short stories

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

A brain overcharged by absurdity; a soul starving for something real. Another day of menial work and superficial interaction had left me craving a space of solitude. Like I had so many times before, I took myself up to that hill that overlooked my hometown. Standing above that urban expanse with its rows and rows of streets sprawled out before me, I cast my gaze outward and watched the city lights shimmering in the night. There they were: the flames of humanity flickering in the abyss of the universe; the human race floating through space, going about its transient existence. I stood there for a while and absorbed the sight. From the outside looking in, I thought of all those people living in those houses, walking those sidewalks, staring into those televisions and bathroom windows. I thought of the families at dinner tables, the lovers entwined on sofas, the friends laughing together in the bars and clubs and restaurants.

In that moment a great feeling of isolation crashed over me. In vivid detail, I began to realise just how much I was cut adrift, floating uncontrollably further and further away from those shores of human belonging. And no matter how I looked at it, there seemed to be no way to pull or anchor myself back in. It had always been this way from a young age it seemed. The times I tried to fit myself into the herd had torn and twisted me up beyond repair. I simply didn’t understand my fellow species, or any of their customs. I didn’t understand the conventions. I didn’t understand the expectations and traditions. I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to be the same rather than live a life true to themselves. It was all a great mystery to me: the jobs, the media, the school-system, the paperwork, the small-talk, the religions – the monotonous routine. It seemed that I was allergic to it all. In my most desperate times, I did try to fake it, but like an undercover alien with a bad cover story, it was never long before people cast their looks of bewilderment upon me, before they realised that I was not one of them – that I was an intruder.

It’s not that the situation of isolation was completely soul-destroying, of course. There was a great joy to be found in sailing your own ship, in walking your own path and getting lost among your own mountains of madness. Often I felt great pleasure in not being labelled and closed in to some sort of box of limitation. There was a sort of freedom that many people never got to taste, let alone fully explore. But still despite that, I was burdened with the situation of being a human-being, and like all human-beings I needed to stare into the eyes of someone who understood – of someone who recognised me for who I really was. I guess for a while on my travels I looked out for those people, expecting to find them on sunset beaches and sitting wistful-eyed in smoky bars in foreign lands. Sometimes I was even lucky to find one or two, but the interactions were usually short-lived, lasting only a few hours or days at the most. Like captains of two ships briefly passing by in a wide ocean, we stared into each other’s eyes and exchanged knowing glances before disappearing silently into the mist.

Yes, the more I stood there on that hill and thought about it, the more it seemed this was the destiny of someone like myself. The cards had been dealt and I knew deep down in my flesh and bones that it was my fate to sail alone, to get lost in the mazes of my own mind, to dwell in solitude among those mountains of madness. This was how it was; for some reason I would never fully understand, this is how it was. I guess by now it was just a matter of acceptance: a matter of accepting that I was a lone wanderer – a matter of accepting that I didn’t belong. I guess by now it was a matter of accepting the fact that no matter where I went in this world, I would always return to those hills above the cities, standing alone, staring up into the skies, looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.

short stories

~ Voicing Your Truth ~

the fighter

I sat alone in my bedroom, staring blankly at the wall, listening to music playing from my laptop on the desk beside me. The usually reliable combination of solitude and ambient music could not bring me any peace. It had been another day of absurdity and my mind was plagued with thoughts. As I stared into space I wondered why couldn’t I just tell them all how I felt? Why couldn’t I speak up about this hollow life I was stuck in? Why couldn’t I get the truth inside of me out into plain sight?

Such thoughts weighed heavy on my mind. I considered reaching for my phone and ringing some people. I thought of confessing my madness, of writing my notice of resignation – of messaging her and telling her how I really felt. What a joy it would have been to see the wings of truth taking flight. But as usual there was a strange force that constricted me. Once again, I was back in that private prison of expression which I knew too well. All the words and sentences that should have been spoken were still trapped inside my head, and they were angry and resentful about remaining imprisoned. Those expressions of truth began to riot and kick at the walls of my skull. They scraped and they brawled; they set fires and screamed. It was a war of words in there, and the chaos and anarchy ensued until the point where I had to take myself out for a walk in the city to try and steady the storm.

I exited the apartment block and began walking westward toward the city centre. As I started walking I stared into the eyes of everyone passing me. Along those sidewalks I saw fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. I saw husbands and wives; the poor and the rich; the young and the old. It was true that likely many of those people were happy, even content with their lives, but I couldn’t help but think of the other ones out there. I couldn’t help but think of the ones who were silently fighting battles behind tired eyes and forced smiles; behind cluttered desks and tightly-gripped steering wheels. I couldn’t help but try to spot the people drifting down those sidewalks in quiet desperation – all the lonely eyes of secretly starving souls trapped in private prisons from which they could not escape. Each street I turned down, each person I passed, my mind considered all the many truths which have remained unspoken, all the love letters that were never sent, all the notices of resignation not handed in to jobs that slowly murdered the people employed in them. Was it just me who stayed silent about the things most important? How many people like me were out there? And is this what was normal: for people to silence their truth just out of the convenience of not disturbing everyone else with the rugged face of their true self?

The more I stared into those eyes and faces and thought about it, the more certain I was that in this world one could fill entire libraries with all the words of truth that have never been shared, but rather kept locked inside hearts and minds that eventually decayed into dust, leaving those words and the consequences of them forever lost in some great eternal unknown. I was sure there were cemeteries all around me where the grounds were haunted by the ghosts of the lives that were not really lived because people were too afraid to simply stand and speak up for themselves. No doubt across this forsaken planet there were millions and millions of people who had brought their truth to the grave out of fear of judgement from friends and relatives and lovers and neighbours and work colleagues.

It was a sad thought, but who the hell was I to pass judgement? I was no doubt worse them than all. I kept quiet in crowds of fools. I bit my tongue in moments of injustice. I couldn’t tell the girl I loved how I felt. I had words of comfort to offer to desperate people but failed to voice them. I was afraid – I was afraid like them too. The only time I felt like I could truly express myself was when I was sat alone in a dark room pouring the contents of my mind onto a blank page which would never be read by anyone. I was just as screwed up as the rest of them. The society had silenced me too, and all that was left to do was stab at keyboard keys in the hope that just writing all this stuff down would somehow keep me from completely falling into the pits of madness.

Meanwhile as people like me sat in silent darkness, the idiots of the world shouted out. Meanwhile the sociopaths and liars barked their way to top of society and soulless politicians confidently spat out meaningless sound bites at an entire nation. “Strong and stable; strong and stable; strong and stable!!” As I looked out at that jungle of barking idiots, I realised that there was no room out there for me to share my truth – to spill the contents of my soul. The words I had inside of me did not belong to that crazy and confusing world out there. Instead they sit typed on documents on a computer hard-drive never to be read by anyone. They stalk and haunt the hallways of my mind. They riot against the walls of my skull.

But sometimes you know out on those streets I hear voices and get brave. I hear the ghosts of the dead whisper in my ear. They tell me go on: speak your heart now while you’re alive. Be yourself. Tell your story. Share your words. Life is not a rehearsal so live your life like you goddamn mean it. Where we have failed, you will succeed.

Listening in to those haunting voices, I imagined myself working up some bravery, in handing in that resignation – in confessing my madness and ringing her to tell her how I felt. It was a nice thought but in the end I didn’t do it. The thought passed and I retreated back to my apartment. I retreated back to my cave of darkness to sit alone at my computer – to dwell in solitude, to dwell in silence – to hit the keys of a grubby keyboard and hope that someone out there, somewhere, understood me.

short stories · thoughts

~ Back in the Fog ~

fog
~ Back In The Fog ~

Sometimes it just comes out of nowhere. One day you’ll be strolling down the streets of life, completely content with how things are, then suddenly the light starts to dwindle and you find yourself back in the fog. It is a state of being which is mostly referred to as depression. For me, depression for me was never about feeling down or sad. Rather it was a sort of void where just to feel something would have been welcome; even feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and melancholy were desirable when you were depressed, because that was at least feeling, and I felt that true depression is an overwhelming emptiness inside – a complete sense of nothingness – and this was the most soul-destroying thing a human could experience. A life without light, or feeling, or hope, or desire. Just a senseless, barren wilderness where you lingered like a ghost in the fog without any light to lead you home. And even if you were to speak to someone about it, you couldn’t even put your finger on what exactly the problem was. Your life may have appeared to be fine based on external appearances; but, of course, as we knew from the rich and famous were commiting suicide, depression did not discriminate based on aesthetic factors, and appearances could be dangerously deceiving. 

For me, my first period of depression began for me sometime around thirteen. Out of nowhere life became empty, and the only thing I looked forward to was sleeping. And even when I was smiling and laughing, I was broken inside, a drifter of life, not really there at all – not really anywhere. Just existing in some hollow and automatic way. And of course you can’t tell anyone how you feel, because you feel ashamed to feel that way, and all teenagers are depressed they say, but I wasn’t sure how true that was when the energy to go on living just wasn’t there anymore. And I looked back at old photos and lamented on my childhood, thinking that I had died in some way; that this brain inside me was beyond repair and I would never return to the days when the smiles were genuine and the skies truly blue. 

The depression returned when I was twenty. What I assumed was just a comedown after the best summer of my life, turned out to be another lengthy two-year spell in the void. After a few months of adventure and music festivals, the autumn came and I was thrown back into the emptiness I had experienced a few years previously. Even though I had moved out of it before, I still couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel normal again. The fog surrounded and suffocated me, and again what was left to do but to just try to keep on living, even when there was no connection to anything I was doing. Even when my brain would not allow any joy to register. Even when I didn’t want to wake up and get out of bed in the morning.

Other spells of depression came and went through the years, and that fog was an environment that I became familiar with. Returning home from an eighteen month adventure one year was probably the time when the fog got the thickest and I truly thought about ending it all. But even though I walked blindly, I carried on with whatever fire was left in my heart, seeking to slowly light up my way to some sort of clearing. What I was thankful for when the times were hard was this deep kind of stubbornness in my soul. I had felt it since I was a small child; the unshakeable urge to march against the storm and ‘rage against the dying of the light’, as a great poet had once said. It kept me marching through the greyness. It kept moving towards some sort of distant salvation. And as the periods went on, my brain began to shift through a series of awakenings where I felt I was able to light up the world around me whenever that fog came back out of nowhere. I brought my own light to the darkness and kept a quiet courage in my heart as the light dwindled and the demons surrounded me.

I can imagine people I know close to me reading this now in a state of surprise. I guess I never spoke about it, and in a way I didn’t even really want to. People had their own problems to deal with, and when you are in a state of depression, you kind of just keep it to yourself and let it have its way with you. Naturally this made my problems invisible to the outside eye. This is something that is all-too common for sufferers of the condition. So often we hear the eulogies of shocked and surprised people who ‘had no idea’ that the person they thought they knew so well was contemplating how they were going to end their life. It’s a form of suffering that is mostly silent, and consequently it’s usually very difficult to tell who is wandering in that fog. It could be the person serving you coffee. It could be the lover in your bed. It could be your mother, your postman, your doctor, your therapist.    

Depression does not discriminate and everyone you walk past on the street is potentially a sufferer. I recalled one night out over the Christmas holidays where me and two of my closest friends got speaking to two sisters in a bar. What followed was a fun evening of drinking and dancing. One of the sisters was an energetic red-haired girl who was in full spirits. She was full of smiles, making out with one of my friends, excitedly telling us how she was going to attend a fox hunting protest the next day. You would have never have thought that she was someone lost in the fog, but just a couple of months later she committed suicide. Her sister spoke about it on social media and shared the last photo of them two together. Again, the wide smiles could be seen and everything seemed fine on the surface, but that point she had already written her suicide letter and made her decision to leave this world behind.

Sometimes people lost in the fog of depression do actually make it known. I travelled once with a Brazilian girl who regularly told me about how her ex was suicidal and threatening to kill himself. After a couple of failed attempts and a few more warnings, he went ahead and finally did it. By this point the girl didn’t even seem too upset about the thing, like she had already grieved his loss in the preceding years. To her, he was a man who had already died – just a shell of a person existing in flesh and bone without any spiritual attachment to his life. Truly this was the greatest tragedy of depression, creating people who were essentially dead already inside, and although I don’t compare what I felt to the scale of any of these people, I can understand why there are people out there who choose to check out rather than stay lost in that lifeless fog where life is just an desolate existence of nothingness. 

These days I still have my troubles and periods in the darkness.  However, through some strange series of events, I believed I have rewired my brain in a way that will not allow me to succumb to that state of total emptiness. But this is only a theory for now, and it would not surprise me to one day be walking down the streets of life and find my world suddenly shrouded in that sinister fog once more, having to dive into myself to find some more light to lead me into the clearing again. For many, depression is “a battle that lasts a lifetime; a fight that never ends.” So remember that when you stare into the eyes of those strangers passing you on the street. You never know who is searching for a reason to keep breathing the air of this troubled world.

short stories · thoughts

~ Falling Again ~

falling
~ Falling Again ~

“I think you need to just relax and take a step back,” she said. “You run into things too easily.”

“I can’t help it, it just takes hold of me. It’s like I don’t have a choice.”

“Honestly, you remind me of my dog – just running around wildly, chasing everything that attracts you. It must be exhausting to constantly be that way.”

“That’s funny; I’ve been told that before. But hey, at least we all like dogs, right?”

“We do but dogs are animals ruled by instinct; you have deeper feelings, you just need to make sure you don’t get hurt.” 

“I don’t mind getting hurt. I’d rather that than to not follow my heart.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Probably,” I said.

The sentiments of my friend were nothing new to me. It seems I had that classic problem: falling in love with things too easily, and throwing my heart into them with reckless abandon. I was doomed to get hurt, and I was told to be more careful, but holding back my love was even more painful than the inevitable heartbreak that would naturally ensue. I just couldn’t help myself. I fell in love with anything that stirred my soul. At first, I fell in love with the world around me. With the rivers and the woods and the fields and sunsets. I then fell in love with travelling: the sight of new people and places, grabbing my backpack from the airport conveyor-belt, staring out of the bus window and knowing that I was soon to step off into a new town. Like a flower in my heart, I poured adventure onto it and let it grow wildly. I saved up all my money and obsessed over my next trip, neglecting things like clothes and food just to get there. And when I was back in those foreign lands with a world of possibility at my feet, I felt that flower blooming in my heart with a total love for what I was doing.

I fell in love with the art of writing. The act of expressing yourself and bringing people into your world; to share your things from the deepest recesses of your heart. That feeling of relief when you got out the things you had always wanted to say, and knowing they could actually mean something to someone out there. How it could give them strength and remind them that they aren’t alone in this world. And all it took was having the courage to type your truth out onto a blank page. It made my fingertips twitch with a fervent energy. It made me stay up ’til the early hours of the morning strumming away on those keyboard keys.

I fell in love with people. With the artists and adventurers; with the sight of a soul who was radiating pure joy and passion. I remember feeling blue one day, then going for a walk in the city and watching this guy busking with his guitar. He told his story about how he had gotten laughed out of his office when he told them he was quitting his job to become a street performer. He also told how he had just been diagnosed with autism, and had all these other revelations in his life, but there he was: travelling around Europe in his van, living life on his own terms, entertaining a captivated crowd with some of the most beautiful playing I had ever heard. I looked at his smile as he strummed those strings and saw the light of the entire cosmos shining through him. That was someone I aspired to be; that was someone I loved.

Rather predictability, I fell in love with girls. With the way they walked and talked and played with their hair. With their smiles and little imperfections. With the looks in their eyes which made you wonder what their story was and what secrets were locked away in their hearts. Sometimes I could get hung up for weeks on a girl I had passed on the street, and the little romances in my life took me years to get over. And probably people thought I was crazy, but I just couldn’t help but throw myself completely into the wilderness of another human-being even if I knew it wasn’t going to work out. For me, the pain was worth it, just because the act of falling in love was like feeling a great universal truth flowing through me. It just made sense; like the rivers running into the ocean, the feeling of loving was like going home to some ineffable divine life source.

Yeah, I guess that I am a bit of a starry-eyed dreamer, a hopeless romantic as they say, but I believe most human-beings are secretly this way, only most have learnt to hold themselves back. The natural state of a person was to love; and when you look at a person when they were in love with someone or something, you could see the entire cosmos shining in their eyes. That divine light was inside us all, but the human condition makes it such a challenge to let it shine. As our lives go on, we get worn down and made cautious by the world. We build walls and barriers. We get turned bitter and resentful by the lovers who did not return our love, by the people who belittled our dreams, and by the struggles of everyday life which slowly made us jaded and deflated. Indeed, it can be a great test to keep your heart truly open to the world when the daggers have pierced you and the days tired you and the lovers betrayed you.

Sometimes it is so far buried that it didn’t appear to exist in a person at all. But I believed even the most closed and bitter individual had that love somewhere inside of them, ready to burst out when under the right circumstances. It was just a matter of getting them into the right space to let it come. I remembered one middle-aged man I met travelling. He told me how he had been depressed and angry with life for a few years following a bad divorce, but he had finally moved on by selling his house and moving abroad. He was now travelling in Spain with his new girlfriend, back to pursuing his passions of writing and playing the guitar. Only a couple of years ago he had been a depressed, bitter individual with a contempt for his existence, but now the light was back and beaming bright in his eyes. And ultimately, it was because he had allowed himself to dust off the hinges and open his heart once again to the world.

Yes, in a world where it was easy to close yourself off, it can be a test to constantly love without fear and filter, but this was always what I sought to do in every aspect of my life; to let my love be poured into whatever it was I was passionate about. And maybe I needed to believe it, but I believed that love was the answer to everything. Because this was what I always felt, this deep ineffable feeling pulling me towards whatever was good and worthwhile in my life. It had taken me around the world; it had taken me to find my passions; it had taken me to find the people who inspired and changed me; it had taken me from the haunted woods of depression to the open fields of light and life. This passion for everything which was surely found in the hearts of stars and the breaking of waves and the roots of flowers. It was an intrinsic energy that was essential for a human-being to truly be alive, and though allowing yourself to love completely meant you would leave yourself open to feel more pain, it also meant you could also feel a greater amount of joy and connection to the universe.

As time goes on, there are times when the world tests me to close myself to it, but ultimately I know I’ll never shake this overwhelming desire to run towards what my heart aches for. Right now, writing these words and dreaming up my next adventure, I am still letting that flower grow wildly in my heart, and by now I know will always be that starry-eyed dreamer, running towards what I love with wise arms and an open heart. Still a hopeless romantic; still that dog running around wildly after everything that attracts me; still writing these words and feeling the light of the cosmos flow through my fingertips. Yeah, I guess I’m still falling, I don’t ever intend to stop throwing myself into this beautiful pain.

short stories · thoughts

~ Not A Man ~

man-studio-portrait-light-90764

The tears streamed down my face. I had just said goodbye to a friend I had made travelling and I walked back home through the busy city centre, trying to hide my feelings from people passing me on the street. Overwhelmed by my emotions, I wiped my eyes clean and once again felt ashamed of my sensitivity and sentimentality.

The shame for this side of myself came from the thought that this was not how I should have been. The advertisements and the movies said it all. To be a man in this world was to be something that I was not. I was not assertive, strong, or confident. I did not command authority or respect. I did not care much for football or cars or status. Instead, I was a meek daydreamer who cared for poetry and romance. I was someone who got affected by the little things: old men sitting in cafes alone, sad faces of strangers on the street, wilting flowers left on the side of the road. On top of this, I had social anxiety and, at times, depression. In desperation I tried to hide this side of my personality, but it always eventually came through whenever I was around people for a certain amount of time. There was just no way around it. I was a highly-sensitive person, and trying to hold in the emotions that were constantly flooding my heart was an exhausting task that left me even more overwhelmed than I already was.

The masculinity problems continued when it came to the world of employment. Making money and having a career was one of the key requirements of being a male, but it seemed I had absolutely no skills that could do so. I had no dexterity for any of the trades. I was too virtuous to play the game of the corporate world. I just about had no practical or pragmatic skills; couple this with a habit to daydream which made it almost impossible to focus on simple things, then it was sure that I was to be scraping by whatever way I could. I did have the gift of creativity, but as we all knew that being able to write a nice poem or story didn’t get you very far in this world – the classic image of the tortured artist washing dishes while working on their art being annoyingly applicable. All in all, I was a complete disaster – the sort of thing most fathers secretly hoped their sons wouldn’t grow up to be. A sensitive, deep-thinking male. An idealist not a pragmatist. A dreamer not a logician. A feeler not a thinker. 

Naturally this way of being was bad when it came to girls. Girls typically looked for strapping, butch, confident guys – guys who were able to be self-assured and take the lead and do all the things that I could not. The funny thing was I was blessed with good looks which lured girls in, but once they saw what was under the surface, they sprinted for the hills like scared deer. The circumstance of being tall, dark and handsome didn’t mean much when they saw how anxious and unsure of yourself you were. I recalled things girls had said to me. “You look good but you need to own it.” “You annoy me; why can’t you just be normal?” It was a recurring conversation and, after a while of continual rejection, I began to look in the mirror and see that ugliness start to manifest itself in my reflection.

Things didn’t get much better with the world of males. The camaraderie of ‘lad culture’ was always something I felt out of place with. I was able to be part of the group sometimes, but I could see that they sensed I was not one of them – little awkward moments in group conversation and my general strange demeanour giving my cover away. The frustrating thing was I knew there were other men like me out there. In fact, I believed that a large portion of men simply ignored their emotions because they erroneously believed they were unnatural. No doubt, this caused long-lasting internal damage. Toxic masculinity was a silent disease in our society that was making men feel ashamed to have feelings and be sensitive. The fact that two-thirds of suicides were from men was not surprising when you thought about it. Men had been taught to hide their emotions from the school playground to the dating scene to the world of employment. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and a man needed to be strong and ruthless to be a success in it. So there was simply nothing to do but to ‘man up’ and suffer in silence – something I had gotten to know all too well over the years.

Being drunk was sometimes a good way to coat my failures as a man. When I poured that liquor down my throat, I was able to numb my feelings and switch to this extroverted version of myself. My shyness and emotions were suppressed, and I felt a deluded sense of confidence. It only lasted for a while, of course, but it was good enough to fool people around me. One night stands were possible and – perhaps out of my own insecurity – I used my drunken alter ego to sleep around as often as I could. The success of hiding my true self with the use of alcohol reminded me of the words of my favourite poems:

“there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.”

Sometimes as an experiment, I let that bluebird out and revealed my sensitive side to the crowd. I spoke from my heart and shared my deepest emotions about life. As I did, I could feel the discomfort of some guys around me, but I could also feel like others felt it was a fresh breath of air for a guy not to give a fuck about masculine etiquette. Sometimes I even got brave enough to share my writing and poetry with those people. Some seemed to like it and even respect me, although many of them simply put me at distance after I did. I understood that, of course. 

All in all, it’s a strange situation and I don’t know exactly what my plan is to survive in this world as the man that I am. Perhaps one day the views of masculinity will change, but I feel that it’s unlikely in my lifetime. Despite what we like to think, we are all still just instinctive animals at our core, and I guess it does make sense why men are supposed to be strong and butch and assertive and confident. Maybe my role wasn’t to be that striding alpha male, but to be some other thing serving a purpose I have not yet come to realise. For now, I guess I will go suppressing that bluebird and trying to hide my sensitive side, only to let it out when I’m sitting alone at this keyboard away from the piercing eyes of this dog-eat-dog world.

short stories

~ The Great Escape ~

alcohol

~ The Great Escape ~

I put the bottle to my lips and poured the beer down my throat. It was a transaction I had gotten to know increasingly well throughout my adult life. I remember a time when I was a teenager, telling my parents that I was never going to drink – that I was strong enough not to need a form of escapism from the everyday reality of life. That conviction lasted till I was about seventeen when I started drinking regularly. I remember the joy of my first nights out: escaping the tyranny of the sober mind; the blurry world around me, drifting through nightclub dancefloors, kissing strangers, waking up the next day with memory loss and reading the text messages in my inbox with a sense of horror. The only cure for it was to go and hit the bottle once again, re-entering that warped reality where a person felt invincible, riding that intoxicated delusion and forgetting that tomorrow existed all over again.

Like any young person, I grew curious of the hedonistic lifestyle and eventually tried drugs too. From marijuana to cocaine to ecstasy, I explored the other states of consciousness available to me through the power of recreational substances. But I always returned to alcohol knowing it was a sustainable lover – one that was sure to take me to that place I knew well, like a cosy second home that existed in the corners of my mind. One that guaranteed me good times at the bottom of a bottle. One that wouldn’t kill me, but occasionally put me in that hungover hell where the thought of going out and facing the world made me pull the covers back over my head. 

Now don’t get me wrong. There is a great joy to be found in clean living. I often have some time off and enjoy a period of sobriety. Living healthily, exercising, meditating, taking care of your mind, body and soul is a beautiful and noble way of life. The colours of the world around you are more vivid and you can feel the whole cosmos pulsating through your veins. But after doing that for a while, I always find myself itching once again to hurl myself back into an altered state of consciousness. And I ask myself: why is it like this? Why is life a thing where not just me, but the majority of us are constantly looking for a way to distort our reality? Perhaps our brains were never to be this developed, and alcohol is the way to numb them so that our anxiety and stresses fade away. I know that was certainly an attraction to me; letting myself be coated by an emotional fleece that kept the hounds of overthinking at bay.

Those hounds seemed to have a taste for my mind and this perhaps explained why I drank more than the average person. As the years went on, I looked at my behaviour and started to realise I was more dependent on drinking than most of my peers – never knowing when to stop or slow down, always ordering a double rather than a single, sneaking out a hip-flask from time to time. I looked at my heroes and realised they were all alcoholics who either drank themselves to death, or went very close to it. I also knew there was a past of alcoholism in my family, including my uncle who had recently died from the condition. Indeed, there was a great risk of me becoming enslaved to the bottle, and every time I touched that poison, I knew I was playing with fire. Yet, there were times when I lingered on the verge of alcoholism – times when my eyes were bloodshot and my hands were shaking; times when my nervous system was in bits as the paranoia and anxiety crippled me and left me bedbound. Still I kept on drinking. Even when I was blowing all my money and screwing up my life; even when I looked in the mirror and hated who I was the next day; even when I woke up in a bed with a stranger whose name I couldn’t remember – I kept on drinking.

I drank in the pubs of England. I drank on the beaches of Brazil. I drank in the mountains of Nepal. I drank just about wherever the hell I was, and it took me to some strange situations that made me question whether it was all really worth it. One time in Australia I ended up in a jail cell for drunkenly stumbling into the apartment that was adjacent to the hostel I was staying at. The people living there found me on the sofa and promptly called the police who came and arrested me on break-in charges. Such a situation left me hitch-hiking to a court-hearing about twenty miles outside of town only to be laughed out the courtroom with a warning. Another time I found myself waking up on a ping pong table in a Ghanaian primary school while covered in mosquito and sandfly bites. Then there were the periods where I just drank heavily for weeks on end – living in a house of twenty people in a party town in New Zealand; staying with a local family in Rio de Janeiro while me and their daughter drink-drove to street parties most nights. Dodges with death and disaster were naturally common, including when the girl fell asleep at the wheel and we skidded into a ditch, or when I fell off the second story balcony of an apartment block.

Despite all the troubles I caused myself, I could feel the addiction to alcohol growing all the time. The idea of me being a teenager and telling my parents that I wasn’t going to drink seemed almost laughable by the time I was twenty-five. Clearly I was naive to just how much the world could wear down a person and, specifically, how much it would wear me down. To me pouring alcohol down your throat was a ticket out of dodge. It was the great escape. The great escape away from my sensitive and meek personality. The great escape from the tyranny of my overactive mind. When I drank, my worries disappeared and I no longer felt like a person constrained by my shyness and emotions. I was able to create an alter ego and go talk to beautiful girls. I was able to forget about my problems and indulge in a world of revelry and delight. I felt that this was what everyone was looking for: a holiday away from themselves – a ‘getaway’ to another person or dimension. And even if you were left feeling death the next day, it was still worth it just for that feeling of escaping into a hazy and warm state where all your troubles temporarily faded away.

It took a lot for me to want to never drink again, but as the years and the drinking sessions and the horrific hangovers went on, there were times where I really wanted to put down the bottle for good. I knew I wasn’t alone with this feeling. My friend James also spoke about giving up the poison. I remembered his eyes from when I first met him – he had that madman glare in his eyes; a window into the mind of a man who had just about poured every substance into it. He was one who knew pushing it too far – often destroying himself and missing work in sessions of debauchery and self-destruction. Such excess led him to periods where he vowed to abandon the bottle and start a life of cycling and yoga and living in peace. Then there was my friend Daniela who regularly went on benders that sent her into pits of existential dread and depression the next day. She would message me the next day in some sort of crisis of self-hatred and anxiety. She also vowed every now and again to give it up, before going on another bender just a week or two later. All of these dramas along with my own did make me question whether it was all worth it, and I started to imagine a trouble-free life with all the extra money and health benefits. I imagined walking through the woods with all my senses heightened from the years of clean living. I imagined myself being strong enough to not need a way to constantly distort my reality. 

It’s a tempting idea, but I fear that such a fate is unreachable, and I am just another human too conscious of his own reality and stuck with this brain inside of me – pouring alcohol onto it just to get it to calm down and enjoy itself every now again. This is the way of so many of us. We are all just addicts, users, escapists, fiends. None of us want to wake up with sober eyes and face the harsh daylight of this reality we call life. A man or woman has to find whatever escape they could. Some choose religion. Some choose to read fantasy novels. Some choose to chase love and money and the other grand illusions that have entertained for people for millennia. And most, at least in my society, choose drugs or alcohol. Maybe one day I will actually find the strength to stand sober and abandon the booze for good. No longer will I need to escape to another person or dimension. But until then, it’s back to the bottle and the revelry and the drunken delusions. It’s back to drowning my emotions in an ocean of booze. Like a true escapist, doing anything I can not to stand sober and face the daylight of this painful reality. 

short stories · thoughts

~ It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding ~

back-view-black-and-white-boy-827993
~ It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding ~

I pulled the photos from the family album. I held them up in the light and studied each of them closely. There in the pictures I was: a young boy, curly-haired, bright eyes, and a beaming smile of joy and delight. It was a time from a family holiday when I was around eight years old, a time and place that seemed almost a lifetime ago now. In my eyes, I could see the childhood purity and innocence. I could see the hope and optimism for the life ahead of me. I could see the simple joy of playing on a beach in the sand. It was a striking sight and I couldn’t help but feel sadness when studying those images. I knew over the next couple of decades that young boy in the photo would undergo a path that would lead him through crooked and haunted lands. First would come the bullying and social isolation. Then would come the anxiety and self-hatred. Finally would come the emptiness and total disillusionment with the world around him. Specifically the sight of my smile brought about a pain in my heart; these days that smile was never to be seen, at least not with the same purity it had in the photos. The claws of life had ravaged it away. It was gone, disfigured – taken from me somewhere along a turbulent path of pain and heartache.

I guess it was a reality that was not just true to me, but to most people out there. As children we dream that life will be as magical as those fairy tales. Chase your dreams, they say. Go after the world with your arms wide open. Build those rockets and fly to the moon. Become presidents and footballers and movie stars. Fall in love and live happily ever after. In reality, most people after childhood quickly lose those expectations for life. First came the adolescent angst and depression. Then came the realisation that no one really gives a fuck about your dreams, or even you in general, and that you aren’t as special as they said you were. All that matters is you get a job, make money, and fit into some sort of acceptable place. You then realise that the world isn’t full of good people with good intentions, but instead full of users and liars; of people who want to use and abuse you and throw you to the wolves. The optimism continues to fade as you begin to accept that life isn’t going to be some fairy tale, and the world isn’t full of the happy people living happy lives, but of secretly scared and lost adults doing their best to get by and survive.

It’s a reality which envelops us all and I can’t help but look at children and feel sadness in their sight. There they run and play around with their minds full of delight and imagination – their wide eyes awake and alive to the world around them. Yet walk down the street of a busy city centre and stare at the faces of the adults. The contrast is stark. For many their eyes look not to the skies but to the floor, and the delight for the world around them had all but faded. It had been eroded away by the relentless barrage of everyday life. The mindless work. The morning commutes. The hateful faces. The failed romances. The suppression of dreams and desires while drifting through unfulfilling lives. For many came the alcoholism, the drugs, and constant attempts to alleviate the existential emptiness. To grow up was a trap, as they said, and to see the adult with that magic gleam in their eye was a rare sight – the sight of the child that had survived the storm of growing up and retained that all-too precious magic.

Looking at my childhood photos and the defeated faces of strangers in the street made me sad, but it was always worse when thinking about the people I cared about. There was a girl close to me, she showed me her childhood photos and I couldn’t help but feel a great pain in my heart again. There she was: in her little t-shirt with the animals on the front, her blonde hair flowing down her shoulders, her eyes so full of light and love and life. Nowadays those eyes had a greyness to them. She was surviving on therapy and antidepressant medication. She had labelled herself ‘a fuck-up’ and had admittedly abandoned her dreams. “Maybe in another lifetime,” she would say. Then there was the time I looked at the photos of my uncle as a child at his funeral. That bright-eyed child had ended up living alone in a small apartment while drinking himself to death. Not even fifty years old and his story had ended in a dark room of isolation. I felt angry that the world did this to so many of us, and a part of me wanted to do something that would save the child in people; to make them enriched and enchanted with their existence like they once were. Of course, to do this I needed to let go of my anger and find it again within myself.

Although the sight of my old family photos showed me that my inner child had gone, there were times when I rediscovered it again. I noticed that these times were usually when I was out in nature. Trekking through the mountains; swimming in lakes; running through the woods. I recalled moments from my travels: in particular, one time hiking alone in the Himalayas, standing on a ridge and watching a flock of birds dance in the sky above me. High in those mountains, I breathed in the air and looked out at that majestic sight. The world shone with a mystery and magic like it did to a new-born baby, and a feeling of ecstasy flowed through my veins. I was not a religious man, but I do think I know what Jesus meant when he said, ‘to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to become again as a child’. In reality, the kingdom of heaven was all around us. We just had to see the world again through a child’s eyes. To stay curious and wide-eyed to our surroundings. To not slump our shoulders and look down to the floor, but to allow ourselves to be in a constant state of learning and exploring and becoming. ‘He not busy being born, is busy dying’ as Bob Dylan had sung.

Thinking about that memory and a few others, I realised that the child inside of me hadn’t been totally killed. Yes, my soul bore scars that could not be erased. My innocence was long gone. My smile would perhaps never be as pure as it was in those childhood photos. But I did believe that the child was still there inside in some way, waiting to reawaken whenever in the right time and place. And the more I lived with this idea, the more I was able to let it come out and play. From day to day, I began to let go of my pains and feel the joy of being alive. I walked out the front door and saw the world glisten with magic. Things that had been clouded over during periods of depression, now looked wondrous and marvelous. I looked at the rivers flowing, and the birds singing, and the leaves fluttering in the wind, and the sunlight shimmering upon the water’s surface. I could feel it in my bones that I was a part of something magical and beautiful, and that childlike delight in my heart began to return. And then, when the bad times came (as they inevitably did), I took a step back and protected my inner child. I protected it from the hateful souls and hurtful words. I protected it from the feelings of emptiness and self-hatred. I protected it from the toils and troubles of everyday life which took the light from a person’s eye. Those things would still come at me, I knew, but I was learning to see it for what it was and not lose myself in it once the world had started to drag me down again.

These days I would be lying to say that everything is sunshine and rainbows. I regularly have breakdowns and get consumed by despair, but no matter how dark the rain clouds gather and how much shit is thrown my way, there is something deep inside of me that knows life is but a game that is here to be explored and enjoyed. This, I believe, is the wisdom of the child that we lose as the trials of adulthood come our way. Ultimately too many of us have gone to the grave with our true deaths having already happened years before. By the end, so many are people who have forgotten what life is all about – bitter and broken individuals whose imagination, curiosity and lust for life had all but faded; people who have gotten so consumed by the misery and monotony that they could not see the beauty of the world around them. It is my hope to see all those people be able to keep that same wisdom alive and reconnect with their inner child too. To see those streets full of people once again enchanted by their existence. To see that girl’s eyes rid of the greyness and return with the light and the love and life that should have been there. And for everyone’s eyes to light up again, this whole world of broken children coming back home to their true selves. Back from the pains and the heartaches and the emptiness. Back from the feelings of defeat and depression. Back from being those secretly scared and lost adults, but to return to those wide-eyed children that long to play on the beaches and run through the fields and sail to the stars.

 

 

 

short stories · thoughts

~ Scream ~

scream
~ Scream ~

“So what constitutes good writing?” he asked me.

“Good writing is something that happens because it has to happen,” I said. “It’s like an eruption of some kind, and if it’s not bursting out of you – if it’s not flowing from your fingertips with a sort of explosive energy – then it probably isn’t true.”

“What do you mean by true?”

“Something that is elemental to who you are. Something that comes from the core of your heart.”

“And how exactly do you write from the heart?” he asked.

“You’ve got to find the position from which you can express yourself without filter. All artists have to find that special spot from where they can scream – that special spot where you channel your suppressed emotions and let them pour out of you. You pour it out through your fingertips or your voice or your paintbrush. If you’re a ballet dancer you pour out through your feet. If you’re a violinist you pour it out through your violin. You’ve just got to find that spot where you can let go and erupt. You’ve just got to find that spot where you can scream.”

My fellow writer looked somewhat surprised by my answer, but seemed to understand the nature of what I was saying. Perhaps he expected something more about the process of writing, some specific skills and practices and techniques, but in my opinion you could have all of that and not write a single word worth reading. To me, it didn’t matter how fluid the writing was; if it didn’t reveal the soul of the writer, then it was like sex without an orgasm. I knew this from my past experiences with the artform. When I looked back at my first writings, I could see that the sentences were smoothly written and the prose well-constructed, but underneath at the core there was just no real substance. It came from the mind rather than the heart, and it was evident that the words lacked the blood and guts that I believed was fundamental to good writing. But now, through continued persistence to scratch an unwavering itch, I felt I had now found a way to let my deepest emotions surge out of me whenever I started putting words down onto that blank page. 

Ultimately it was something I had been searching for for a long time. As I said, good writing happens because it has to happen, and the sheer relief of getting out things that were killing me inside was enormous. In a way it was closer to an act of therapy than it was any sort of literary process. It was something that I felt could benefit many people out there. So many have a lot of shit inside of them that is tearing them up, and the act of creation was a vice that was sorely needed, even though they often didn’t realise it. To create was a primal thing, and if a person was denied a healthy way to howl out their pain, then it often twisted them up from the inside. That suppression of the scream could lead people to bitterness and violence; to depression and desperation; to hateful hearts and scowling faces. Indeed, it was a great energy that had the potential to become destructive, but if one could learn to channel that energy inside of them into a form of expression, then it could be turned into painting and poetry; into dance and song; into rhythm and blues.

Those things could not only provide great relief to the artist, but they also had tremendous value to others out there. I thought of some of the people who had inspired me by allowing themselves to scream. Thom Yorke screaming through his falsetto. Van Gogh screaming from his paintbrush. Charlie Parker screaming through his saxophone. Franz Kafka screaming through his stories. Charles Bukowski screaming through his poems. This animalistic howling from the wilderness of another’s heart was a shamanic thing, and to me its healing power was what made art the greatest form of medicine available to the human soul. It was a medicine that had enough power and force to save lives, to inspire dreams, to awaken minds and bring others back from the darkest depths of hell. It was a medicine that even had enough power to turn you into a creator yourself.

Of course, not everyone has such emotions brewing inside of them. Some people went through life simply didn’t feel the need to scream. But undoubtedly there are many out there who did. The person I told my view of writing to, I never got round to reading his writing, and I wondered if he was also one of them. From what I had heard I didn’t believe so. Usually the people looking to write because they wanted to – and not because they had to – were not the ones touched by the muse. Indeed, the true writer doesn’t need advice, because the pain of holding it inside usually drives them to find their form eventually. This is why the true artist is consumed by a burning desire to constantly create. And I guess sitting here alone in this room writing all night for the thousandth time means that I am maybe one of them. The act of putting these words down on paper is something I am now dependent on, and in my heart I know I will be screaming for a long time yet. It is an inescapable nature of people like me. Some of us are born to live in peace and harmony. Some of us are born to watch television and sleep all night. Some of us are born to live stable lives and sit in cafes and read books.

And some of us are born to scream.

short stories

~ A Message to my Old Flatmate ~

~ A Message to my Old Flatmate ~

I remember once living with a man. He was a thirty-five-year-old bus driver who had moved to the U.K from Hungary. We shared a flat together in the city of Brighton. One time I was in the kitchen and he was asking me about my life. “So Ryan, what is it that you do exactly?” I looked at him and thought of how to answer this age-old question once again. 

“Well, I work for a bit at whatever job I can find, save up for an adventure and then go on it. I also do a bit of writing too.”

 “Oh,” he said. “That’s cool. I wanted to do a bit of travelling when I was younger. I never got round to it though. I guess it’s too late now. You can do that stuff when you’re your age, but at my age it’s not so easy.”

 “Why not?” I asked him. “You don’t have any responsibilities. And you’ve got savings. You can start travelling next week if you want to. Just book your flight and pack your bags.” It was at this point he looked at me as if I had just suggested to go out and murder a small child. 

  “Well, you know, I’m getting old now. I can’t just quit my job and run off into the wilderness. I need to find my own place. Need to settle down; need to get my shit together…” 

 “Is that what you really want to do?” I asked.

“It’s not what I want to do; it’s what I have to do. Otherwise I’ll end up single and living in a flatshare all my life. No offence…”

 “None taken.”

“You know, I really did want to do what you do. I wanted to go to South America and Asia and Australia. I wanted to experience other cultures and climb mountains. I still do want to do those things. Perhaps one day when I am retired, but now I need to focus on other things. It’s easy to do in your twenties like you, but at my age there are other things you have to worry about. You’ll understand.”

He went on and on making excuses while I just stared and listened. Looking at his circumstances, I did not see any real barriers in his life; at least not any that existed anywhere else other than his mind. But he was always this way since I had moved in a few months previous – panicking about his age and his situation; talking about how he needed to find his own place, fill it with furniture, find a girlfriend etc.. Never at peace and content with his life; never enjoying it because his mind was constantly stressing about the future. The strange thing was that listening to him I could hear he wasn’t even excited about those things; it was just something he felt he had to do because of social and cultural pressures. It made me sad. As cliche as it sounds, there is so much you can do in life, and usually it was just simply a matter of finding the strength to believe in your own voice. I wanted to tell him this, but in the end I didn’t say anything; I just finished making my lunch and retreated back to my room. But I carried on thinking about those mental barriers people erected to limit their life possibilities. I had met so many people like him with the same old excuses, the same old dogmas – the same old mental gymnastics to justify why they weren’t living the life they actually wanted to. For a moment it reminded me of the film the matrix; when you see people plugged into the social matrix, wanting to shake them out of the spell and wake them up to the reality of life. I wanted to do this to him, but I instead did what I always did and just typed out my thoughts on a computer instead. Here is what I wanted to say to him:

‘You do not have to do the things you think you are supposed to do. You do have to spend your one existence mindlessly adhering to social conventions. There are as many ways to live as there are as many people on the planet; recognise this simple fact and realise you can do whatever you want to do with your life. Yes, the peer pressure will come, the heavy hands of society will fall on your shoulder, your parents will try to usher you to one direction, but stop, look around. Be silent. Have a think to yourself. Is that what you really want? Is that going to make you happy? In this life often the only restrictions to doing things are physics and law enforcement. With an open mind the possibilities are almost endless. You can join the circus. You can build a boat and sail to Spain. You can live in a van and become a rock climber. You can move to China and teach English while writing a dystopian novel. You can do so much, yet the formula has been laid out by the establishment: go to school, get a degree or qualification, get a steady 9-5 job, find a partner, get married, have kids, get a mortgage, live in one place, go on package holidays, watch television after work, get drunk at the weekend. And so many people just blindly accept it, never realising that life is a wonderful opportunity to walk any path you can just about imagine.

Yes, of course there are some limitations. You will need money and to fit in with society to some degree. I’m not saying it’s easy to slip free from the shackles of this system we’ve created, but it can be done. I know this because I have seen it done. I have seen it done by a street performer playing his guitar with a sort of otherworldly passion. He was a man who quit his career job and lived in a van while street performing around Europe. He lived solely off the money he made from his performances. Then there was the American girl who worked half the year in hospitality and on a marijuana farm. She stacked that cash then booked a ticket to somewhere in Asia to roam around for another six months. Then there was the cycle tourist who roamed around Europe on his bike; the pole-dancer dancing her way around the world; the chef living in a cave in Thailand. God, there were so many people out there living life the way they wanted, overcoming those mental barriers that were erected through cultural conditioning. They were people who knew that as long as you have the basics covered for immediate survival, then everything else is just a simple rewiring of the mind. Yes, you will have to overcome not having stability and security (which are also mental illusions incidentally). You will also have to overcome people judging you for choosing to live differently to them. For finding the strength to overcome these things, I recommend the following: meditation, yoga, psychedelic drugs, walks in nature, and time spent experiencing other cultures. These will help your mind to sober up and show you that your mental reality is built so much by your surroundings, and that it’s all relative – that your mind is programmed by the cultural ideology of the place you were born. How you perceive life and what you think it to be about will be completely different if you were born in a different time or age.

When you start to realise this, then you can begin to look around and see through the illusions of your society. You can watch the people so clearly programmed by their media, their peers and parents, and their educational system. You can spot the people not speaking as individuals, but simply regurgitating the slogans of the culture they were born into. Illusions are what makes the system run, and some may argue that the system is important. Well, I think that system is not truly serving everyone and making them happy. Are you happy? Only you yourself can answer that, but I know many people that aren’t. So many people I know are on antidepressant meds and therapy. They are escaping through cocaine and alcohol and television. They are constantly stressing about the future. Society is sending people insane. And this is because their inner voices have been drowned out. The only answer I can say from my experience, is to turn to yourself. You’ve got to get back in touch with your soul and find what is real to you.

Also realise that no one really knows what the fuck they are really doing. 95% of people are following the herd, doing things because they want to fit in and be accepted among the crowd. These people have no right to judge you if you want to do something different. They have not found it in themselves to explore life beyond the cultural safe-farm, so forget about their limited perspective. You will have to overcome fear of being different; of walking your own path. But I can assure you this will fill your heart with a joy that cannot be bought in a goddamn furniture store.

I guess if I’m saying all of this then I should probably also say a little about myself. I am just a guy who one day realised that trying to fit in and do what was expected of me was slowly killing me. I went to university, thought I would get a career job after and become a normal civilised person like you think you should be. But I always knew in my heart that wasn’t my path; and the more I tried to follow it, the more depressed and empty I became. So one day I decided to start travelling the world, living for the experience, finding my own truth from beyond those fences of social normality. It is that following of which has led me to writing these words now. These words came to me by believing in my own voice; by kicking down those barriers in my mind and realising that an empowered individual, in touch with their own existential core, can live life whatever way they can imagine. And you can do the same too brother. You can do the same too. So come on: think about it. Think about taking control of your life. Think about doing something because your soul calls out for it, not because you’re ‘supposed’ to do it. I dare you. Take that trip to South America. Pursue your passion. Stop missing the beauty of life because you’re stressing over what you should be doing. One day you’re gonna be in that hospital deathbed, staring out the window as the light leaves your eyes. At that moment you will realise just how precious your one fleeting existence was, and maybe, as they say, your life will flash before your eyes. So make sure it’s worth watching…’

(yes, in hindsight I realise a lot of this was talking to myself)

short stories

“You’re a Dreamer”

dreamer

~ You’re a Dreamer ~

“You’re a dreamer,” she said to me.

“Yeah, and what’s wrong with that?” I replied.

“Nothing I guess. It’s good to dream. But you need to be realistic too.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well,” she started. “You want to not be shaped by the system, to live your own life and do what you love – I understand that and commend you for it – but you gotta keep one foot in the game, you know? You need a reliable way to make money, and some basic security. I’ve seen people end up in serious trouble when they just march against the system not giving a fuck.”

“Really? Like who?” I said.

“There was this one guy I once knew who had a bit of a crisis and quit his insurance job to pursue his passion of film-making. He lived off his savings and devoted most of his time to directing short films, hoping to break into the industry. Within a year he was jaded and depressed and trying to get his old job back, but unable to. He couldn’t keep up his expenses and had to move back with his parents. The recession then hit and he figured out he didn’t actually have what it took to live on the breadline while chasing a dream. Most people need that safety net. Perhaps you should find a way to have a stable career and do your writing in your spare time.” I paused and thought about it.

“Well, I’m not like most people,” I said finally. “I’m willing to live on the edge to do what I love and chase my dream. And besides, I have no idea what else I can do anyway. If I end up in the gutter then so be it; at least I gave it a try.”

“You say that now when you’re young and full of angst, but seriously you may start to crave a bit more stability. Things about the system you thought were traps, you may start to look at them with desire. You’ll see the value of routine and being able to plan your weeks and months. You’ll want to not worry about where the rent money is going to come from. I’m not saying you should give up your dream to be a writer and do your backpacking trips – I hope you live a life doing what you love, as we all desire to deep down – but just be aware not to be too gung-ho and burn all your bridges. Think about finding the middle ground. I think that’s the best way.”

“Yeah, yeah…” I stalled. I was starting to feel a bit awkward and lectured. Still, it certainly was one of the more interesting conversations I had had on a first date. “I’ll think about it. But whatever happens, I’ll always be that wide-eyed dreamer running toward what I love. Maybe there is a balance, but you gotta make sure that chasing that balance didn’t mean you essentially traded your dreams for comfortable mediocrity. I see that a lot; people giving up on themselves and justifying it by calling in ‘growing up’ or something like that. Ultimately, the people who achieved something special were those who had the guts to go all the way on the pursuit of their passions. Yes, that pursuit can take us to the edge, but some of us are born to live on the edge. It’s that edge which sharpens our steel; which puts force behind our fingertips. It’s that edge where our greatest work is done.” 

At this point I could feel the eyes of the surrounding people in the bar on me. She sat across the table and also stared at me, undoubtedly deciding there and then that things weren’t going to go any further than a first date. It didn’t need to be spoken at that point and I was okay with it; the thoughts she shared showed we weren’t compatible on that front. They were also thoughts similar to those of my sister. My sister was a bit like me – critical of the system and a bit ‘alternative’ in many people’s view, but even she had eventually decided to pursue a career and embrace a conventional lifestyle. She rolled her eyes and looked at me with a ‘come on’ look every time I started talking about how I was going to work odd jobs and do medical trials to fund my lifestyle. “You need to find the middle way,” she also said. Suggestions came of finding a trade, a stable job, or going back to school – all of those things that seemed to identify you as someone who had ‘their shit together’. The same suggestions came from peers, from parents and from teachers. I guess people were concerned by my irregular behaviour, and just sharing what I deemed the common sense of the average civilised person – the same common sense that caused them to stare at me like a deranged madman when I told them my life plans.

It’s that balance you need, as people kept saying to me. To me, seeing how far you were willing to go on the pursuit of your dream was like a test of courage and resolve; and indeed, it seemed to me that the greatest treasures were found by those who went all the way. I thought about the great artists who had lingered on the edge before creating their masterpieces. I imagined a teenage Bob Dylan packing his bags and hitch-hiking to New York to perform in small cafes. I imagined Jack Kerouac drifting around the United States with barely a dollar to his name. Bukowski starving in small rooms alone. Orwell working as a dishwasher in Paris. Of course, these were the ones you knew about because they had eventually achieved success after living on the edge. For every great success, there were countless failures you never heard of. Or, as another dreamer put it: “For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.” (Hunter S Thompson)

It did of course occur to me that I was most likely to be one of those trampled souls in the dirt, my dreams dying in a ditch as the sun set on my unsuccessful quest of being a writer. But still, the idea of that was still more appealing than passively drifting through life without any fire in your heart. Even if you failed, you would at least know what it was like and to live with a passion for life in your veins. When I walked the street and stared at the faces and listened to the conversations, I felt sure that there weren’t many out there who had that same passion within them. Yes, many of them had the stability and the security. They had the car on the forecourt and the rug on the living room floor. The fireplaces were all lit and the fridges all full; but just how full was the soul? How was the fire in their hearts? How many were truly excited about what they were doing with their life? Personally, I felt that many people out there lived in a state of silent desperation in which they grew old in lives that saw them staring at strangers in the mirror; and indeed there were maybe only a few souls out there who had that magic spark in their eye. That was the spark of the dreamer; the free-spirited warrior who didn’t compromise or filter down their heart’s desires for the sake of ‘fitting in’ or ‘getting real’ or ‘growing up’.

Maybe it’s just me being a romantic idealist, but I believe the world needs those dreamers. Those runaway spirits; those renegade souls; those rebel writers. In fact, I believe the world needs them now more than ever, and I was proud to be one of them – or to at least be considered one of them, as the girl on the date, as my sister did, and many others did. I think that some of them were even envious that they didn’t have it in them to hurl themselves towards what their souls desired deepest. For me, it was the following of that desire that took me first toward travelling – hopping on that one-way flight to South America after finishing university. Within that came the mountain climbing, the hiking, the long-distance cycling, and finally, the writing and general avoidance of anything that stifled my soul. All of these things were things my soul screamed out for, and answering that call fulfilled me in a way that nothing else could. Yes, I didn’t have much physically to show for it: but if I were to lay down my head and bid my life goodbye, I would not have left this world without too many regrets. And isn’t that what a good life was? To know you lived it completely and authentically and passionately? To know you made the most of your one fleeting existence here on this planet?

That girl on the date, we didn’t see each other again, but that way okay. Some people are not made for our paths, but she did make me think – I’ll give her that. I know that my mind is a little more manic than most. Perhaps the degree in which I live isn’t for anyone, but it is for me. If one day you find me face down in a ditch – my cold dead hands clutching the manuscript of my unpublished novel – know that my life was one in which I actually felt a fundamental joy and connection to what I was doing when I woke up in the morning. I was there in those moments, not someone merely existing like many out there dwelling in dusty offices of the mind and soul, but someone alive and awake to each and every moment. Someone discovering a joy that cannot be bought or sold or manufactured. A joy that comes from living from the core of your being. A joy that comes from answering your soul’s call. A joy that comes from running wide-eyed into life’s wilderness, pursuing your treasure and not allowing anyone else to shoot you down for daring to dream and chase that dream and live that dream.