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

short stories

~ Beaten ~

beaten

~ Beaten ~

Eyes full of sickness and sadness, I stared at the dancefloor with a feeling of resentment. There they all were: those happy people with their happy faces. They moved effortlessly across the floor like they moved effortlessly through life. No doubt they all lived sane and orderly lives of structure and stability. They didn’t know my pain, my madness. They didn’t know what it was like to linger always on the sidelines and stare in from the outside. I stood there doing exactly that, leaning on the bar while watching them as they moved and grooved. I downed a double whiskey coke while continuing my ethnographic observation. I drank another one then realised my friend had left with a girl. I looked around for any possible chance with a female before conceding defeat and heading for the door.

Exiting the bar and stumbling down the street, my eyes beheld a jungle of kebab shops and neon lights leading me through the city centre. I watched as drunken revellers shouted, scoffed food and clambered into taxis. The human race was a wild species that had been tamed by its own creation of civilisation, but there was still a certain level of anarchy we allowed to unfold. This was best witnessed at 4am on highstreets full of broken bottles and broken minds; on highstreets where couples stood screaming at each other; on highstreets bearing piles of puke that were symbolic of the inner sickness of society. The sight of it all made me sad and it was at this point I remembered that it was my first time in Sheffield and I was supposed to be staying with my mate who had disappeared with a girl. I had no battery on my phone to contact him and suddenly found myself in the situation of having nowhere to sleep. Not an ideal situation admittedly, but by that point I was too drunk to care. Lost in the blur, I carried on staggering down the sidewalk until three men started speaking to me. I must have done or said something slightly disagreeable because the next thing I know I was getting the shit kicked out of me on the floor. Kicks and punches rained down upon me. My body grinded against the pavement. Venomous words of hate filled my ears. The beating continued for a good thirty seconds until the blurry figures ran off and disappeared out of sight. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. Blood dripped from above my left eye as my ribs ached and hip throbbed with a friction burn from the concrete. I knew immediately that my body was going to have more scars – more symbols of the destruction of my life etched permanently into my skin and flesh. 

Still not knowing what to do or where to go, I wandered around the early morning streets of Sheffield city centre while looking like someone from a horror movie. I didn’t have anywhere really to go and just kept stumbling around in a drunken daze. Eventually a police woman picked me up after some bystander spotted me in my gory state. I told her what had happened as she drove me around town in her car. I guess I was expecting to get taken to a hospital, or perhaps to the police station to file a report, but in the end she just cleared up my wound and dropped me outside a closed train station. I got out of the car and stood there alone in the cold winter night wearing just a t-shirt. Cuts to the public services in Britain had resulted in this – underfunded and overstretched, they looked for any way to avoid you utilising them. Consequently I stood there shivering and staring into the empty station, waiting for the damn thing to open. My ticket wasn’t until noon, but I was just going to board any train I could. If only there was a train off this planet, I pondered. 

Finally the station opened and I went inside and sat down watching the smartly-dressed business people get ready for another day at work. I watched the mothers quickly glance at me and look away in horror. I watched the little kids snicker and gossip about the wounds on my face. Those looks followed me onto the train where I tried to sleep but was woken up by a ticket inspector who told me my ticket was invalid for the current service I was on. I got out my card and paid for a new one as the conductor kept his distance. Thirty minutes later, I arrived in Derby where I was meant to switch trains to Nottingham. Looking at the board, I could see it would be another fifty minute wait in the cold until I could catch the connecting train. Suddenly it was all too much and I left the station and paid for a £40 taxi back home.

I think it was about 3pm in the afternoon when I awoke finally sober. Being too tired to clean myself first, I had collapsed onto the bed and left bloodstains all over the sheets. I grabbed them and threw them in the laundry. I then went into the bathroom and stared at my beaten face in the mirror. Back in a normal state of mind, I could finally see the severity of the beating I took. There were deep cuts, bruising and bumps around the left eye, as well as a few scratches on the right. It was a sorry sight to behold and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be going on a date with a girl later that evening. Maybe it could be rearranged, I thought. I then spoke to a friend on the phone who convinced me to head to the hospital to check for a concussion. I walked there for an hour as people continued to look at me like some sort of circus freak. I reached the hospital and stood looking up at that sad building with its rows and rows of windows. Windows in which the dying lay dying – windows in which those old hearts beat their last beats, those lungs gasped their last breaths and those eyes soaked in their last bit of light. I guess that’s where we all end up, maybe with a few relatives and flowers beside us if we are lucky. I headed in where the doctor inspected me and told me that I didn’t have a concussion but that I needed to be careful. I asked if there was anything I could do to stop the scarring around my eye. No solid advice was given. 

All things considered, I sat back and knew it had truly been a night of disaster. Perhaps the most disastrous of any night out I had, and there had been a few dramas along the way. I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, but apparently the gods had a few more tricks up their sleeves. When I returned home I checked my jean pockets and realised I had lost my passport at some point during the night. I also remembered that I was supposed to be starting a new job in a few days, and that I would have to turn up on my first day with my face looking like I had just ten rounds with Mike Tyson. That’s not to mention what the girl would think of me when I showed up to the date. It was a sorry state of affairs and all of a sudden a strange feeling fell over me. I touched the wounds on my face and felt like crying. It was the realisation of the horror and futility of it all. The world was relentless pain and agony, and no matter how good things got, you were always just a short way away from being stamped down by the boots and fists of life. I was only one week into the new year and already it was looking to be another one of misery and destruction. It was a depressing thought and I went into the bathroom to once again stare at my gory reflection in the mirror. I was beaten – scratched and scarred and stained with a dirt of which I’d never be clean. It was a sight I had beheld many times in my life – physical and mental wounds that gathered over the years – wounds that told the story of what each human faced on their path through life.

I continued wallowing in my self-pity until something strange happened. Out of nowhere, I burst out laughing. I looked in the mirror and laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt. I walked back into my bedroom and laughed some more. I even did a little dance in front of my wardrobe mirror while marvelling at the absurdity of my appearance. The misery subsided and I felt a strange determination within me. It was something that always appeared in moments where I was truly in the swamp of despair. The more this world tried to stamp me down, the more I just wanted to rise up against it and bare the blows. Maybe I was losing my mind completely, but I was going to make sure that life would be lived before death had its dirty way with me. With that thought in mind, I cleaned my cuts up some more, showered, drank a beer and got dressed for my date. 

It was going to be another magical evening.

short stories

~ The Barriers ~

pexels-photo-764880

~ The Barriers ~

It was date number seven and she sat across the table as I prepared to finally reveal who I really was. We had been dating for a couple of weeks and on each date I had put on a mask and played up to the image of a regular guy. She was a girl who wanted the normal life; whose principles were founded on what was established and trusted by the majority. Because of this, on previous dates I had hidden my true face. I had pretended that I was a straightforward guy, a follower of mainstream culture who wanted the quiet suburban life complete with the steady career, nice car and a few miniature humans running around on a rug in the front room. In reality I was none of those things, but I had come up with a plan to get close to her and see if I could be accepted by slowly revealing my true nature. So far it had worked well; in just a couple of weeks, we had already formed a close bond. Beds and kisses had been shared, hands had been held and eyes stared into. Now, finally feeling free enough to reveal who I was, I let go and spoke from the heart about how I really felt about life. I spoke about my desire to create art and live a life that was true to my own values and not those of society’s. As my mask lay on the table and my truth poured out of me, I could see a look in her eyes which I had not seen previously. It was not a positive one. It was a look of disappointment; a striking look of sudden distance. In those eyes, I watched her mentally pack her bags and sprint off over the horizon like some sort of scared deer. Clearly the truth of me was enough to make her distance herself immediately and leave me alone with my heart in my hands. It didn’t matter about the bond we had made in the previous meetings. It didn’t matter about the kisses and the laughs and the tender moments of connection. I was not compatible with her reality and everything from our previous meetings had suddenly been thrown out the window. Everything had changed in an instant.

Following that conversation, we got up and left the bar. We kissed and said goodbye and I said I’d see her soon, but we both knew there and then that something had changed beyond repair. I watched her turn to leave and head home up the road as I stood alone in the winter night. I then walked home in that chilling cold, my breath in front of me, the flickering street lights illuminating the vapour of my lungs – the twisted tree branches hanging above like the sinister hands of madness snaking their way down to finally snatch me away for good. By the time I was back in my room, I knew for certain that it was all over. There was no way I’d see her again. Her ship had set sail and I lay there on the bed sinking into the depths of the earth. My heart ached and I stared up at the ceiling thinking about all those other souls out there lying on beds alone, losing their minds and aching in their bones for some basic form of human connection, but never being able to find it because of who they really were on the inside. The pain I felt was strong but not completely foreign. From a young age all I had wanted to feel some basic human connection, but never once had I been able to find it completely. Yes, I knew I was a little odd and perhaps even a little crazy, but I thought if I could try to be one of them for a while, make a connection with someone and then slowly reveal who I really was from beneath their radar, that there just might be a chance that there would be a home for me inside the heart of another. This crazy little experiment of mine had predictably proved that wrong. I was back in my room of isolation facing those walls yet again. Those walls that closed in year by year. Those walls that would eventually be my tomb.

The next day the text arrived in my inbox. “I’m sorry; I think you’re great. I’ve had a really good time together, but I don’t think we should see each other any more.” It came as no surprise at that point. I had seen the rejection in her eyes the night before at the bar; the text just told me in words what that look had already shown me. It was a depressing thought but when I really thought about it, it wasn’t just the rejection of her that killed me inside; it was the rejection of myself from humanity in general. This wasn’t the first time I had been cast out after taking off my social mask. Every time I had opened up and tried to connect to another person from the level of who I really was, I had been looked at strangely and kept at a distance like some sort of diseased animal. There was a criteria that most people seemed to stick to when selecting who would enter their lives – a criteria I simply did not fit. Those cold looks of dismissal always left me feeling like I would always be walking those cold streets alone, returning to those dark rooms of isolation and staring up at ceilings until I eventually lost my mind completely. 

The most painful thing was that in her eyes that night in the bar I could see a level of understanding. Like she recognised and understood where I was coming from, perhaps even an element of respect for choosing to walk my own path, but she could not let someone like that be a part of her life. In her eyes I saw the barriers that kept the outsiders at bay. I knew that there were others out there who felt that a life of following a set path was a suppressed form of existence; that life was meant to be lived and not to driftly through following safe and established cultural patterns. I think everyone knows it deep somewhere inside. Our hearts all scream out for true freedom from the system at some point. But for the safety of their own social sanity and acceptance of the crowd, people raise the barrier and don’t let anyone different from the tribe in. The social validation was simply too gratifying; the place among the crowd too comfortable. It was the same in the books I had written. People said they understood my pain and where I was coming from. They told me how it made them feel free and good inside to hear a voice scream out from the wild. Yet, no one ever thought to do the same and stand apart from the crowd and follow their own path. There was something in the way that stopped people from coming to my side of the fence. Everybody wished to be themselves and posted Instagram quotes of it, but so very few were truly willing to walk the walk.

As always I didn’t understand the complexities of human nature and for the next few days I walked the streets again scanning for someone or something. A part of me had resided myself to a life of isolation but the loneliness soon made me search for a look in the eye of someone who might have a place for me in their own story. I couldn’t find anyone I could bring myself to talk to so I ventured back to the dating apps, scrolling, swiping and searching for someone that might understand. Eventually I got speaking to one girl who shared some mutual interests. We started dating and again everything was going well for a while. It was about one month in and again I opened up and started to show her a bit of my real character. I expressed myself from the soul and shared my truth with her. I thought this was it; someone who would let me in and unite under the same banner of freedom. But slowly her eyes dimmed out of interest and attraction. I only saw the same look in her eyes that I had seen from the other girl that night in the bar. It was a look that would haunt me until the day I died. A look that showed the barriers that would make my life one of loneliness and isolation. The barriers that people raised to keep the outsiders in the darkness. The barriers that kept the wilderness at bay. 

The barriers that would just not let me in.

short stories

~ Finding the Others ~

finding the others

~ Finding the Others ~

It was another riveting day of sitting at home, staring at the walls and longing for some basic form of human connection. I looked around my room and saw the type of mess only created by a single man living alone. It had been another shameless period of solitude filled with writing, drinking, masturbation and late-night ventures through the virtual wilderness of the internet. For the last two weeks, my only interactions with humanity had been done via satellite signals and electronic devices. I had vented to some strangers on Reddit, argued with people on Youtube and Facebook messaged old travel friends who I was probably never going to see again. It was the modern type of isolation and I thought about my scenario and laughed at the sheer absurdity of it. I now lived in a world where I was able to speak to someone in South America, but not in the same building I was living in. No doubt that apartment block was full of lonely souls all around me: dozens of people living together under one roof, but all separated by some shoddy walls. Like society in general, everyone was so close and so far at the same time. It was a strange state of affairs and in a moment of restless frustration, I removed myself from my lair to hit those grey streets in search of someone or something.

I exited the building and started heading towards the city centre. As I did, I looked around at the people passing me on the streets. I saw the businessmen on their way home from work. I saw mothers pushing prams, students carrying beer back to their halls, well-dressed couples holding hands on their way to dates. I saw many types of people, but very few I could be sure I’d be able to connect with. So often I stared into the eyes of the human race wondering where my fellow misfits were hiding. I guess I did need to see one or two of them every now and again. After all, a part of what it is to be human is to find your tribe; to find your people who make you feel like you aren’t alone in your own state of being. It’s why the hippies wear flowers and dread their hair. It’s why the pill-poppers go to raves. It’s why Trump supporters go to country music festivals. We all crave social validation and to be with people who share our perspectives and give us a sense of belonging. We had been doing it since we were tribes roaming the plains of Africa and nothing had changed in the environment of the modern world. Even though I was well-experienced with the act of being alone, I too felt the need to stare into the eyes of someone who also felt like they had been accidentally dropped off on the wrong planet.

A philosopher I listened to called Terence Mckenna had once told me how important in life it was to ‘find the others’. I guess that was what I had been doing in some way while out on my backpacking adventures. Over the years of bumbling around the world, I had naturally come across a few of my extraterrestrial clan along the way. I had met them in the random sort of places people like myself would inevitably end up. Budget hostels. Rundown bars. Long-distance bus rides. Minimum wage, low-skilled jobs.

One situation that came to mind was when I was working in New Zealand. I had arrived in the country with just a few hundred pounds and had been getting by off any type of work I could find. After doing a few agricultural jobs, I had ended up working for a crooked labour agency in some small town. The bosses knew how desperate their staff were for work and consequently assigned you terrible jobs that paid nor more than the minimum wage. It was the type of agency where people who didn’t have much of a clue what they were doing in life ended up, so it was only natural that I had found my way to the front door. Hell, it even appeared that a couple of the others had ended up there too. First was a guy from England who claimed he had never written a CV or been to a job interview in his life. He had spent the last four years working for a cheffing agency before blowing all his savings in Asia and limping into New Zealand with just a few dollars in the bank. The other was a Dutch guy living out of his van – a fellow introverted writer who was out on a soul-searching voyage around the world. We ended up working together on the same tasks and quickly discovered we shared similar eccentric views and perspectives on the world. I was able to talk freely with them about certain philosophies or ideas without being met by the usual looks of consternation and horror. It was a rare and refreshing moment of belonging, and we continued to converse regularly online after we went our separate ways.

Another one of the others I recalled was a depressed French guy I had met in Nepal. We had connected over a few remarks during a group dinner and within days we were chilling together on the roof of his hotel while drinking beer and discussing the meaning of life. He was a wanderer like myself – a person whose plans changed by the day and who had so many ideas that he was perpetually unsure with what direction to take in life. One moment he was moving to Australia, the next to Iran, the next to Russia. As the week went on, we continued to meet up and share the contents of our minds. Conversations were had regarding literature, women, conspiracies, cults and society before we eventually scurried back off into the wilderness to continue our own existential journey through life. Again, we kept in contact after we parted ways.

Besides those guys, I also had met a few more of the others somewhere in the world. Sometimes it was for a minute, sometimes it was for a day – sometimes a few weeks or months. Those wanderers were now sporadically dotted around the world – my comrades of isolation holed up in dark rooms while also engaging in the same everyday struggles that I knew. Of course, it was slightly easier to find a few of my tribe on those bohemian adventures, but for now I was living in a new city back in the U.K and I knew they would be slightly harder to locate. Still, I was determined they were out there somewhere and I kept roaming those streets like a man on safari, hunting for a rare species. I stared into the eyes of those people standing in supermarket queues. I watched the body language of people in crowds that formed at traffic lights. I eavesdropped on conversations in bars, hoping for a certain type of conversation: people with awkward demeanours talking about art or existence or philosophy – any reference to any esoteric thing which might indicate they were also hopelessly out of sync with their surrounding society.

Naturally you had to be careful about the sort of places you frequented while searching for your tribe; in particular your drinking holes. There was one place I knew that usually had a wide range of eccentric characters in there, and consequently it seemed like the best territory to focus my hunt. I proceeded to go and drink there often in an outside smoking area while observing the creatures around me. I listened to their conversations. I stared into their eyes. I watched the nature of their hand movements as they picked up their drinks. It was after a few visits that I eventually met one girl called Christina from Italy. I had overheard her conversation on the table beside me and straight away sensed she was also uncomfortable in her own skin. I got talking to her and found out she was a hiker who preferred to be in nature rather than the confines of the crowd. Like myself, she had also walked ‘El Camino de Santiago’ – a classic pilgrimage for wanderers on some sort of soul-searching journey. The shared experience allowed us to connect on a deeper level and find out more about each other’s lives. It was the start of a friendship that went on for many months as we united under the same banner of being starry-eyed dreamers who just wanted to hike in nature, rather than engage in the social requirements of human society. It had taken a few weeks of hunting but, finally, I had found the first of my tribe.

The second of my tribe was a guy who sat on the desk next to me when I started a temporary office job. At first we didn’t connect or speak much at all, but as the days and weeks went on, I gradually identified some giveaway signs that he was a man of a similar disposition to the world as I was. Sometimes I spotted him staring into space with a wistful look in his eyes; another time I saw him scribbling some fantasy sketches in his notebook while half-heartedly talking on the phone. I got speaking with him with a bit of formulaic work colleague small-talk and, after a few clumsy moments and references, we began to notice that we were the same type of awkward personality. I knew of a personality test which assigned people into sixteen different personality types; I was sure he was the same as me so I made a reference to it which he immediately responded too. As predicted, he was a guy who shared the same personality type with me: an INFP personality – the type ruled totally by the heart and intuition, rather than any sort of logic and judgment. It was only natural this type suffered in this mechanical society (as evidenced by the fact this type was the most likely to commit suicide or earn the least amount of money). Male INFPs made up just 1.5% of the population and this rare bridge of connection allowed us to converse on a deep level whenever we got a moment to escape from the suffocating reality of the office environment. It was soon clear that I had located another one of the others as I experienced that rare moment of being totally understood by another person.

The months went on as I started to locate more and more of the others. With my hunter skills improving all the time, I was gradually getting better at detecting and distinguishing my fellow misfits among the crowd. Of course, I needed to remember to make sure I was also putting out my own signals in case there were others out there looking for me. I thought of how many of the great artists had found each other by others putting themselves out there. Like stranded castaways, the weirdos had put themselves out there in SOS signals for others of their kind to come and find them. As an internet meme once told me: ‘You’ve gotta shine your weirdo light bright so the other weirdos know where to find you’. I did exactly that by spewing out my thoughts and writings on internet blogs. Consequently, a few people came into my life, including one English Italian woman living in Switzerland who had messaged me through my Facebook blog. We started speaking casually until we eventually ended up talking almost daily, even going on to create a sort of ‘madness diary’ in which we confessed our latest episodes of madness like we were each other’s online therapist. Another was an Indian girl into Henna tattoos who had read my books; we also spoke online for a while and ended up meeting in a street food restaurant as we discussed why trees were the greatest works of art and how the universe was essentially one giant brain, much to the confusion of the people around us who looked at us like we had just escaped from the nearest mental asylum. 

All things considered, it was safe to say I was gradually becoming quite skilled at finding the others. I was slowly mastering the art of testing the waters with certain conversations, probing and poking others to see if underneath the social mask there was another one of my tribe trying their best to remain undercover in human society. It was a skill I knew I was going to use throughout the rest of my life as I continued stumbling along on my solitary path. I guess it was true that I was a man who thrived on wandering alone, but it seems I couldn’t escape the human need to stare into the eyes of someone who understood me for who I actually was. Life is a lonely march for many of us, especially the ones who frequently feel a bit alienated and misunderstood, but just a moment of connection with another of your tribe was sometimes enough to keep you going on your path for another few months. That was exactly what I did as I ended up going travelling again before returning and settling down again in a new city. Life soon returned back to normal as I went about life on my own, drifting through the days and returning to my lair of solitude for more shameless spells of drinking, writing, masturbating and late-night ventures through the virtual wilderness through the internet. Sometimes it all became a little too much, but the idea that there was more like me out there was comforting enough to convince myself that I wasn’t totally crazy or doomed or destined for that nearest mental asylum. 

And hey, I guess we all needed that reassurance every now and again.

 

 

short stories

~ Off The Rails ~

nice beach

~ Off the Rails ~

Off the rails. We all go there at some point. At least many of us do. We have seen our parents go off the rails, our politicians, our celebrities. We have seen our friends and our teachers. It’s a time when a man or woman just can’t hold on anymore to whatever it was that was giving their lives some structure and stability. The absurdity of life strikes hard and we can’t keep it together as we pretend to know what we are doing and what path we are following. Our behaviour thus becomes volatile as we drink the beer, consume the drugs and venture into the general realms of self-destructive madness. 

My mind was particularly turbulent at the best of times, so it was only naturally the rails had fallen out of reach many times in my life. I had been there broke on the other side of the world while drinking myself to sleep every night. I had been there when my heart was broken for the first time. I had been there when I quit a university course and flew one-way to Mexico. I had been there many times and now I was there on the South coast of France visiting a friend I had met in Nepal. Like me his life was total mess and madness. Another young guy in his twenties staring out at contented members of society strolling down sidewalks and wondering how the hell he would ever be one of them. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend, was working a temporary contract job, had little savings, was living at home with his parents, and just generally didn’t know where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do with his life. Naturally this had led him to self-destructive behaviour such as excessive partying and driving while under the influence.

The reason this trip was doomed was because I was also reaching the peak of my latest spell of being off-the-rails. It had been four months of heavy drinking, sleeping around, starting and quitting a job, and just generally being hurled around by the anarchy of my own restless heart. Us together was a recipe for disaster and that disaster unfolded nicely as the beers went back while we sat in his garden in the hills above Cannes.

“Fuck, I am so lost man. What am I doing with my life?” He drank his beer and stared out at the hills. “No money, no girlfriend, living at home with my parents. I don’t know where the hell to go next.” It didn’t help that all around us were the fancy homes of accepted members of society who had ‘made it’. We looked at those finely groomed houses as he kept venting about his issues. I wanted to help him but naturally I didn’t want to offer any solutions to problems I suffered from myself. Fire could not put out fire and within days we were drinking till 8am in the morning, searching for girls to meet on Tinder and driving around town heavily intoxicated while blasting 90s rap music. It was another episode of madness for me and I thought of many of my friends currently out there also doing the same in some shape or form. I knew one guy drinking five bottles of wine a day in an apartment outside of Milan. I knew one woman who had quit her career job and moved to Switzerland to be a starving artist. I knew another who had just arrived back into the U.K penniless after blowing all his money on cocaine in South America.

Over the years I had noticed that I seemed to attract a certain type of person in my life. Some might call them beatniks, bohemians or bums. It was the type of person who went from one storm to another and whose life was in a constant state of disorder. They were the ones perpetually off the rails, spiralling out of control and constantly circling the drain of defeat. I guess I was one of them myself. My life was currently as turbulent as it had ever been and the global outbreak of the coronavirus sealed the fate. My year fell apart in a matter of days as my travel plans were cancelled and I suddenly found myself jobless and facing the prospect of moving back with my parents. For now in France they had announced a curfew on the streets and for all international visitors to head home as soon as they could. Naturally I responded to this by getting drunk and arranging to meet a girl off Tinder. My life now had no hope or direction for the foreseeable future, so meeting a girl and watching the sun set as we got smashed off a bottle of rum seemed like a good option. After that we drove around town drunk until my friend found us a hotel. The three of us checked in and carried on drinking in the room. Suggestions of a three-way were made but my friend decided to leave as he was too depressed about his ex. So there it was just me and the girl who was totally off the rails too. Listening to her story, I found out she had snuck out of her parent’s house and hitch-hiked to meet me from a small village. I also found out she had had a miscarriage a couple of years back which no doubt explained why her arms were covered with a succession of self-harm scars. She was clearly still haunted by some demons and naturally it felt good to be with a fellow scratched and scarred soul who was also no stranger to the storm.

The next morning we were getting kicked out of the hotel as it had decided to close due to the outbreak. We left the room covered in beer bottles and wine stains and headed back out onto the streets. Back in the burning daylight of reality, I looked around at the eerily empty neighbourhoods and wondered what the hell I was now going to do with my life. My phone had no charge and we wandered around in a dreamlike state for an hour or two. She had to get home as soon as she could; her parents were worried about her and wanted her to come home to quarantine like the rest of the world. My parents didn’t even know I was in France. I guess it would be time to tell them soon. For now I decided to take the train to Nice where my flight was due to head off the next day. We headed to the train station where we bumped into a German man smoking weed and also not knowing what the hell he was doing. He had been travelling around Europe with no money for the last two months, carrying only a small backpack and a bible. The oncoming lockdown was sure to leave him in a sticky situation for the foreseeable future. I wished him some luck as we carried on our way. 

I almost convinced the girl to let me stay with her at her family’s house in her village but I eventually ended up alone on the streets of Nice, wandering around aimlessly, considering what the hell I could do until the next morning when my flight left. By now the curfew was in full effect and police were patrolling the streets to interrogate people on why they were outside. If they were to ask me, what the hell would I say? I didn’t know what I was doing with my life at the best of times and this wasn’t the best of times. I was just kind of stumbling around in a hungover daze while waiting to go home the next day (that was if my flight hadn’t been cancelled like the majority of flights had). My situation was bad but not as bad as my friend. After finally finding a place to buy a phone charger, I managed to contact him and find out that he had got arrested for drink-driving the night before. The police had pulled him over just a short while after he had left us at the hotel. He had tested four times the limit and had been stripped of his license for at least six months. His life was already off the rails but this was the thing that would surely cause him to sink even further into the depths of self-destructive madness.

His spell off-the-rails was taking a new nosedive and I was sure that mine was too. As the world turned to anarchy with the outbreak of the coronavirus, I just headed to a shop to get some more beers and drink at the beach somewhere out of sight of the police. I sat there alone on the shores of France, my back turned to the madness of the world as I thought about what I was now going to do with my trainwreck of a life. I had left my job to travel but now that looked unlikely for the rest of the year. It would also be difficult to find another job with the country going on lockdown for weeks or possibly months. Money was going to be an issue, especially with the horrific damage I had done to my bank account in a matter of days in France. I downed my beer and knew my life was spiralling out of control to a degree I hadn’t seen before. I had no direction, no chance, no hope. I couldn’t even be bothered to fake an answer when people would ask me what I was doing with my life. Truth is, I didn’t have a clue anymore. I had never really had a clue, and out of all the peaks of not having a clue, perhaps this was the highest. Like my French friend and the girl from Tinder, I was totally off the rails, circling the drain and waiting to be sucked permanently into that sewer of defeat. It was a state that I was to always return back to no matter how many periods of stability and sanity came my way. Deep down I knew I couldn’t be cured from this reckless behaviour and a part of me didn’t even want to. The world was falling to pieces anyway and I wanted to fall apart with it.

With that decision made, I gazed out into the Mediterrean sea, cracked open another beer and toasted my descent further into the abyss of self-destructive madness.