trips. The north of Italy was the first region of Europe to have a mass outbreak. Almost overnight, towns and entire regions went into ‘lockdown’ – a phrase that was quickly to become one of the most spoken words of 2020. People were confined to their residences, only allowed out for ‘essential’ things such as getting groceries or medicines, as well as travelling to work (that was if your company was still open and you were not out of work or working from home). All things considered, it was the biggest change to people’s lives in peacetime, and it wasn’t long before most countries in the world were imposing tight quarantine and social distancing measures to stop the virus from tearing through the population.

There was hardly a person on earth that wasn’t negatively affected by the crisis, but it was fair to say the outbreak of Covid-19 came at a particularly bad time for me. I had just left my job with the anticipation of taking part in a lucrative medical trial and then using the money to go travel on my latest backpacking trip. With the job quit, the trial cancelled and no international travel possible for the foreseeable future, I was left in the situation of being unemployed, stuck in my apartment and having about £5000 less in my bank account than I had anticipated. Obviously there were people far worse off than me – the ones who lost businesses and, you know, those who would actually die from the virus – but it was fair to say I wasn’t jumping for joy about the emerging situation. 

Nonetheless, I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with it like everyone else. I did exactly that, spending the first few weeks of lockdown in my apartment that I was supposed to have been moving out of. Instead, I was now stuck inside that apartment for twenty-three hours a day, only going out for my one form of permitted exercise, as well as the occasional trip to the supermarket to try and buy whatever food the panic buyers had left on the shelves. It wasn’t so bad. Having been someone who delighted in my own solitude, the whole self-isolation thing came as no big deal to me. Often I had looked at the four walls and thanked them for the great guardians they were. They were the walls that kept humanity out; the walls that gave me some peace from the insanity of society. I could have happily spent months within those walls in my own company, and I quickly realised having a hermit nature was a great strength to have in the era of Covid-19. Apparently the act of having to keep yourself socially-distanced proved to be something that was the challenge of a lifetime for many. Past generations had endured world wars, civil wars, crusades, genocides, great depressions and the black death; our great crisis was having to stay inside and keep ourselves entertained with Netflix, Disney movies, social media and group video calls. The difference was almost laughable, but apparently many people couldn’t cope with actually having to be alone with their own thoughts, while also not getting their regular dose of social gratification. A part of me almost delighted in it all. All my life I had been stuck in a society that catered almost exclusively for extroverts. Introverts had always been told to be more sociable and outgoing to fit into the system, but now the tables had turned and the extroverts would have to learn to be happy in their own company to survive the lockdown. The age of the introvert had finally come and the thought of it made me sit back on my bed with a smug sort of grin. What a time to be alive it truly was.

The great global crisis of our generation continued unfolding as I kept myself busy with a routine of meditation, writing, reading and just going on seemingly endless hikes through the Youtube wilderness. Of course, I kept my eye on the situation too by regularly checking the news reports on the development of the outbreak. The death charts and infection tallies were shooting up all the time, and it had quickly gone past 9/11 to become the biggest news event in my lifetime. I was now living through history and I sat back in my lair of solitude to soak it all in. I knew people were dying from the disease and, of course, it was a tragic and sad thing; but I also couldn’t deny that a part of me also found it refreshing that something dramatic was actually happening in our everyday lives. It really was like one of those end-of-the-world movies: the sight of people wearing masks, empty town centres, skies without planes, shops without food, police patrolling the streets – they were the sort of things you only saw on a movie screen, but now you were witnessing them through your own eyes. Finally, I didn’t need to quit a job and go travelling in some dangerous country to feel like something exciting was happening. 

Still, although I found many things about the lockdown refreshing, I was not without my problems. I was living off the savings I had and not being able to find a job, I soon faced the prospect of moving back in with my parents. At the age of twenty-eight, moving back home wasn’t ideal, but if I was ever going to do it then this would be the time. Like most people my age, my happiness to a degree was built on my own independence, but strange times had arrived and I figured this would be the next step down the rabbit-hole of Covid-19. The decision was made. I packed my bags and moved back in with mommy and daddy to set up camp for the rest of the lockdown. 

Back in another city, I started looking for jobs again. Luckily there was an Amazon warehouse close to my house and I now had the opportunity to be a modern-day sweatshop worker. At this point, Amazon was comfortably the biggest company in the world. Jeff Bezos had capitalised on the age of mass consumerism by providing an online e-commerce store in which you could buy anything you could imagine under the sun, and even have it delivered to your front door within twenty-four hours of clicking the purchase button. This meant that all the ‘thing’ addicts in society now had a place where they could order whatever caught their attention that day. This would naturally be even more extreme now that people couldn’t spend their money on getting pissed in pubs and clubs. Thankfully, good citizens like me were on hand to help them get the important products they needed to survive such as celebrity autobiographies and one-litre bottles of ‘luxury anal lube’.

Sorting those products for them to be distributed for ten hours a day was how I kept myself busy during the great crisis of our lifetime. I could imagine little children asking me what I was doing during the great Covid-19 crisis of 2020. “Well, I was helping people to keep busy with acts of experimental sex,” wasn’t quite as good as saying I was fighting on the beaches of Normandy or parachuting behind enemy lines; still – it was something I guess. And besides, I actually ended up enjoying the experience of working there. I felt like I was some sort of dystopian sci-fi movie having to distance myself from fellow workers, wearing protective equipment and having to go through a temperature check every time I entered the building. It was something I knew would feature in textbooks for school children for many years to come and I made sure to stop and enjoy every moment of history unfolding around me. 

After a while of working there and waiting out the crisis, I got speaking to a girl online. Meeting girls in real life was something of a bygone age and Tinder had connected me to this girl living in the city I had just moved out of – Nottingham. She was a teacher assistant who had been ‘furloughed’ – something which meant she got paid her normal wage for sitting at home, sunbathing and drinking bottles of fruity cider. I envied her situation as I texted her while stuck inside that dark warehouse for over ten hours a day. We were soon speaking most evenings on the phone as I began to feel an attachment to someone I hadn’t even seen with my own eyes. Maybe it was the drama of the situation, or just that I was sexually frustrated due to the lockdown, but we struck a connection that I had rarely come across with another girl. She was another misfit like me; someone a bit scratched and scarred by life who loved animals and nature and fantasy movies. Fantasy was an important thing in the world of lockdown and often we imagined going on weird and random adventures. Hell, I even convinced her to write some poetry and short stories – one of which she turned into an erotic camping trip in the peak district. It was a modern sort of love story; two people separated and unable to meet from the lockdown of Covid-19, but still living out imaginary lives over internet messaging.

We continued talking online for weeks until one weekend when we arranged to break social distancing measures by meeting up for a day in the park. She drove to my city to come and meet me where we walked around and had a picnic under the trees beside a stream. Finally together, we spoke about the world and our lives and all the things we had chatted about over the phone. We then moved to the long grass and fondled before spontaneously deciding to drive back to Nottingham where we played with her dogs, watched Lord of the Rings, got drunk, ordered pizza and put an end to our lockdown sexual frustration. In the morning, I lay  by her side and watched the curtains flap beside the window. Out there was a world in the strangest state I had ever seen it; and the situation I was in seemed to fit in with the madness of the age that had arrived. I was truly living in some sort of strange dream – a surreal reality that wouldn’t have been out of place in a George Orwell novel. I imagined the future of the modern world; perhaps this random meeting would turn into something long-lasting and we’d be telling our children the story of how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I was supposed to be going travelling but with international travel looking like a shitshow for the foreseeable future, I didn’t know where the next tumble down the rabbit hole of Covid-19 world was going to take me. Life was as bizarre and unpredictable and weird as ever, and not even Donald Trump or Boris Johnson had a clue where we were all going. 

Well, for now, I guess the only thing we can do is sit back and enjoy the dystopian movie we’re living in. Let’s let the crisis play out while we all isolate ourselves away within the walls of social solitude. Let let the earth’s atmosphere and environment recover while we are all stuck inside our homes writing these books and getting drunk and watching Lord of the Rings and having sex and ordering bottles of luxury anal lube off the internet. The future is a scary thing and we no longer need to watch the sci-fi movies and episodes of dystopian series Black Mirror to see something crazy. Just pull back the curtains, look out at the world and you will find something stranger than anything from any fictional book or movie. Welcome to the world of Covid-19.

 

short stories

~ In Another Place ~

in another place

~ In Another Place ~

 “Where are you?” she asked me. 

 “What do you mean?” I said. “I’m right here.”

“No, I don’t mean it like that. Like right now, where are you? I can see that you’re standing here in front of me, but I feel like the real you is far away in another place. A place that I can’t get to. A place I can’t see or touch or reach.”

An awkward silence followed her words. I looked at her and knew exactly what she meant. I could see a sort of sad confusion in her eyes. I knew she could sense that I was not truly there in that time or place with her. She was perceptive and had a vision for those things. There was no way I could pretend to not know what she was on about. I didn’t know what to tell her and, to be honest, I wasn’t too sure of the answer anyway.

“I’m not sure where I am,” I told her. “I guess I’ve never really been sure.” She looked at me as the silence surrounded us. A few seconds passed until she turned away and we continued on with the day to forget about the moment like it never existed.

It was a poignant moment of interaction and one which stayed on my mind for a few days after. It was true that I really had no specific answer to where my true self was, but I knew that it wasn’t here of this earth. All my years I had been there walking through the requirements of life. I opened doors. I walked into rooms. I stood in front of others and let words come out of my mouth. Physically I was there, but another part of me was off roaming a place that was not of this world or dimension. Often, I got lost in it as I sat staring into space or looking wistfully out of a classroom window. In a strange way, I was merely a bystander to all that was going on around me – a sort of spirit in a surrogate body just here out of a duty imposed on me by an unknown force.

It was a state of being which left me out of sync with my surrounding environment. I found it harder than most to be a part of the world because my heart and soul was not truly in it. The places I went; the lessons I attended; the jobs I worked – it was just something I had to do to be a part of everything, but deep down my soul was relentlessly wandering through some nameless wilderness. In the meanwhile, I looked into the eyes of the others and beheld a look I just simply couldn’t relate to. They all seemed to be really there – as if they were part of the world and fundamentally belonged to it. Sometimes I wondered how obvious it was to them that the same look wasn’t in my eyes, and what they would do exactly if they knew how much of an imposter I was. 

Though the vast majority of people looked like they belonged to this world, I knew there were a few others out there who felt what I felt inside. Sometimes I thought I spotted them while out there roaming the streets. They had a specific look in their eyes – a subtle one that was often confused for someone daydreaming. They wore that look because deep within they also felt that they just didn’t belong. In their flesh and bones, they could feel a strange yearning; an inner tugging to some ineffable place far away in space and time. Since the very start of their lives, they had experienced this homesickness for a place they’d never seen or been – a place they couldn’t even describe, but somehow knew existed out there somewhere beyond the ether. Like me, they would have to speak the sentences that kept them functioning and do the things that kept them alive, but they also needed those moments of solitude and silence in which they could try to feel a connection to the home that had eluded them since birth. 

There were times when that solitude gave me moments when it felt like I was almost there. They came out of nowhere: a moment’s hiking in nature when the sunlight shone through the trees; standing on a dusk shoreline without another soul in sight; the moments when I had been writing my thoughts down in a silent room late at night. They were moments of completeness with the surrounding environment when some things at least started to connect and make sense – when I was somewhat in the right direction to heading home. But always they were short-lived and I was soon left feeling like a foreigner stranded in alien lands once again.

I read about this theory one day that we are all spirits here in human bodies, but some of us have mistakenly arrived here from another place. I think that maybe it’s true. It’s clear to me some people have crash-landed on the wrong planet, existing in the wrong age or world. Those ‘old souls’ or ‘wayward spirits’ – destined to always wander on and never feel a true attachment to the places they reside in. I dunno, it’s getting hard pretending I belong here. I guess I will keep opening those doors, walking through those rooms, speaking those words and doing those things that keep me a part of this world, but know that a part of me has all but left it a long time ago. If you ever see me staring into space with a look of longing in my eyes, know that I am man lost in the spaces of my own being – a sort of sailor out on the ocean of existence, steering my way through the storm, setting my eyes to the horizon – searching for the sight of a shore that will one day let me know what it’s like to finally walk the lands of home.

short stories

~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

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~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

“So, how’s the job going?”

“I quit,” I told him.

“You quit? why?”

 “I wasn’t able to write.”

“What do you mean you weren’t able to write?”

“I wasn’t able to write, like when I went home. I had used up all my mental energy at work.”

“So?” he said. “The job was a good opportunity for you. Who cares about the writing?”

“I do,” I said.

“But you don’t even make money off your writing. Your job had a lot of opportunities.”

“It doesn’t matter about the opportunities,” I told him. “If I’m not able to write then there’s no point to any of it.”

“I don’t understand you really. Your writing is just a hobby. You had room for progression at that place.”

“Look,” I said. “It doesn’t matter about the job or the money or the room for progression. None of that stuff fulfils me like my writing does. If the job stops me from doing that then I’ll happily leave it and struggle to get by another way. As long as I can write. That’s all that matters. As long as I can write.”

He stared at me with a confused look. I could see the cogs in his head turning as he tried to grasp my view, but after twenty seconds I could see that he had given up and dismissed me as a madman. I thought of a load of other ways I could try to explain it to him, but knowing that he was a career-focused guy whose reality and sense of self were determined by his employment and bank balance, I knew it was like trying to speak English to a goldfish. There was simply no way to convey how my happiness or value system worked. There was no way to explain how just putting some words down on a page kept me from going insane completely. After ten seconds of awkward silence, he shook his head in disbelief and walked off.

A part of me understood his confusion in all reality. I had been working the ‘proper job’ for over four weeks now. It was my first ever nine-to-five role that paid better than anything I had ever had before. My parents were happy I had finally got something stable; my friends thought that I was finally preparing to conform to the norms of society. In all honesty, I was quite happy to have some sort of stability after surviving on agency temp jobs and medical trials for a while, but I knew straight away that the job was going to twist and tear me up. Besides the main problem of losing my energy to write, a lot of the job involved speaking on the phone which was a pet hate of mine, and it also involved being concentrated and engaged for the majority of the day. I was a chronic daydreamer and didn’t want to be deprived of my daydreaming. Having to advise someone on the phone for forty minutes meant there was no way for me to go sailing off through the galaxies of my mind on my latest introspective adventure. Besides that, the whole sitting behind a desk all day in artificial lighting in an office was something that was spiritually suffocating to me. 

Typically I got accused of being depressed or anxious or something like that. But in reality, it simply wasn’t true. I actually felt amazing once I quit. I mean, I was back to being poor, but every day I woke up happy and went to sleep happy. In between, I meditated, napped, read, went for long walks and spent hours working on my writing. To be honest, I could imagine myself doing that until the day I died. I just wanted to work an easy stress-free job and have time to do the things I cared about. Naturally, to many I seemed to lack ambition, but my ambition was simply to be healthy and happy and live a simple life where I had time to explore my passions. To me it was just basic common sense, but apparently such notions were some of the things they would never understand. And of those, there had been quite a few…

“Why do you keep travelling all the time? What are you trying to prove?”

“You’re so smart. Why can’t you get a proper job?”

“Why would you rather be alone than join us at the party?”

There was only so much of being misunderstood a person could take before they went insane completely. I was a complicated person I suppose. A person guided completely by the heart with no logic. A feeler not a thinker. An idealist not a pragmatist. Turbulent and temperamental. Slightly schizophrenic to a degree; able to switch my personality and perspective as I had pleased. Someone who had no set place in society that I could easily slot myself into. Someone that even the therapists and shamans stared at with confused eyes.

Those looks of confusion struck me relentlessly as I went about life. Sometimes they struck me in social environments, sometimes at work, sometimes at family dinners. I think the one that stuck in my memory the most was when I was asked why I was so open about how I felt about life. I had been ridiculed and called weird for expressing myself so openly in the writings I published on my blog.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit strange all of the things you tell people? Don’t you think there are some things you should keep to yourself?”

“No, not really,” I said. “It makes sense to speak from the heart. If everyone did that, the world might not be as complicated as it is.”

“But it just makes things awkward. You’ll scare people off. Can’t you just act normal for once?”

“I don’t like to wear a mask. I think it leads to a world of people hiding who they really are.”

“Not everyone thinks like you do.”

“Sure they do. Everyone thinks deep about stuff, yet we just sit around talking about the weather and football and television. No one has the guts to speak about how they feel deep down. People are afraid, and so they should be. Speaking from the heart all the time automatically makes people put up barriers against you. They keep you at a distance. They don’t accept you. Humanity isn’t ready for a world of people not wearing their masks and speaking straight from the heart. Because I do this, I am cast out and categorised as the insane one. Don’t you realise how absolutely stupid that is? That I am the outsider because I just speak up about how I feel? In the meanwhile, the people who are fake and insincere attract the most people toward them…”

They looked at me in total silence. As usual, I could see the cogs turning in their heads. I thought maybe my luck was in and they would understand my perspective for once, but a few more seconds passed and I was dismissed as a madman once again. My view was simply the comical ranting of a lunatic to them – something that belonged to another time or place or universe. It was something that I found frustrating and damaging beyond words. When you pour out your truth and your heart and it appears as incoherent nonsense to another, then that is the moment when the loneliness strikes you greater than ever. I didn’t even think what I was saying was difficult to comprehend and understand. I just wanted a world where people were authentic and genuine; where people didn’t sell off parts of themselves to fit into the crowd. I tried to explain this to them but they just didn’t want to hear it. My values were so horrifically different from those of society that I knew I was doomed and destined to be an outcast until the end of my days. Deep down, I knew that I was never to be understood totally, but I had this vision – this dream if you will – that one day if I could write down everything correctly, and become good enough at the art of arranging words into sentences and stories, that people may be able to get a glimpse into my reality. Perhaps then there would be some level of understanding of the world I lived in; perhaps then those looks of dismissal could turn into looks of understanding. Ultimately, it was this reason why I sat alone at a keyboard for hours every day. The pain of being so misunderstood made my heart scream out, and I guess fundamentally that was the reason why writing was the most important thing in my life. The reason my fingertips fought relentlessly for freedom. The reason I stayed up late pouring my heart onto a page. The reason you’re reading these words right now.

To try and make them understand,

the things they’d never understand.

 

short stories

~ The Age of Anxiety ~

alien nation

~ The Age of Anxiety ~

The age of anxiety they called it. This mental health problem was now the most listed disability of all – the biggest reason people took time off work and study. Social anxiety. Social bloody anxiety. Your mum had it. Your best friend had it. Your cats and your dogs and your goldfish had it. There it was causing dread in the minds of so many good people out there just trying to get through life whatever way they could. Clearly we had become too connected, too convoluted. All the expectations and cultural influences one was supposed to live up to. All the things that hung on your shoulders. The fact you were relentlessly characterised and labelled. The fact your body was viewed by thousands of pairs of judgmental eyes every day. Throw into this social media and a general sense of dread that came from the news media basically telling you that the world was coming to an end, then it was only natural that people were riddled with an anxiety of some kind.

The feeling was ubiquitous and, like many millennials, I suffered from it. There were many times that a dark room of isolation seemed a better alternative to going out there and joining in with the madness of the world. In my mind, modern society was essentially a giant mental asylum where people had been sent insane by a combination of media, advertisements, smartphones, peer pressure, expectations and the general ridiculousness and mindless behaviour that being in a crowd of any kind caused. As Frederich Nietzsche once said: “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” That collective insanity of society led to situations where you were expected to participate in small-talk regarding work colleagues and television shows, rather than discuss meaningful and worthwhile things. If you didn’t then the eyes of the crowd fell on you as if you were in some sort of play and not reciting your lines properly.

I thought back to the first time I started experiencing social anxiety. I was twenty-four and returned home from a long backpacking trip. For almost two years, I had lived a life of easygoing adventure before arriving straight back into the rat race. One week I went to a packed pub on a Sunday night; it was a bank holiday the following day so many were out celebrating their extra day of freedom. There I stood at the bar listening to the conversations and feeling more foreign that I had on my world trip. For some reason, I couldn’t find any common ground with anyone I spoke to. Their conversations left me out the circle and I was even mocked for wearing casual clothing and working in a supermarket. It was something that struck me deep. To feel like an alien in your own home town was a surreal and scary experience. As the night went on, I could feel the eyes and judgment of the people around me. They knew I wasn’t one of them; that I was not reciting their script and dancing to their beat. For the first time in my life, I could feel my body shake anxiously as if I was being attacked by some sort of virus. It was like I needed the isolation to save myself from the feeling of being eaten up by the crowd. In the end, it was all too much; I left the bar early and realised that I was now suffering from the phenomenon of social anxiety.

I thought about that situation and tried to work out why such a condition existed. My theory was that social anxiety existed because society couldn’t tolerate anyone who deviated from the norms of the group. Culture behaved and spread almost in the same way as a biological virus. It was as if every person who conformed to the dominant values and behaviours of the culture was an individual cell in that collective virus. Whenever the other humans saw someone who was a bit different and out of sync with their cultural coding, their glares would fall on them and they were targeted in the same way virus cells targeted other cells when infecting a host. Such insidious hostility thus invoked anxiety into the cell that hasn’t been converted to the culture. That shaking feeling you feel when you feel the judgement and ridicule of the crowd is the culture trying to convert you to become another cell in the collective. As Philosopher Alan Watts once put it: “our society shows anxiety because it cannot tolerate the existence of people who don’t belong.”

So then, if this is truly the case, it seems to me that you have two choices to stop the social anxiety. You either let yourself be taken over by the crowd and convert to their norms and behaviours (thus alleviating the anxiety because now you’re in sync with the others), or you isolate yourself from them completely to stop yourself from feeling the dread. To quote another philosopher (for the last time, I promise): “The cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation.” – Terence Mckenna

When I thought about it, a certain level of alienation didn’t seem like not too bad of an option. I was lucky enough to be at peace in my own company. In fact, in all honesty, most of the time I wanted nothing more than to be alone anyway. In solitude, you could hear yourself think straight and dedicate yourself fearlessly to your own interests. Besides, the more I interacted with the others, the more I felt myself being screwed up at some sort of fundamental level. By just being myself in a group, I was rejected and cast out. People scared me with how judgmental and superficial they were when in social environments. I remember speaking to a friend of a friend who was a successful football pundit for the BBC. When she asked me what I was up to,  she scoffed and rolled her eyes when I told her that I was currently working in a factory – something I found amusing the next day when she posted on social media about the importance of understanding the mental health of others. It truly was a madhouse out there and – when you had a super-sensitive personality as I did – the superficial and shallow nature of society was just simply too much, especially when the bullshit came flying from you relentlessly at all angles. There in those social settings you had people judging, labelling and staring at you from every angle; you had people wanting you to gratify their egos by reciprocating their world views; you had people that pressured you to participate in meaningless conversations just to maintain the bonds of camaraderie among your fellow man.

Like I said, it was one big mental asylum for me anyway, so I retreated into the darkness – into the darkness of my room and the darkness of my mind. I wanted to hold onto my individuality and keeping myself distanced from the masses was a reasonable price to pay. And in truth, I didn’t see my social anxiety as a problem anyway. To me, our current society was the problem, and I think that if anyone were truly sane, then they would also feel anxiety when surrounded by a species that acts so crazy and irrationally whenever they congregate together in groups. Watts, Nietzsche, Mckenna and all those other alienated philosophers knew the score. The strongest men are those most alone and I will keep living to that motto. To anyone else out there still getting social anxiety, my personal advice is just to avoid the crowd as much as you can. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your anxiety is not a disorder. It just means you still have some sanity and want to keep it. And make no mistake about it: in this society, frequent social interaction is enough to send any sane man insane.

 

short stories

~ Holding On ~

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~ Holding On ~

A new chapter had arrived and I was living in Nottingham – a new city for me to make my mark and perhaps finally integrate myself into human society. The quest hadn’t gotten off to a good start. I was hungover, pissing blood, unemployed – lying on my bed trying to summon the strength to get up and face the world. I reached over and grabbed my CV from the bedside desk. It was a bigger mess than ever. Twenty-seven-years-old and I had never worked a full-time job. Most of my peers had an employment history of structure and sanity and sensibility; what was on mine was scraps of part-time employment intermixed with huge gaps where I had been bumming around the world or living off medical trials. From an employer’s point of view, it was nothing but mess and madness. I put it back down on the desk and looked down at my body: skinnier than usual since my recent decision to become a vegetarian. A scar on my left knee reminded me of the time when I had drunkenly fallen into a basement in Spain. Another one reminded me of getting beat up by a group of guys after kissing someone’s girlfriend. 

The scratches and scars weren’t just on my skin, but etched into my heart and soul too. I could feel a throbbing pain within me slowly succumbing to the inevitable; the entropy of the universe slowly wearing me down little by little, piece by piece. It was true that holding it together was harder year by year. Half-way through my twenties and I had let myself drift far away from a normal, healthy life. I was now out on the fringes of sanity and society; of self-destruction and madness. I felt alone in my grim fate but I couldn’t help but walk the streets and wonder how many others were also out there trying to hold on to that ledge too. How many people had faced those morning mirrors while trying to summon the strength to face another day? How many people also felt disconnected from the world around them? How many people were also holding on to whatever it was that was momentarily saving them from drowning in the abyss?

Indeed, some days the sadness of those streets was too much. You could see it in the passing faces. The struggle of everyday life. The dreams and desires that had been suppressed. The people mindlessly drifting down the sidewalks of life, following someone else’s path and not their own. Maybe I was just an angsty young man projecting my own problems onto others, but a part of me could feel the weight of this society tearing everyone apart from the inside out. Our modern civilisation had left so many of us gutted and debauched. It seemed that very few of those humans were doing well to me. Most were ‘getting by’ or ‘making ends meet’. Some were pretending that everything was great with fake smiles and social media posts, but in reality, most were living lives of quiet desperation and spiritual emptiness. Other than them you had the madmen and maniacs who made no secret about their wretched fate. You only had to go to the town centre to see them wandering aimlessly down those streets, shouting and swearing at skies above in an attempt to vent their inner pain. Looking at those dejected creatures, I sometimes felt a sort of affinity toward them: a part of me suspected that their fate was my fate. My manic mind just couldn’t be reprogrammed to the type that could put up with the trivia of everyday life. Once you had lived a certain way and saw society from a certain angle, there was just no way to make your way back to the safe farm of social sanity. No way to accept the small-talk and watch the televisions and cast the fake smiles and bullshit the job interviews. 

I thought I had let go of that life forever but I met a man one day while coming home from the pub who made me realise I had to try and hold onto it a little more. There he was lying there beside his own vomit, sipping a two-litre bottle of cider, asking me for change. I gave him some then sat down beside him. We started speaking and he told me how he was a student just a few years ago before deciding to abandon his studies and start bumming around the world. Specifically, he told me about his travels in Asia and how he had come back home and fallen into hard times with no friends or family to support him. His tale caused a strange and uneasy feeling in my stomach. The more I listened to his story, the more I realised that his path had been the same as my path. The travelling, the isolation – the abandonment of education and indifference with society. The similarities made me wonder if that was where I was also heading. The spaces of the down and out? The vomit-stained gutters? The idea of it scared me so much that I ran back home and got to work on finding some sort of employment. 

Back in my apartment room, I opened up that laptop and loaded my CV. I stared at that page and tried to think how I could possibly stitch together the chaos of the last years of bohemian madness. I quickly came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to fabricate this document which acted as a passport to a healthy life of employment and social acceptance amongst peers and parents. I extended some dates and started applying for as many jobs as possible. All types of jobs. Office jobs. Bar jobs. Even journalism jobs from my degree I hadn’t used in the last five years. I flung my application out into the professional wilderness hoping some human resource manager would bite. The rejections and non-replies predictably came in thick and fast. Even with all the adjustments, my work history was a total disaster and I was now a ‘red flag’ for most employers – understandably I guess. 

Eventually, I decided to head to an industrial work agency and let myself get a menial job of some kind. Specifically it was a job in a metal fabrication factory. Almost anyone could do this sort of work; you merely did a repetitive task that a machine would eventually do once the technology had developed. There was no intellect required and the minimum wage pay reflected this. That was okay. It was something at least and I didn’t need much money; just enough to get by and give myself some time alone to work on my writing when I got home. I got started on the job, working eight to five, Monday to Friday. My time there involved standing on a factory line and helping to grind down pieces that came out the machine. Little bits of metal protruded from the corners and I simply had to grind the roughness down to something smooth. I admired the irony of my role and wondered if I could perhaps turn the machine on myself. 

It was a long day of mind-numbing work and by the time I got home, I only had just a few hours to myself to try and wake myself up to do something. My plan, of course, was to write myself into stardom, but often I was too tired and just slumped on my bed and stared at the ceiling. It was my space of solitude and the silence of the room allowed many thoughts to run through my head. A part of just still couldn’t understand how so many people submitted themselves to this routine all their lives. The relentless work five days a week for a weekend that flew by. And, of course, few people did anything with their weekend other than try to cheer themselves up with highstreet shopping or drinking. In the blink of an eye, it was Monday morning again and you were back there in the workplace staring into space and facing another long week of mindless work.

That mindless work continued in the metal fabrication factory until they suddenly ran dry. I collected my last paycheck and went back to the agency to see what gruel they had on their menu. After sitting in front of a smug young recruitment agent talking about his new watch, I was given the assignment of helping out at an old pet food factory. I knew I wasn’t qualified for much in this world, but this was a new low even by my standards. Consider the fact that the factory was a one hour commute away too, and that ten per cent of my wage would be eaten up by the bus fare, it was safe to say I wasn’t feeling too great with the situation at hand.

Still, I needed to get some money to avoid joining the homeless man on the vomit-stained sidewalks, so I sucked it up and got to work. Walking into the factory for the first time, I was greeted immediately with the overpowering smell of pet food. It was a stench that quickly ingrained itself into your clothes, skin and soul. I was told that I would get used to it. Lucky me. On the way to see the manager, I walked past a ‘waste bucket’ where damaged or out-of-date packets of cat food had been chucked in. Maybe some smells you could get used to, but not that one. That was the smell of death and maggots and madness. That was the smell straight from the depths of hell.

After a quick conversation with the manager, I was put on a conveyor-belt line where I was to load up cans of dog food that would be stripped and relabelled. It was about the same level of skill involved as the last job – i.e. none at all. While I worked, I would look around at everyone in the factory. Some had worked with the machines so long they had become mechanical themselves. Their cogs in their brain moved the same robotic way, their conversations were mechanised, their behaviour automatic. You could tell who were the ones who had been there the longest due to how little light came from their eyes. This was it: the murdering machine of the mundane. People who had worked and existed in menial jobs so long that the feeling of life had all but left their veins. And it wasn’t just the dead-end jobs where this happened. It also happened in graduate jobs. In the office jobs. Even the high-paying, high-rise jobs. The people in those often became so absorbed in bureaucracy and systems that they soon lost their souls. You could see it in the faces of most CEOs and politicians; very little humanity remained in their eyes. They had been converted to some sort of thinking, calculating machines of the system.

But where else to turn to? I wondered again. The homeless laid on those sidewalks and those bills needed to be paid. I, of course, had the classic writer’s dream that one day some big hotshot editor would stumble across my work and I’d be selling millions worldwide. There in Rolling Stone magazine interviews I would sit and tell my story about how I crawled out of the drudgery and darkness to emerge clean on the other side of my dream. It was total delusion of course, but we all needed a little bit of delusion to make life bearable I guess. It’s when we gave up on our dreams altogether that the murdering machine took the fatal blow. You emptied out and rotted away like those out-of-date cans of dog food. Holding onto a dream was what kept some sort of spirit for life, and the importance of it was something I was continually reminded of while speaking to the only friend I had in the pet food factory. He was a forty-seven-year-old man who had been through a lot of jobs after being made redundant from his software developing job in London. He had gone from a high-paying job to now earning the minimum wage in that factory of doom. It was a situation he naturally wasn’t too happy with and every day he told me about how he was developing his own computer game in his spare time to try and get himself back into working in his passion. The smell of rotting pet food had spurred him on not to give up on and there he was: another man fighting to hold on and not let himself be murdered by that mundane machine that stole the light from so many eyes and the fight from so many hearts. 

That man stirred something in me and motivated me to go home and also toil away at my dream. To not let myself empty out slowly through a life of incessant and trivial routine. To write my way into some sort of glory and escape. I was trying to hold on the best I could but sometimes the horror of my situation led me back to the bottle. I’d go on weekend benders blowing all my money before staring into mirrors and seeing the sanity slowly slipping from my eyes. It soon spiralled out of control to the point where I drank myself to sleep most nights, trying to forget about the horror of my circumstance. Some nights my loneliness hit me and I’d go out to a club alone to find a girl which naturally was notably harder to do when you told them you worked in a pet food factory.

One day a new drama came my way: my laptop started refusing to charge. It would only plugin and provide power, but not actually charge the computer. Consequently, the battery started to drop down slowly and slowly by one percent a day on average. That laptop was my portal to another place and soon I would no longer even be able to write away my immortal stories – the one thing that was keeping me from losing my mind altogether. The universe had spoken and that battery was running down its course to complete destruction. I had to laugh at the symbolic nature of it all. Like me, it was becoming more and more depleted as I fought to keep my soul alive in a society which relentlessly looked to stomp it into submission. It is a reality that faces most of us out there and – as the fingers bleed in the factories, as the stressed workers tightly grip the steering wheels in the morning commute, as the fifty-year-old man works on his computer game till late at night; as the pills are swallowed and the powder snorted; as the bills arrive through the post and the prayers are not answered – so many of us are holding on in some way or another to stop ourselves from emptying out. Clutching onto beer bottles, or pills, or bags of powder. Clinging onto delusions and dreams. Clinging onto the hope in our hearts as we face the darkness of the Monday morning at work once again. 

Clinging onto the words of a short story that nobody will probably ever read. Well, I guess I’m not letting go just yet.

short stories

~ Why ~

solitude

~ Why? ~

The dream faded from sight as my eyes opened to the reality of my room. I didn’t bother to check the time, but the light penetrating the small gap in between my curtains made it clear once again: another day of existence had begun. 

I lay flat and limp on my bed, casting my eyes outward toward the window. Suddenly I felt a shudder surge through my body. I knew that out there beyond that glass the human race was preparing for another day of battle. Right now alarm clocks were bleeping, ties were being tightened, ignitions being turned and traffic jams forming. Soon the workstations would be manned, fake smiles would be cast, hands shook, lies told, deals made – economic and political doctrines successfully enforced and followed. On the streets the pedestrians would be marching along those grey sidewalks pulled along by some vague meaning and purpose for life. Their hands would be clutching and clinging onto briefcases, or shopping bags, or lottery tickets, or holy books, or beer bottles, or prescription medicines, something – anything. Throughout the course of their day advertisements would be consumed, newspapers read and lies believed. Meanwhile the politicians and businessmen would be sat in offices plotting and conspiring the latest activities of corruption and self-interest. 

Such ferocious absurdity was not just taking place in this city, or this country, or this continent, but across the entire goddamn planet. The thought of what was out there was enough to turn my face into my pillow and retreat into my own dark cave of isolation. Humanity and its strange ways were as relentless as the English rain, and burying my head in the sand often seemed like a good alternative to going out there and joining in with the madness. Unfortunately my existence on planet earth was subject to the concept of money. My temporary peace and solitude was afforded by the few remaining pounds I had in my bank account which had been continually dwindling down and down to the last three digits. A gradual realisation had been dawning on me and I knew that there was no avoiding it any longer. It was time. My name had been called; my letter of conscription typed. I knew it was time to go out there and join the war, to face the firing squad – to let myself be beaten and bludgeoned by the companies and bosses and executives.

I got out of bed, got dressed and headed into the kitchen of my flat. There my roommate was cooking breakfast. He glanced at me with a judgmental look.  “So what are you going to do today?” he said. “Have you started looking for a job yet? You know that our rent is due tomorrow right?” 

     “I started looking a few days ago” I lied. “I should have something sorted out for the end of the week.” 

     “That’s great, but you have the money for rent right?”

     “Yes.”

    “And also for the bills – the internet and electricity?”

     “Yes.” 

He nodded in satisfaction and carried on moving erratically around the cooker. I grabbed my cereal from a cupboard and began pouring a bowl, trying to avoid further conversation with him. I didn’t really have anything against him, it’s just that frankly talking to him was a strained affair for all parties involved. To be honest I often wondered how I had ended up cooped up with this creature in a small flat. He was a strange one. For one he happened to be the only gay person I knew who opposed the gay marriage (on account of his Christian faith). When I moved in he had claimed he was a people person but that started to seem dubious when he came home every day angry and sour-faced from his bus driving job telling me how much he hated everyone in this town. “Those fucking people!” he would curse as he recalled his day to me. “I want to kill those fucking people!” He once devised a grand plan to escape to Austria to live a quiet life in the mountains, but that had failed and had left him come crawling back to England with sad and bewildered eyes. I kinda felt sorry for the damn guy to be honest. Here he was: unhappily single, balding, thirty-five, and had already spent his entire youth stressing and butchering away his best years. It was obvious he was lost, but that was okay – everybody was secretly lost in some way, it’s just that some people hid it a little better than others.

I finished making my cereal and retreated to the lounge to eat alone at the table. I sat down with my laptop beside me. After a few minutes of mindlessly staring into the vacuum of space and time, a thought entered my brain. I decided that I better search the latest job adverts; I did need a job after all. I started searching and for a moment I was quite optimistic; I imagined that maybe there would be something out there that interested me. Perhaps working in the local national parks outside the city, or doing something somewhere in solitude. Precious solitude – yes, yes, that would be enough! But predictably the search returned nothing of the kind. The majority of jobs were commission-based sales jobs which were designed for charismatic extroverts who could bark their way to scamming some senile elderly person out of their retirement savings. I could imagine some goblin-eyed boss putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me “good job kiddo” after conning some eighty-year-old out of her rainy day fund. Besides the sales jobs there were also some retail vacancies, which of course meant interacting with hordes of humans throughout the day. In the end, I gave up and decided I’d just go to the employment agency to see what grool they had on their own menu. I closed my laptop, slumped back into my chair and stared out of the window. 

As I looked out into the skies above the surrounding apartment blocks and houses, I suddenly started to feel a bit down about everything. The whole thought of going out there and joining in with the human race filled me with dread and despair. Why couldn’t life just be a fun adventure, I wondered once more. It was a thought that went through my mind at least one hundred and twenty-seven times a day. Often I’d find myself getting philosophical about everything and lamenting the banality of everyday life. I mean, you couldn’t get away from it. Every day the average human-being was awakened by an alarm clock to again face the absurdity of citizen-based existence. Here you were: an intelligent being that floated through space on a twirling, organic spaceship in a universe filled with black-holes, shooting stars and infinite horizons. And yet you were subjected by gravity and government to live in a world of monotony and mediocrity. Instead of sailing through the cosmos, you’d stutter through traffic jams; instead of exploring the earth, you’d explore supermarket aisles; instead of writing poetry, you’d write up tax-returns. Why was it like this, I wondered over a bowl of sugar-free, low-fat cornflakes.

articles · short stories

~ The Comfortable Life ~

the comfortable life

~ The Comfortable Life ~

I stood at the top of the hill above the city, looking out at the sprawling concrete jungle before me. It was a world our hunter-gatherer ancestors could not have imagined in their wildest dreams. A whole society living indoors, buying processed and packaged meat from supermarkets, getting everything delivered to their front door and communicating with each other via satellite signals. Lives lived behind desks staring at screens rather than sunsets, chasing promotions rather than prey, climbing career ladders rather than mountains. Lives of sedentary comfort but existential pain; lives of technological development but spiritual emptiness. A life – ultimately – not for me.

It had been just two weeks working an office job and sitting behind a desk all day only to come home to my apartment and sit and stare at another screen. Already I was beginning to see how I was slowly being moulded and melded down into a life of systematic routine. Each morning I awoke at the same time to the alarm clock. I then walked to work and watched the same cars stutter through the traffic jams. The day, on the whole, played out exactly the same as the last one without any real surprise or novelty. This is how it was for masses of people out there: each day sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen before you came home and sank into a sofa to watch yet another screen. Gradually you sank so far into that sofa that your dreams and desires disappeared down the sides. The curtains were drawn along with your creativity and curiosity. From society’s point of view, you were an accepted member of civilisation who had found your groove in the grand scheme of things. You fitted neatly into the system and your life became some sort of well-polished pair of shoes, shiny car or well-groomed lawn outside a suburban home. Things were pretty on the face of things, yet beneath that superficial surface, the spirit began to wane. Too much comfort killed a person. Murdered them. Left them with a tamed spirit and an idle mind. Left them unable to think for themselves.

It was the way of modern society that was now accepted as ‘the real world’. Personally I felt it was a hollow existence but what was the alternative? Running off into the wilderness often seemed like a good option. Sure, I knew that the wilderness was full of things that wanted to kill you. Storms could drown you. Mountains could freeze your toes. Rocks could break your bones. Animals could poison you and tear your flesh apart. It wasn’t quite the easy everyday existence of modern life no doubt, but it seemed a sacrifice that was worth making sometimes. I thought back to my hiking trips in the Himalayas. There were times where my adventures had led me to the precipice of death and destruction; there were times where the feet blistered and my brain ached with apprehension and doubt. But, in those times, there was something that stirred my soul and made the blood flow through full-speed through my veins. That something was a something that was extremely difficult to find in the everyday life of the citizen in modern Western society – a something that just didn’t seem compatible with the life expected of you by your peers and parents.

Of course, the consumer capitalists argue that anyone who thinks differently should go back to the prehistoric ages and live in a cave and hunt boar with a spear or something. They’d argue you’d live twice as long now as you did back then when we didn’t have our comfortable lives, cubicles, smartphones and our takeaway delivery systems. It was a reasonable argument I guess, but I could see people who have made it to eighty yet not lived at all. People stuck in lives that led to obesity, heart disease and vitamin depletion from being stuck inside all day. Then came the mental health problems that this society caused. The anxiety, stress, depression and quiet desperation that haunted the hearts of so many people out there. Seemingly there is a price to pay for all our industrial development; there is something that is twisting and tearing us up because deep down we know that we were not meant to live this way. Our evolution has taken us to a weird place where we now don’t have to worry about dying of disease at thirty-five, but instead we work jobs we don’t like and use that money to pay for therapy and drown our sorrows at the weekend.

As always, I kept my eyes open and looked to find a way to liberate myself from the entrapments of the system. I was from the U.K and there wasn’t much wilderness around apart from the odd country park. So my plan was just to keep saving up some money to afford myself some far-off adventure every now and again to remind myself that it was to be truly alive. That was the trick I had been doing so far, and it seemed to work, always reinvigorating my soul with a sense of life that was sorely missed in the monotony of the work routine. That spell of chaotic adventure every year was truly valuable, and I knew it would be the thing to reach for whenever I felt my spirit slowly being sucked and swallowed up by that sofa of submission.

That sofa of submission was always waiting for you and the thought of it made me recall an elderly guy I used to serve in the supermarket I used to work at. Like me, his life and happiness were dependent on a bit of adventure. He had kept himself in great shape all his life due to regularly going mountaineering, running and on long cross-country bike rides. One day he was up in Scotland when he had a bike accident which permanently damaged his right hip and leg. Consequently, at the age of seventy, his days of venturing out into the wilderness had come to an abrupt end. He was now left to embrace the comfortable life. We spoke often about life in the store while I told him about the latest adventure I had planned and he told me about his new state of being. He wasn’t suicidal or something, but I could sense a sadness in his voice. Confined to his small bungalow, his life was now dependent on television, reading and the same old walk around the neighbourhood. Consequently, I could see that once blazing light in his eyes slowly begin to fade. He was now one of the many comfortable souls out there and the special energy he had had before the accident quickly began to fade. 

Still, at least he had tasted the thrill of an adventure for the majority of his life, which was not something said for many people out there. So many will never know the beauty of jumping the fence of security and allowing themselves to become a little scratched and scarred by the rugged wilderness. So many will never taste the joy of not knowing what is around the next corner or where you will sleep that night. Such a way of life is becoming increasingly alien and the comfortable, sedentary life will only get worse from here. Soon the sex robotos will be here and people will no longer even leave their houses. Soon the food will come through pipes in the ground like water and gas. Soon the Amazon drones will deliver your latest gadgets and gizmos through your window and we will all lie on sofas working from our computers. The wilderness will disappear from the earth’s surface as well as in the majority of people’s hearts. Our souls will be paved and tarmacked over. Our minds will be connected to the internet and there will be no unique or original thought anywhere. Life will become easy and safe and predictable and boring beyond words.

It’s a way of life increasingly hard to avoid but I guess I’ll just keep resisting the system and letting myself get lost in the wild every now and again. I know, I know. Those rocks can break your bones, storms can drown you, mountains freeze your toes and animals poison you and tear your flesh apart. If I die early on some mountain-path, please know I died content with the thought I at least knew what it was to taste the thrill of adventure. That I had explored the unknown and not let myself be spiritually murdered by the mundane. This is the way life that will keep me alive to the end; a way of life that will see me happy to bid it farewell when my time is done. Not a slow and safe march to the grave down a grey highway of routine, television and weekend drinking, but a thrilling run through the wilderness that leaves you screaming for more.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine – it’s lethal.” – Paulo Coehlo