(A collection of short stories from my writings)
~ The Hidden Treasure ~
“The day had come and gone, and there we sat at the end of the jetty, facing out into the sunset lake. We had only met just a few hours ago and now she was telling me things she had probably never told anyone. She told me deepest secrets, her fears, her hopes, her pains, her joys, her struggles. All of this to me: a random stranger from the bar. Back home people had their defences up; we were all standing upon society’s stage and playing whatever role it was we were supposed to play to be accepted. But there was a certain magic when you crossed paths with a stranger out on the road. Having just met and safe in the knowledge that you were probably never going to see each other again, there was no pretence or image to keep up. The masks were off and everything could be laid bare.
As the sun set below the horizon and the secrets spilled out upon the water, it made me think about how different the world would be if we all just shared what was really going on beneath the surface. So many people have undoubtedly carried the contents of their souls into the abyss without letting them ever see the light of life. One could despair for all the things that were never done and said because we were too afraid to deviate from the social script and say what we really felt. All the adventures that were never pursued, all the works of art that were never realised, all the friendships and loves that never blossomed – all because of the fear of exposing our true selves to the world. Even for the people closest to you, it would often take years and decades to unlock the vault of the soul; but get a random stranger alone for a few isolated moments in a foreign country and suddenly the secret combination is found.
As we both carried on talking about life into the night, I realised that there was something incredibly valuable about these brief and bittersweet encounters on the road. Most of us have treasure inside our chests that we want to show the world, it’s only when we feel free that the locks slip loose and the gold inside shimmers bright and brilliant under the stars.”
~ The Art of Getting Lost ~
“I always remember the first time I got lost. It was on a Saturday in the market downtown, and I was about five years old. I had momentarily wandered off from my mother and suddenly found myself sailing alone within a sea of busy shoppers. Amid the bustling stalls and scary strangers, I remember looking around and realising how utterly alone I was. As my stomach sank and I felt the fear, somebody came up to me and took me to a room where they announced over a speaker for my mother to come and collect me. Consequently, I was saved from that intimidating wilderness, but I never forgot the feeling – the feeling of being totally and helplessly lost.
As my life went on, I got lost a few more times until I suddenly found myself doing it willingly. One day I found myself travelling alone to Africa. One day I found myself somewhere in a foreign country without a map and a plan. One day I found myself again becoming that young child in the market, engulfed in the immensity of a big and scary world. And the more I got lost, the more I realised that it isn’t such a terrifying thing after all. In fact, it may well be the truest sensation there is – the thing that is rooted to the core of our very being.
When you thought about, we got lost all the time. We got lost in the movies we watched; we got lost in the books we read. Perhaps, most commonly, we got lost in our relationships with each other. Whenever people fell in love, they essentially threw themselves into the wilderness of another human-being. To go down the rabbit hole is a beautiful thing; it is something which takes us away from an old and safe familiarity, and into the wonderland of our magical universe.
So, don’t always see the act of getting lost in a negative way. Sometimes see it as an opportunity. Sometimes, within reason, leave the map and the plan at home, take the road less travelled, wander away from the crowd, fall in love with a stranger – explore what’s beyond the horizon with a child-like curiosity. As many people young and old will testify, you just never quite know upon what treasure you will stumble.”
~ Rebel Flower Rising ~
“Another day of bohemian madness was unfolding and there I was on the trail, wandering through the countryside somewhere in Spain, hopelessly lost in the dream of what it is to exist. I was deep in thought when I lifted my eyes toward the field beside me and was suddenly stopped in my tracks. I put my backpack down and stood there in silence staring at it. Amongst all those hunchback pieces of wheat with their slouched shoulders was a singular red poppy standing tall and proud. In its stark simplicity, it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. It stood out courageous and beautiful; it rose without fear or regard for what everything else around it was doing. Captivated by the sight, I stood there for a few minutes in the midday heat, watching that flower sway in the summer breeze. At the time I couldn’t really say why, but the simple wonder and majesty of it moved me beyond words; it was a sight of nature that said something deep and meaningful to my soul.
Later on that day, I was sat in the hostel courtyard thinking about it when I got speaking to a fellow hiker on the table beside me. As we talked about life and the walk over some red wine, I gradually began to realise that I had just met the sort of person I had hoped existed for a while. We shared the same esoteric views on life; we both had crazy and chaotic minds; we both wanted to live a life of travel and exploration. However, unlike me, she was unashamedly different – letting her weirdness shine bright and not hiding the fact she would pick up dirty bits of string on the road to use as bracelets, or that she spent her time popping people’s blisters while working in a homeless shelter back home.
Feeling an instant affinity with one another, we walked together for the next few days, sharing the contents of our minds, walking through fields of bohemian bliss, listening to music under the shade of trees. As the midsummer sun beat down, I looked into her eyes and remembered that I wasn’t entirely alone in my madness – that there was another one of me out there wandering with the wind. Finally right in front of me was the sort of person I’d searched for in the eyes of strangers on streets, the eyes of strangers on trains – the eyes of strangers in bars and clubs and restaurants. Now that we were together every second was a fountain of joy and inspiration.
When I reflect back upon that day, it made so much sense why that flower in the field had such an impact on me. All my life I have hid the fact I was different, but hiding my true colours has slowly suffocated me from within. Like that girl had also shown me, it was always better to just embrace your differences and be totally unafraid to stand out from the rest. After all, it was that very thing that allowed me to spot her so easily from the crowd. It’s so important to let your unique madness blossom because somewhere out there is someone like you looking for someone like them; out there someone waits silently in the crowd, waiting to be inspired to let their soul sing out in all its glory. So if that poppy taught me anything then it was don’t be afraid to stand up; don’t be afraid to shine bright. In a world where everyone tries to fit into the same mould, don’t be afraid to be that rebel flower rising in a field of wheat.”
~ 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.”
~ A Moment Of Clarity ~
“The door shut and the noise from the outside world faded away. I was in the viper’s nest. Across the table sat a still man, his suit and soul buttoned up to the neck. In his hands he held a pen and a piece of paper that were going to permit whether I was acceptable enough to hand over my hours and become another one of his faithful employees. I was in the situation I loathed most of all: a situation where men became machines, where wild souls were tamed, where narcissists and sociopaths flourished as they spat out a market-approved script of lies and exaggerations.
The interview began and the questions flowed away as formulaic as anticipated. “So what specifically about this role interests you?” he asked first. “What skills from your previous jobs can you apply to this role?” he asked second. “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” he asked third.
As I gave a fake smile and chirped out generic answers, I felt the knives cut away at my heart. Here I was: lying and hiding my true self just to ‘play the game’ and obtain a job I didn’t even want. I knew I wouldn’t be staying at the job long term; I knew I didn’t believe anything I was telling this man. And yet I did it anyway. This was the way it was: two wild creatures of the universe trapped in boxes, playing the game in all its ugliness and falsity. Our ties tightened like nooses on necks; our souls suffocated within these suits of society. For some reason I was destined never to figure out, this is how it was.
The interview screeched along and after the final handshake done, I walked out and relaxed the muscles in my cheeks. I made it out the building and onto the busy street. As I stood there back in civilisation, an overwhelming sadness filled my body. It surged up from within and filled my bones, my flesh, my fingertips, my shoes – my pockets. The very core of my being told me everything was wrong about what had just happened. I could hear the voices of my peers and parents and teachers in my head: “that’s life” they would say. “It’s called growing up” they would say. But this was a feeling so strong – so conflicting – that I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. How could lying and denying who you really were be the logical path? How could starving my soul in a job I had no interest in be the thing that was encouraged?
No, I couldn’t ignore that profound sadness and from that moment on I made a promise to myself. I made a promise never to pander to the corporate world again. I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me, or what low-paying jobs I had to work. In those moments in that interview I felt the power of the entire universe tell me to turn my back on that phony world. Working casual jobs and finding other ways to make money for my adventures would have to be the way I went forward for now. There was nothing noble about silencing your inner voice to work a socially-accepted job; there was nothing sane about lying and being false just to bluff your way into a job you didn’t want anyway. In a moment of clarity, I loosened my tie from my neck and walked off freely into the city crowd.
Two years and many adventures later, my bank account is often a sorry sight, my social status is at an all-time low, and I have still never worn a suit or had a full-time job. But the things I have seen, felt, tasted and explored I would not trade for all the gold and riches in the world. I may not have a large portfolio and polished resume, but I have seen the sun rise over the Himalayas, I have camped alone in the perpetual daylight of Iceland, I have watched volcanoes erupt – wrote poetry under the stars – shared beautiful moments with people all over the world. I have delved into the depths of my mind and awakened a way of being that I simply never felt was possible to feel. Yes, I may be an outcast and outsider to many, but on the trail of my own path oh how my spirit soars. As I stay true to who I am, as I continue following my inner voice – as this pen scribbles away and my eyes blaze and burn with the wildfires of life – oh how my spirit soars.”
~ Undefined ~
“It had been a day of chaotic adventure and now we were back in the hostel, drinking beers and wine around a table in the courtyard. The drinks and good times were flowing along as the air was filled with the sound of Latin music and hearty laughing. We spoke of the day’s exploits; we spoke of travelling and adventure; we spoke of Wim Hof and Zen Buddhism. Suddenly came the question I despised so much. “So what is it that you Do?” one girl asked another across the table. The other girl looked up at her. “You know for work and that back home? What do you do?”. I sat back in my chair and swallowed a sip of my beer. Immediately I felt the atmosphere change. The ‘do’ question was out there and I knew it was time to categorise ourselves – to justify ourselves as functioning members of human society.
The girl answered how she was a marketing executive back in Sydney. She explained a little about her role then sat back and smiled. Her box had been ticked off: she was an accepted member of the human race. The girl carried on asking the others on the table. One guy was an accountant, another was a nurse – another a public relations manager. Tick, tick, tick. As the question crept around a table, I breathed an internal sigh of frustration. I knew I was about to be judged. I didn’t have a box to place myself in or label to slap onto myself. I was twenty-four years old and had never held a job for more than a year. I had spent the last few years post education going from job to job; from adventurer to adventure. I was officially unlabelled – a wanderer or vagabond in their civilised eyes.
The question went around the table until finally the spotlight shone down on me. They asked me and I began explaining about my life. I explained how I had worked about twenty different jobs for short periods to fund my adventures – of how I took part in medical research trials to afford those plane tickets. They all stared at me strangely. “But what is it you DO?” the girl said again. “Or what is it you want to DO?..” Their steely eyes fixated on me as they internally dissected me with a calculating look. It was a look I had experienced many times back home, but one I thought I was safe from when out on the road amongst apparent free-spirits.
I took a deep breath and tried to explain how I didn’t want a career. I explained that my only aims and ambitions were to see the world, to climb the mountains, to try and create art through my writing. I tried to explain that I wanted to delve down into the depths of the human psyche and explore what it is to exist as conscious creature in the universe. But as I rambled on I realised it was of no use. The looks of dismissal shown my cover was blown; I wasn’t a functioning member of the human race like the rest of them. I didn’t have a box of economic employment to place myself in and for that I was the weird one. My label of seclusion had been slapped on me. I was an outcast – an outsider – an alien.
“Oh well that’s cool” one person said halfheartedly after a few seconds of silence. I sat back and sipped my beer as the question awkwardly skipped onto the next person. The conversation carried on flowing; I tried to join back in but I felt that something had changed in the dynamic of the conversation. As everyone bickered away, I suddenly noticed that I was a bit segregated from the group. I couldn’t get a foothold in the conversation so I just sat there listening in, dwelling in my own exclusion. Eventually I got a bit tired about it all and walked off to go drink my beer alone down by the beach – at least solitude was a reliable old friend who understood me.
As I sat there I reflected on what had just happened. The more I continued through life, the more it became clear what was required to be an accepted member of the human race. One had to fulfil some sort of title – to fit themselves into an easy-to-distinguish role. It seemed that the fate of a sentient human-being was to ‘grow up’ and become an ‘accountant’, a ‘teacher’, a ‘project manager’ – a ‘marketing executive’. Integrated into society, it was hard to avoid becoming defined in a box of some sort. Whenever people met each other for the first time, one of the first questions asked was always that merciless ‘what do you DO?’. It was a question that saddened me greatly. The context of it being the go-to question when you first met somebody implied that a human-being’s identity was primarily a job role. What made it worse was that when you answered the other person categorised and judged you on what sort of person you were, how much money you likely had, what sort of car you drove and even what politics you followed.
Unlike the other humans though, there wasn’t a singular job role out there that interested me. All I ever wanted to do was go on adventures and write here and there. People said: “oh you like writing: why don’t you be a journalist?”. I did follow my passion of writing into the profession of journalism, but my introduction to that world only left me disinterested and disenfranchised. I wanted to WRITE, not be sat behind a desk in an office typing up some press release or news story I had no interest in.
As I sat there drinking my beer and staring out into the sunset sky, I decided that I just had to accept that I was an undefined being. I was a man without a label; a citizen without a box. I was a person who belonged to tribe or had no particular trade. As I rode down the highway of life, I was destined to continue being undefined – a wanderer with no role other than to rescue my own truth and bliss from the wilderness. I wasn’t compatible with society, so instead I roamed the earth, I stared up into the skies – I drank beers alone and waited for words of wisdom to pour down onto the page. In all the madness of human existence, I was a solitary gypsy spirit doomed to forever wander with that wild wind. That – it turns out – is what I did. That is what I do. And that – I guess as I sat alone scribbling on a piece of paper for the rest of the evening – is what I would always do.”
~ Voicing your Truth ~
“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 site?
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 raw and real 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 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 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 cruel 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.”
~ Not Letting Them Break You Down ~
Yes, it’s true that there are many kind-hearted people in this world, many people who want the best for you, but make no mistake about it: out there there are also countless people who want to break you down little by little – piece by piece. You are not always in good company in your day to day life. At every second, the sidewalks and cities of the world are filled with people who will try to assert their dominance over you to their own gain; who want you to feel timid and fearful under their shadow; who want you to be laid out on the floor so they can stand a little higher with their head in the clouds. Integrated into a society that often rewards their behaviour, they are the sociopaths, the narcissists, the bullies, and the manipulators. Sometimes they are simply the people who have suppressed their own issues and are looking for someone to vent their own inner pain upon.
Like most of us, I have come across a few of these creatures in my life. Sometimes they are easy to spot; sometimes they will first infiltrate your radar and appear as friends. The meetings have been many but the most notable example I can recall of this was when I was backpacking around Australia. Desperate as ever for money to keep on travelling in some basic way, I went online and responded to a casual job advert. It was from a middle-aged man who owned a few properties in the city of Adelaide and needed some help with them and his farm a little out of the city. The job description seemed like an easy fix, so I applied, spoke with him on the phone and arranged to begin work at the start of the following week.
It was three days later I got picked up with a fellow backpacker who had also responded to the ad. We were picked up on a dusty highway on the outskirts of the city. A beaten Toyota jeep pulled up along the freeway and there he sat behind the wheel: a big, bald, burly behemoth of a man, Australian but of Greek descent, with noticeably large hands and chunky fingers – the sort you knew had seen a lifetime of hard manual labour. I climbed in tentatively and introduced myself to him. Straight away he gazed at me with a piercing stare that shot right into the depths of my soul. I felt intimidated from the start. I looked down at how ragged and scarred those chunky fingers clutching the gear stick were and suspected that tough work awaited me. A painful, bone-crushing handshake then went and confirmed this.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at his farm and got to work. There was no time for ceremony I realised as he threw a spade at my feet and asked me start digging up a fence post in the nearby field. I grabbed it and began thudding away at the ground in the baking Australian sun. I already suspected he expected me to work at a fast pace, so with that in mind I toiled away with all my strength, breaking the earth apart and pulling out the fence as quick as I could while watching the sweat drip off my forehead onto the cracked ground beneath my feet.
After finishing this task he got me to clean out an old barn that was crammed full of junk that seemed to have been gathering there for at least a few decades. Giving me just fifteen minutes to complete the task, I ran around like a madman clearing everything out as fast as I could. While I whizzed around, he would repeatedly come and look shocked that I hadn’t finished the job yet. He’d stop in the doorway of the barn and scowl at me with a look of disgust. “What’s going on boy? You should have finished this by now. This isn’t good enough. You’ve gotta be quicker than this. Hurry up boy, hurry up”.
Already I began to see that the bald behemoth hated my blood and guts. This feeling only intensified when, after clearing out the barn, he threw a shovel at my feet and asked me to clear all the horse manure off an entire field. This job was to be followed by clearing out a hen paddock which had a stench bad enough to make the devil weep – that’s not to mention a little interruption where I had to try and herd some sheep into another field as he stood by the fence watching me with what I sensed was a feeling of jovial delight.
This sort of degrading, back-breaking work went on for a few days – and not just for me. Me and my friend would look at each other with exhausted eyes as he rampaged around the farm like a madman getting us to grind out our sweat and blood for what was essentially the minimum wage. At lunch he would invite both of us into the farm kitchen where we would eat lunch and drink a beer in a strange and uneasy atmosphere. It was a time to rest, but I never really felt totally comfortable to sit back and relax. There was an aura of contempt in the air and I felt a sort of bitter resentment or animosity towards us. Any attempts at small-talk or humour to creep under his tough exterior only resulted in that piercing stare he used so well and frequently to make you feel small and intimidated.
It was after a week of this exhausting existence that my friend decided to quit. It was a Sunday evening and I was speaking to him over the phone. “Yeah screw working for that bastard. I’m not killing myself for minimum wage. I spoke to a guy in the hostel who once worked for him too; it turns out he just likes to screw backpackers around for fun. He’s a psycho mate, he doesn’t even need the help, the farm is just a hobby of his. Just do yourself a favour and quit now. I’ll help you sort something else out.”
I thought about it and decided his words made sense. It didn’t surprise me that other backpackers had been through this ordeal and left after a few days. It didn’t surprise me that someone like that found pleasure in tormenting young backpackers like us he no doubt suspected came from privileged backgrounds. I thought some more about it and agreed with him; that it was better to just quit and find another casual job which wouldn’t be so painful and degrading.
I was about to text him my message of resignation when I suddenly heard another voice speak up somewhere inside my head. It was an old and familiar voice I recognised – the voice of stubbornness and resistance that I had occasionally listened to in hard times gone by. I thought back to the week on the farm and I knew from that piercing look in his eye that he wanted to break me down; I knew he found pleasure in recruiting backpackers and getting them to quit; I knew he felt better about himself that he could do these jobs that other mere mortals could not do. Having both of us quit after a week would only strengthen his resolve of hatred and contempt further. It was right there and then that I was going to brave out his thunder and lightning; that I was going to stand tall against his storm. My mind was made up and so began the start of a silent war. It was a war of endurance. Of pain. Of persistence. Of blind defiance to prove a point that I wasn’t even quite sure was at the time.
The week got started again and the battle continued where we left off. Picking me up on that dusty highway every morning, I was taken to the farm where I cleaned out hen pens of shit for minimum wage, where I blistered my hands as I dug away with a blunt spade into hard earth, where I scrubbed windows at a speed great enough to make my wrists snap while he stood beside me and barked at me to hurry up. There was one time on the way home that I had to run down a highway with a container when he had run out of oil. Having returned as fast as I could, he still remarked how I should have filled the container up a little more to the very top. “You’re just no damn good kid; you haven’t got any common sense and you haven’t done a day’s work in your life have you?”
I quickly realised that there was no room for any positivity or gratitude in this bizarre relationship. Sometimes a moment of quietness meant he was satisfied in some way, but other than that it was a lifeless affair. At lunch we would always sit in that disturbing silence as we ate and drank under heavy air. One time he spoke to me about his divorce and his daughter, but that was as deep and human as the discourse ever got. Any attempt to get any further details only resulted in hitting that familiar brick wall. Like many men across the world, he had closed himself off with a tough exterior that few, if any, would ever truly penetrate.
Eventually we started working in the city tending to all the homes and apartments he rented out. With him owning what seemed to be an entire neighbourhoods worth of residences, we shot around Adelaide like maniacs while rushing in and cleaning out the properties at lightning speed. I mopped floors, scrubbed dirt, cleaned windows and cut the grass while making sure I didn’t miss a patch that he would no doubt lose his beastly temper over. Sometimes I would briefly allow myself a quick moment of standing still and staring up into the sky, wondering how the hell I had ended up on the other side of the world in such a random situation. This wasn’t exactly what most people imagined when they thought of worldwide travel; scrubbing shit stains off toilet bowls while getting shouted at wasn’t exactly the mind-broadening, exotic experience I had envisaged back home.
Still, I found a way to deal with the absurdity of it all. The work itself wasn’t such a problem; I knew that the majority of people in the world had to toil away in hard, menial work for much less than the minimum wage I was earning. It was the fact that I had to deal with a snarling boss who was standing over my shoulder and relentlessly barking at me for hours on end. I reminded myself that they were just words and escaped into my own mind where I dreamt of coming adventures out on the road. One time he snapped at me while cleaning a bathroom for missing a spot on the toilet cistern, and I just stood there thinking of my east-coast trip while his words shot out at me. Like I had realised a few times in my life, I knew that in the depths of your own mind was the last refuge of freedom that no demon or tyrant could ever penetrate no matter what weapon or words they used. Insults could be hurled and skin could be pierced, but never could the bastards find a way to break into the wonderland of your own inner joy and imagination.
This tactic continued to work well until one day where he dropped me at his own property where he lived. We both cleaned up the inside of the house as normal and then he took me out into the back garden. He led me over to a hole in the ground with the top of a large pipe visible at the bottom through the dirt. Throwing that worn and weathered spade at my feet again, he asked me to dig around the whole pipe so that it was possible to get down beneath it and make a repair. After giving me this task he jumped in his van and said he would return in half an hour. “I want it done before I get back, you understand?” He then pulled out the drive and disappearing down the road.
With that command in mind, I got to work again, thudding that crappy spade against the rock-hard ground. The midday sun beat down as the sweat poured from every orifice of my body. The battle continued and, after twenty minutes of struggle, I began to realise that the situation was totally futile. My body was dehydrated, my hands blistered and bloody, and every thud into the hard ground opened up only the tiniest piece of room around the pipe. In a moment of exhaustion I threw the spade aside and went and sat under the shade of a tree for a while. I then went to the shop and bought myself three cold drinks before returning to the garden. I sat still in my own self-pity; I knew I was beaten and I didn’t care. I waited for the bald behemoth to return and shout at me with his thunderous voice.
While I sat there, I decided there and then to ring my friend to see what work he was now up to. I picked up the phone, rang him and began explaining the predicament I was currently in. Hearing my story, he was shocked that I still hadn’t quit. “Man, what are you still doing working for that psycho?” he said. “I’ve just sorted out a job at a party-hire company. It’s regular work, five days a week, and twenty bucks an hour. Quit and I’ll get you in here as soon as possible. I’ll speak to the boss tomorrow. Save yourself now brother.”
I told him to speak to his boss let me know. I put the phone away and carried on sitting there in the shade, thinking about the absurdity of the situation before me. As my mind wandered, I thought of the bullies in school. I thought how so many human minds vented their own hatred and fear at others just to make themselves feel a little better. This bastard of a boss was no doubt the same. I knew that those bullies and haters won the second you keeled over to them. When your back was up against the wall and faced the haters, one had to stand strong and remember that – no matter what they threw at you – as long as you kept the flag of joy raised in your heart then they would always lose. ‘Bring on your thunder and darkened skies; pour down your rain and watch my flowers rise. Ignite your hate with those flames of doom, and in that warmth watch my spirit bloom’ – a piece of poetry I had written once in a diary, which I suddenly remembered.
With that piece of poetry in mind, I decided then that I would endure his storm a little more; that I wasn’t going to quit the job unless he fired me. My mind had ventured once more into the realm of chaos and, as he came back to the house and began barking once again, I found a strange sort of sense of happiness and peace while staring into his red, erupting face. I smiled at him while he shouted at me and then realised that I had hit the wall and gone through. It had well and truly become a game of madness.
And so the battle went on and on. Some days I’d be on the farm cleaning up horse shit or fencing in the midsummer heat, and other days I’d be whizzing around those houses, trimming those lawns, mopping those dirty floors, scrubbing those shit-stained toilet bowls. Everyday I arrived home exhausted and in need of a twenty minute long shower to cleanse the dirt and the sweat and the madness off me. I’d look into the mirror and tell myself that it was a life experience – a lesson to be learned that would help fund my next stint on the road as I travelled down the east coast of Australia. Sometimes his degrading words reverberated around my skull as I went to sleep, but I eventually laughed them off, revelling in the stupidity of the situation that I was sure to remember until old age.
The critical moment came somewhere around the end of the third week when I had just finished cleaning up the horse paddock on the farm. With the smell of horse shit now permanently ingrained into my clothes and skin, I limped into the jeep, beaten and mentally traumatized as ever, ready to return home to that cold shower. It was a friday evening and we drove to the spot on the highway where I was always picked up and dropped off. We reached the spot and pulled up along the highway. As we stopped he turned off the radio and let out a sigh. An uncomfortable silence filled the air. “I tried kiddo” he said eventually. “I tried kiddo, I really tried. But you just ain’t good enough. Here’s your check for the week. I won’t be needing you again”.
I looked over to him. I then looked down at his hand and took the paycheck from him. There were no more words – just still silence and a check. I let the realisation hit me and suddenly felt a symphony play in my heart. It had finally happened; I knew at that moment I had been successfully fired. My hands were blistered, my back sore and my mind exhausted, yet through the pain and strain and the verbal abuse, I hadn’t quit. I hadn’t let him have the pleasure of breaking me down totally. I sat back soaking in the aura of sadness that filled the car. This time I noticed he wouldn’t look me in the eye with that piercing stare, but just gazed out the window waiting for me to leave. After a while he turned and told me to get out the jeep. I clambered out and looked down at my hands. The blisters on the insides of my thumbs were red and raw with pride and pain. I then looked up at the sky and let out a big stupid smile. A victory had been achieved; a lesson of life learned. I watched his Toyota jeep cruise off down the highway, never to be seen again. I watched it until it disappeared over the horizon, knowing that he would always carry his hatred with him, for I had not let him offload it onto me.
That little job in Australia ended up serving as good preparation for what I was to face throughout the rest of my life. Since then I have encountered many other people like that man. For as long as you walk this earth, they will inevitably come at you from time to time. They will come at you in the workplace. They will come at you in the bars. They will come at you in the streets and the towns and the cities. When they do one must know how to stand tall against the contempt and absurdity that the human mind is too often capable of producing. One must stand with courage in their heart and madness in their mind, knowing that there is a joy inside of you that they can never take away – knowing that there is a fighter spirit that all the hate in this world can never wither down into nothingness. With that simple act of learning to dance in the rain and laugh in the face of the howling wind, one could ultimately save themselves from becoming yet another one of those hateful souls looking to offload their own inner hate and pain onto others.
That day when I was fired, I clutched my paycheck and strolled down the road back home with my head held high. I had been beaten down, I had almost broken my back scooping up horse shit at record pace, I had blistered almost every finger of my hand – hell I had even been fired – but I hadn’t let him break me down totally, and in some way that fact was one of the most valuable things he could have rewarded me with. Even with my measly paycheck, I had been gifted something that would prove valuable to the end of my days. I had learnt that within me was a fighter spirit that the most ferocious storm or hateful soul couldn’t easily extinguish. And in a world where so many resentful and hateful spirits crossed paths with you, few things were more valuable than that. As I had written that day in a teenage diary of the past:
“Bring on your thunder and darkened skies; pour down your rain and watch my flowers rise. Ignite your hate with those flames of doom, and in that warmth watch my spirit bloom.”
With that thought in mind I moved on through Australia ready for the next adventure, ready for the next battle – ready for the next quest in the wild and wonderful and, sometimes, backbreaking game of life.
~ Alone With Everybody ~
Back alone in my chamber of solitude once again: the small bedroom in my apartment with only a bed, a backpack, a set of drawers and a looming sense of existential dread that now filled every crack, crevice and dark, cobwebbed corner. I sat in silence on my bed and looked around at my surrounding lair. On the walls sat some photos of my travels out in the world – good times with people who were now out of sight, some of them no doubt also sitting alone in a small apartment room in somewhere on planet earth. I also had my laptop beside me from where I been pouring the contents of my mind onto a blank page never to be read by anyone except a few random strangers on the internet. It was an act of release and many words had been typed the last few days. Whenever I felt most starved for human interaction, I often found my fingertips scratching and clawing at keyboard keys in a desperate attempt to reach another out there in the wilderness. I sent my words out into hyperspace like a flare of my own madness, hoping to attract another one of my kind roaming somewhere in the far reaches of human civilisation. Sometimes people responded, but still I was left stranded in front of a keyboard, staring into a screen with nothing to do except to keep on typing more words onto that all-too familiar blank page.
In a moment of realisation, it struck me how alone I was. My head spun around and I felt like I was stranded faraway on another planet in another galaxy; I felt like I was stuck in some kind of void of nothingness where no person, animal or god could reach me. It was true that normally I sought solitude for a decent amount of time in my everyday life – my introverted mind demanded it – but like most things there was a limit to it all: a boundary where a real danger of genuine insanity lingered on the other side. Us humans were inherently social creatures who needed some kind of occasional interaction to stay sane, however despite a few electronic messages across that virtual wilderness of the internet, it had been almost a week without any significant form of human contact. Consequently I could feel the walls around me closing in; I could my own aching isolation eating me alive from within. Before I was consumed totally, I crawled out of my lair and ventured up to the roof of the apartment block to get some fresh air – that was usually one thing which I could rely on to help clear my mind when the storm inside got too fierce.
I climbed up the stairs and reached the rooftop. I opened the door and ventured over to the edge where I stood and stared out at the surrounding city landscape. There it all was sprawled out before me: the concrete jungle in all its chaos and madness and urban sadness. From the edge of that roof I looked out at the mazy streets; I looked out at the houses with their windows all illuminated like Christmas tree lights; I looked out at the parks and the bars and the restaurants where so many couples would be dining together in love and companionship. I thought being out the room would do me good, but the sight of civilisation only made me feel worse. It just didn’t seem to make any sense. How could loneliness exist when thousands of people surrounded you? How could we be so close but so far away at the same time? And how did it all end up like this? What had gone wrong in our species for us to develop technologically but not as beings capable of true connection and community for all?
Alone as I was, I looked out at that city and knew that there were others far worse off than I. Often in my life I spent large amounts of time travelling in foreign lands with fellow wanderers, but I knew how many souls out there were constantly dwelling in lives of inescapable loneliness and isolation year after year. The homeless people. The old people. The disabled. The alcoholics and drug addicts. The depressed and the anxious. Even on the apartment block below my feet, I wondered how many people were sat alone scrolling on their phones, desperately aching in their flesh and bones for just some basic form of human interaction. What made it worse that so many other souls close to them but separately by some shoddy walls. It was a strange situation. The thought of it made my mind wonder with possibility. Maybe there was someone like me sleeping just a few metres away in a vertical or horizontal direction? Maybe the girl of my dreams was just a few rooms away? Maybe there was a chance? A chance to connect with someone or something?
The more I thought about it, the more absurd it all seemed – the scenario of being so united yet so separated simultaneously – of being together under one roof but segregated alone in private rooms of darkness and isolation. It seemed that our society at its core was constantly stuck in that apartment block where everyone was so close and so far away at the same time. It was just innate of our species in the modern world of hectic cities and so-called civilisation. Everyday we were separated into offices, into cubicles, into traffic lanes, supermarket queues and apartment blocks. And not just physically; the strongest and most rigid barriers of separation were usually lined up within people’s skulls. If it wasn’t religion, race or social class, then it was that people put barriers up because they were simply sick of or scared of each another – of what people would say and do and the sudden sight of their unfiltered souls was revealed to the crowd. Mostly that fear was justified; people often didn’t react well to seeing the gritty contents of someone’s genuine self. In a society where superficiality and conformity called the shots, such an uncombed sight often caused people to be rejected, hated and sometimes even murdered depending on the culture. Because of this we kept the mask on in the crowd and let our true thoughts linger in the dark apartment rooms inside our skulls where our deepest secrets and desires lay gathering cobwebs and dust in dark, forgotten corners.
I thought back to when I myself had shared the contents of my heart with the crowd. The times I had opened up myself up to others I had been rejected and cast out from the group; I had been looked at like an utter madman and a lunatic. There were a few who delighted in what they saw, but mostly people were concerned, disinterested or even resentful towards me. Over time I came to the conclusion that generally people didn’t want the raw and rugged face of someone’s true self. Such an image was an unwelcome sight and instead so many wanted lives dressed up in pretty fonts and filters; they wanted people pretending on social media that their lives were wonderful and great; they wanted people insincerely asking people how they were before giving the generic ‘yeah okay you?’ response. At the very core of it, it just seemed the majority of people had no time for anything that wasn’t clean and polished. It was just more convenient for us all I guess. I would have liked to think that I was as open as possible to another soul, but I also knew there were times where I too had distanced myself from someone trying to connect with me at a deeper level. Like most people in these cities, I was overcome with a fear that left us afraid and unwilling to let someone slip under the walls we put up inside our own minds.
Such a nature lead to the loneliness that afflicted so many dwelling in towns and cities and apartment blocks far and wide across the world. Right now throughout the urban landscape that lay before me I knew that people sat alone in rooms watching the clock tick slowly towards their death; I knew some already had died alone and were waiting to be found in an old house no one ever visited. Elsewhere some of those in the peak of their youth scrolled through internet forums and blogs hoping that there were others like them somewhere out there in the chaotic mess of society. Throughout our modern civilisation were so many lost souls dwelling alone, starving, dying, decaying in modern isolated lives of sedentary comfort but spiritual pain. They were the lives where people had followers but no friends; the lives where people’s greatest moment of connection was being served by the cashier at the supermarket; the lives where people screamed out through bloodshot eyes and internet blogs because their physical voices had been silenced out of fear of judgement from the crowd.
Looking out at the convoluted mess of houses, streets and apartment blocks, the thought hit me that perhaps we had just simple gone too far? Humans who once lived in close-knit tribes on the plains of the wild were now living in gigantic, industrial cities where underground tubes transported us robotically around like electrons around a circuit-board. One could sit in a tube of fifty silent people and watch everyone look away from each other’s eyes and down to phones, floors and newspapers. It was a strange situation: the more the population continued to grow, the more separated we seemed to all become as individuals. Often the moments when the loneliness hit you greatest was when you were sat on those packed tubes, or stood in the crowds that momentarily formed at the traffic lights, or waiting in a long queue at the supermarket. There you’d stand and look around at that sea of faces, scanning and searching the eyes for another of your kind, yet you would always end up sailing on alone back to your dark apartment room. I guess I speak for myself mainly here of course, but I am sure for many other souls dwelling somewhere out there within the concrete wilderness too.
Thinking back to my travels, it struck me that the greatest moments of connection I had with another human were usually with complete and total strangers out hiking a mountain trail in foreign lands. Whenever you were out on that trail, all the barriers and shoddy walls of society disappeared. Being in nature without the crowd surrounding and suffocating you allowed our true nature to shine as individuals. Amongst the hills and lack of civilisation was a haven for the soul – a paradise of mental freedom where the social masks could be tossed away into a ditch and we could finally just be ourselves in all our gritty messiness and madness.
I recalled hiking in the French Alps with a young Israeli guy in the summer of the previous year. I was walking towards a mountain pass when I came across him sat on a rock in the shade eating some nuts. After asking if I wanted some, we began walking together toward the pass. While walking it quickly became apparent we were of different cultures, of a different theological belief, and of a different age – yet none of those things mattered on the trail. Instead of distancing ourselves, we spoke from the heart about what lead us to travel; we shared our hopes and aspirations for life; we cooked and shared food with each other in the shadow of the mountain. As we continued walking we met other hikers including an American girl and an old English nomad who lived in his campervan. Again, despite all our obvious differences in backgrounds and demographic, there was a sense of community and connection between us all. We sat around our campsite at sundown eating dinner, drinking wine and discussing life, adventure and philosophy. We looked into each other’s eyes and spoke freely from the heart with no shoddy walls to separate us. It felt good; it felt strangely like how it should have been.
But those times on the trail were a long way away I realised as I stood alone on that rooftop edge in the middle of the concrete jungle, hearing a distant siren wail out into the night – the sound of another ambulance on its way to retrieve another life which had ended. The mountains of freedom were out of sight and I was back on the stage of society where masks had to be worn, scripts had to be recited and anyone who deviated from social convention or normality was seen as an outcast or a hippy or simply crazy. Thinking about the absurdity of it, I looked up to the skies above, staring out into the few visible stars shining through the light pollution, dreaming of some distant salvation – some kind of home that I could never seem to find for more than a short period of time here on planet earth.
Eventually I decided to retreat back down to my lair to pour all my thoughts onto that blank page yet again. I crawled back down the stairs, entered my apartment and sat in solitude before a computer screen, sending out that flare of my mind’s madness via some words typed on a grubby keyboard. A raised voice shouted out from the room beside me and I knew I was back where I belonged: in my small space, cornered by society, alone in the shadows – my mind filled with madness as my fingers scratched and clawed at those keyboards once more in attempt to light up the dark world around me.
If this is to be my continual fate and someone does happen to find me one day in this apartment room as another old person who watched that clock tick slowly towards their death, know that I truly wanted to connect with you all like I did with those people on that trail. Here in this society there are just some shoddy walls in my skull and yours that I can’t knock down. Hopefully these words at least let you know that behind my social mask was somebody who wanted to unite, but was too consumed by a society and system that lead me pour these words onto this page. I am alone with you all, lost in a concrete jungle, afflicted by the human condition, floating through space on this rock towards an unknown abyss. If these words don’t help anyone else out there, at least they helped me momentarily escape this dark room. If these words don’t help anyone else out there, at least they let my heart sing out in all its truth – if only for a brief moment – the spirit bird fluttering free in the sky before returning to its rusty cage of isolation and separation and segregation.