short stories

~ Moving Forth ~

~ Moving Forth ~

A dreadful silence filled the room. The surrounding walls looked at me with suffocating stares. I lay flat and still on my bed as the weight of the entire world pulled me down into the mattress. The dream had abruptly ended and I was back in my old bedroom, living at home with my parents after travelling around the world for one and a half years. From Brazil to New Zealand, the grand adventures had come and gone – all those soul-stirring experiences lost in the mist of mind and memory, and now I was back to where I grew up: penniless, alone and depressed, with no one close by who truly understood or cared how I felt. 

     On top of this I had returned back to my old job in the local supermarket. It was not something I had planned to do, but having been reckless enough to come home with no money and a considerable amount of debt, I immediately returned to a place I could walk into work straight away. This created some sort of time warp in my brain, as if the last one and a half years had all been nothing but some sort of surreal dream. As I walked down those aisles and stacked those shelves, I felt my heart being crushed slowly and surely by the old familiarity of it all. It really was true that absolutely nothing had changed. The same customers came in at the same times; the same scripted conversations were endured; the same items were stacked in the same places. As I worked, I stared emptily into space and let my mind wander. How could so many things have changed within me while everything here remained exactly the same? How could I have lived this other lifetime while people had stayed set in the same mode of existence? How could I go around the world and now feel so lost in my hometown?

     Inevitably, I felt as if everything I had done was for nothing; I felt that all the life I had gained had been stolen off me. A total pointless waste of time. What a foolish dreamer I was, thinking that my soul-searching journey actually meant something. It all suddenly felt meaningless. And not just for me, but those close to me. Besides the obligatory ‘how was it?’ question, no one really had an interest in what I had done. “So I guess it’s time you joined ‘the real world’ now hey”; “welcome back to reality”; “time to get a proper job” – these were the comments people shared with me about my trip. Misunderstood and alienated, my heart soon broke against everything around me. Reverse culture shock set in and I began to feel more foreign than I had while on my trip. This just about peaked on a bank holiday Sunday evening where I stood in a pub listening to everyone talk about jobs and football and television shows. Suddenly, standing in silence at the bar, I was mocked for wearing casual clothing and working in a supermarket. It was right then that I became a stranger in my own town. This was supposed to be home, but now it was clear the bohemian madness had finally claimed me: I now had no home. I was an exiled alien, lost somewhere in the great enveloping ocean of existence, devoid of a place of any real belonging.

      As I experienced this conflicting state of affairs, I thought of my companions I had shared my adventure with. Where were they now? And what were they doing? Were they also back home, beset by the same doom and gloom as me? I racked my brain and remembered the moments of getting drunk on Copacabana beach on New Year’s  eve with Ana. I remembered partying on a balcony overlooking a beautiful lake in New Zealand with my twenty housemates. Hiking to Machu Picchu with new friends. Climbing mountains in Bolivia. Cycling around wineries in Argentina. Yes, yes! All of those things! All those beautiful things swept away by the merciless waves of transience which eventually enveloped us all. The tides had turned, the fleeting friendships over and I now stood alone in what might as well have been another world altogether. It was going to be a tough time, I knew.

     The weeks and months continued to go by in tremendous solitude. I soon avoided going out as I couldn’t face the others. Consequently, those bedroom walls gradually suffocated me more and more. It wasn’t long until felt like a prisoner of some sort. In times of desperation, I let society’s influence set in; I went online and applied for those career jobs I wasn’t interested in. This was the script I had told myself – that this big solo travel trip around the world after graduating from university was my final blowout before retreating back to the farm of normality to begin a steady career. It wasn’t until I went to an interview that I realised my delusion. As I sat there lying and pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I felt tremendous inner conflict burn inside my blood. Within me a great fire roared and raged against it all. I quickly began to realise I was facing the music – that I was finally acknowledging that I wasn’t going to walk the straight path society wanted me to. I had been avoiding it for a long time it had seemed. I knew in my gut that I didn’t belong to the world of careers and contracts – to sensibility and suburban sanity. I had suppressed the fact that I was incompatible with that world for many years and now it was time to accept that things in life weren’t going to be so straightforward for me. Acknowledging this, a personal crisis ensued. The dark clouds gathered inside my head and the rain poured down.

     In the midst of this storm, I found myself visiting the nearby farm fields in the countryside daily. I guess it acted as a little bit of an escape from society. The allure of nature occasionally allowed some of the pain to momentarily reside, as if there was some whispering voice of wisdom in the wind and in the streams, trying to tell me something that would alleviate me from my suffering. Although it helped at times, it wasn’t enough to stop the storm inside my head. As the weeks and months went by, the thunderous noise increased intune with my despair and desolation. I gradually began to realise that these feelings were nothing new. It was true that I had felt out of place all of my life at home. From a young age, deep down I knew something inside of me was vastly different from the rest. Perhaps that was the source of past bouts of anxiety and depression, I wondered. I had always known I didn’t fit into the world I grew up in, and it seemed I had subconsciously blocked out this fact to spare myself the pain of facing my isolation as the black sheep I undoubtedly was. But finally, the realisation had caught up with me: I was an abnormal outcast, not belonging to the world I grew up in, misunderstood and alienated to the bone.

      Eventually one day I was walking in those fields and the weight of it all became too much. I couldn’t go on the way I was any longer. I stopped and stood alone in the middle of a field. I then looked up to the sky with tears of pain and rage, before collapsing down onto the ground. For a long time I just lay there motionless in the grass, feeling the wind whip against my skin and the pain howl in my mind. I felt myself sinking down deep into the earth beneath me, swallowed up whole by this world. It was true: I had been broken – the lowest I had ever sunk in my life. I was a destroyed man, shackled down by my demons, lying helpless and alone in the torture chamber

     Then something strange happened.

     Somewhere deep inside of me, something was destroyed. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but at my lowest point I felt it implode on itself and dissipate into nothingness. In the wake of this, I then started to feel the pain gradually start to reside. I sat up and breathed in, wondering what the hell had just happened. Perhaps it was an old version of myself, an egoic identity I had been burdened with by my society and home culture. Whatever it was, I felt its sudden death within me, followed by a feeling that was like coming up to surface for a life-saving gasp of air. It was then that I realised a critical point had been reached – a peak of pain overcome. Feeling some strength start to return, I picked myself up from the hard ground. I then limped on home, knowing something had changed inside of me forever.     

     In the months and years that followed that moment, I have still been limping on home. I wasn’t completely cured from my problems altogether. Something like that which brought you to the edge of death and destruction doesn’t just fade totally. But it was a moment that was pivotal for me – perhaps the most pivotal in my entire life. In that field that day was the moment I finally let go of a whole lifetime of suppressing my true self, and faced the fact of who I really was. In that field that day I allowed a persona I had been burdened with by my surrounding society to be killed. Since then I have gained clarity and been able to overcome my inner conflicts and struggles; I have been able to summon the courage to become the person I was born to be, and not the one society tried to mould me into. With a profound faith in my own inner being, I have continued my adventures all over the world, I have summited the mountains, I have trekked the countries – I have accepted and come to the terms of the fact that I am a born outsider. With myself adjusted to this new state of being, I have found my true calling and followed it fiercely with all my heart and might and passion. The tides have turned once again, and I now stare into those morning mirrors, proud to see my genuine and authentic self gazing on back at me, ready for whatever’s next upon the great journey of life.

       It is true that sometimes in this life an individual suffers tremendously with coming to terms with who they really are. Human society and the cultures we exist in are enough to send any man or woman into isolated states of depression and desolation. With everyone around you trying to mould and shape you from a young age, it’s easy to get confused and lose yourself in the madness of it all. It truly is a fight to be yourself in this world, especially if you are driven by a deep existential desire that takes you away from the herd. But the essence of yourself is a fight worth winning and no good warrior ever won a great battle without having to go through some struggles and pain. On the quest to the shores of your destiny you will undoubtedly face isolation. You will face discomfort and doubt. You will face being painfully misunderstood by those around you. But have a little faith in your inner voice, don’t keel over to something which insults your soul, and don’t give up on yourself just because sometimes you may have to walk alone through haunted places. Stand up tall and dive down into the depths of yourself. Fearlessly explore every ounce of your being. Summon a storm from within your soul. Walk wide-eyed into the darkness and meet your demons face to face. After a certain amount of time, you will emerge with eyes full of fire and go forth back out into the world as a warrior of the wild. And from that position on you will be stronger and more resilient than ever before. Your eyes will blaze with brightness; your heart will ache with passion; your gut will rumble with thunder. With a ferocious tenacity for life, you will live the life that sets your soul on fire – you will live the life your heart screams out for. And when you reach the end of your road, you will have no regrets about the life you lived. You will have a victory of authenticity. You will have a victory of individual courage. As you become the person you were born to be, you will have the greatest victory of all:

you will have the victory of yourself.

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short stories

~ The Mask Of Normality ~

~ The Mask of Normality ~

“So Bryan, what is it that you do?”

I looked at my fellow wanderer across the dinner table from me. He was a man of the backpacking world. He was a man who had done many jobs, who had travelled many places – a man who, like me, struggled to categorise his entire existence in the universe within a specific labelled box of employment. Still, after swallowing the food he was chewing on, he began to try to justify his bohemian lifestyle to the family. I sat back and watched curiously, knowing that it was normally me on the receiving end this question, flapping and flailing around like a fish out of water, unable to give them the solid answer they sought. 

     After a couple of minutes of explaining how he worked and travelled, how he didn’t have a home, and how he had recently spent a year living in a hostel, an awkward silence fell over us. I looked at the mother and father across the table. If they had been culturally-programmed robots then you could almost see the sparks flying from their eyes. You could see the circuits crashing and the sound of  ‘malfunction – malfunction – malfunction’. It was a sight I knew too well; when people couldn’t categorise you easily within a culturally and economically-defined box, then they often stalled and didn’t know what to say. Their silence was deafening but thankfully Bryan found some humorous words:

Well, it looks like my mask of normality just fell off.

     I let out a laugh and thought about the absurdity of the scenario. Here we were once again, justifying our bizarre and unconventional lives to a family we were visiting. Often we had joked about the looks of bewilderment that were cast our ways whenever we talked about our lives. I guess you don’t really think about it until you’re out of education. When you were still studying you could say you were in education to get people off your back. But the second you were out and didn’t have your identity assigned by a job role, the looks of bewilderment and judgement were thrown your way by the bucket load. It seemed that in society a man or woman’s destiny was to become a particular thing, a labelled component of the cultural machine, and this was reflected in the fact that one of the first questions people asked each other when meeting was ‘what do you do?’

      No matter where you went in life, the question was always there. Meeting a girl in a bar – ‘what do you do?’ Meeting a stranger on your travels – ‘what do you do back home?’ Meeting some relatives – ‘what are you doing now?’ Even turning on the television and watching a game show – one of the first questions was always ‘what do you do?’ Often I observed my species take part in this behaviour when interacting with each other. If you could toss out a label of economic-based existence and explain it with a couple of sentences, then the process would be very swiftly done. Out your label would come, the other person would then categorise and judge you on what sort of person you were, and then the conversation would move on. The problem for Bryan as well as me was that I just didn’t have an answer that would satisfy them. Once somebody asked me the question I had to go on a long winded explanation telling them of all the different jobs I had done, my partition in medical trials, my backpacking trips, my writing and the general concoction of chaos and anarchy that was my life. Like Bryan had noted, it was usually at this point the mask of normality was blown off and I was exposed for the abnormal creature I really was. From the top of my head, I could remember at least ten times this had happened and I had been automatically cast as the outsider of the group.

     I guess I should have just accepted it and replied that I was effectively a drifter. I mean, I was a drifter, there was no way around it any more. But I guess I was a little uncomfortable with that label due to the connotations it had. It’s not that I was completely destitute or homeless, but it was true that I roamed around from one place to the other with not too much of a long-term plan. Of course there was a romantic side to the image of being a drifter, but mostly it just scared people away, and made them think of you as a loser, loner or outcast. Yes, all things considered, the mask of normality was well and truly off if you gave yourself that label.

     One day I decided I would just make up a role whilst out on my travels. Meeting people you were never going to see again made it possible to experiment with alternative identities, sort of like a mild schizophrenic I guess. I went ahead with this idea and started to say I was a journalist. This masked identity had a level of credibility because I had actually obtained a degree in journalism early in my adult life. I could talk about the industry and use its terms and even reference a business magazine I had done unpaid work in the past. What’s more, it was a respected profession so this allowed the person I was speaking to to have some level of respect for me. This answer allowed the mask of normality to stay placed on my alien face. With a nod of the other person’s head and a smile on their face, I was an accepted member of the human race.

      To raise the stakes one time out of the interest of an experiment, I thought I would go all out and give myself the label that was revered as ‘successful’ and the epitome of a respected profession. I decided to say I was a lawyer. I had taken a few law modules in my journalism degree and even sat in on court hearings while writing and reporting. Because of this, I again knew some of the terms and areas of law I could talk about. After hearing their profession first to make sure they weren’t actually a lawyer, I explained away my made-up role as a solicitor. As I did I looked at their looks of approval on their faces. My mask of normality and acceptability was fixed on my face stronger than ever. People in bars gravitated toward me. Girls even desired me more. It truly was amazing to see the difference what a single word could do. With this mask I was more than just an accepted member of human civilisation; I was in actual fact a respected member of human civilisation.

      The schizophrenic madness went on and eventually I got to a point in my life where I had self-published a book and received a total of two hundred and something sales. I had been writing all my adult life but now I actually had something published which was available to buy online. This meant I could give myself the labelled identity of ‘writer’. I mean, ultimately in reality I was a largely unknown writer with a very small following, but to some other outcasts and outsiders who read my writing, I was indeed a ‘writer’. I got started with using this answer whenever I was hit with the ‘what do you do?’ question. As I did, I noticed that people responded the most to this out of any of the labels of existence I had fed them. The interesting one with this is that the mask of normality fell off your face if you said this anyway, especially if they went on to ask what sort of stuff you wrote. My stuff consisted of stories and thoughts of an outsider, all full of existential and alienated angst. If they were to actually read what I had written then that was an automatic exposure as the misfit I was. Often, to my horror, some of them even bought my book – at which point my mask of normality was destroyed beyond repair and they naturally distanced themselves from me cautiously.

      Eventually I faced the facts and realised I didn’t really have the right to say I was a ‘writer’ either when asked what I did. The ‘do’ question was more referencing what you did in order to get money. I hadn’t made more than a few dozen pounds with my writing; in fact I had lost money with the online adverts I occasionally did. So I retreated back to being an undefined being with no real label. It was time to just try and avoid the question and stop lying that I actually was a regular human-being with some sort of normal identity. I couldn’t keep my face straight and live in my world of lies anymore.

     As life went on this way, I resigned myself to the awkward pauses and stares whenever the Do question was thrown my way. Consequently, there were great moments when imposter syndrome struck severely. Talking to girls in bars or attempting to apply for jobs, I never truly felt comfortable that I was one of them. At all times I was just a couple of questions from being exposed as the abnormal creature I was. Soon I gradually began to feel a million miles away from the world of normal people that continuously pounded the pavements next to me. They were all around me and often it got exhausting interacting with relatives and new people you’d meet. I had rarely come across someone who even understood completely what I was attempting to do with my life – that I was more interested in exploring, adventuring and seeking to create art over anything. What I ‘did’ wasn’t possible to define within one word. I was a misunderstood individual and I got more and more tired with humanity more with every superficial interaction and tongue flicker of that awful question.

      Sometimes, when the social alienation and anxiety got too much, I would rack my brain into what mask of normality I could try and give myself to get people off my back. Maybe I could just reside myself to a normal job. Maybe if I could get one more book on Amazon and then be the author of two books, maybe that was enough to label myself as a ‘writer’. Maybe one day I could even get a job in copywriting or something off the back of my creative writing. Maybe one day I could be a regular person, shepherded and confined within a labelled box of economic employment like the rest of the human race. I got lost in these thoughts gradually but eventually sobered up from my mental musings. The truth was the truth and, in all honesty, I guess I was just an alien like my friend Bryan. An interstellar mutant of some kind, destined to wander on and on from place to place and job to job until the end of my days. The mask of normality had no place on my face. I was too awkward, too incompatible – too insane to fit into a socially-approved box of existence. In a world of accepted citizens who had found their place in human society, I limped on through like some out-of-place extraterrestrial, somehow finding a way to get by and survive. ‘Too weird to live; too rare to die’ as Hunter had said. That is what I did. That is what I do. And that, as I sit alone again in this dark room pouring the mess in my mind onto the page, is what I will always do.

thoughts

~ Entrapment ~

~ Entrapment ~

“It makes your heart ache. It’s a way of life that makes your heart ache. The grey concrete reality. The monotonous routine. The insidious stripping of the spirit. The inability to express how you feel. The fact you know something just isn’t right about the life that those around you drift through so passively and easily. It makes your heart ache. The familiar commute to work. The empty-eyed bosses. The staring into skies out of windows knowing that something inside of you is being neglected and slowly rotting away, caged and raging against the walls of your heart. And ever more gradually you feel its desperate and sinister presence – the pain scratching and clawing away from within. With every empty conversation, with every forced smile, with every repetitive and predictable week – it makes your heart ache and ache and ache.

In this world there are endless souls out there dwelling in lives of quiet desperation and spiritual emptiness. The clothes may be well-ironed, but within cracks cover the soul. Their lives may seem stable, but inside the last parts of their spirit are being eroded away. There is only so much the essence of an individual can endure of such a reality before that person themselves is broken down and adjusted to a life of spiritual suffocation and starvation – before they become comfortably numb to an unfulfilling existence. If you feel this happening know that it won’t be easy to free yourself, but also know that the way out into your wild is always there waiting for you if you’re willing to take the leap. Isolation will be experienced. Sacrifices will be made. Doubt and discomfort will be felt. But sometimes such things are the price you pay to keep your soul free. Sometimes that is the price to pay to keep your spirit alive. Sometimes destroying your carefully constructed safe cage and beginning again out in the wild is what is needed to know you went out there and lived a life, and didn’t just exist in one.”

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thoughts

~ Alien Nation ~

~Alien Nation ~

“Sometimes I just wanted to spill the contents of my soul to another. I wanted to talk about life, philosophy, adventure, the stars, the universe, the shadows of trees, and the dancing birds at sunset, but everywhere I went I found it hard to break on through past the barrier of trivial small-talk. Instead of discussing the cosmos, we discussed work colleagues; instead of talking philosophy, we talked television; instead of sharing ideas, we shared gossip and rumours. The times when I thought fuck it and decided to speak about these things, the conversation usually stalled as I was met with piercing glares. It seemed like there was some sort of cultural script we all followed, and anyone reciting lines not on the script was seen as an intruder who must be silenced. This was a travesty; I wanted to talk about something real but I was surrounded by a population of mannequins, of stage characters – of toy dolls where you knew what was going to be said once their string was pulled yet again. Silently in the crowd, I yearned for something more. I began to look for others wishing to break free from the script of society. I looked for a particular look in an eye – a wistful look that was often confused with somebody daydreaming. I searched for that look in bars, in supermarket queues, in the crowds that momentarily formed at the traffic lights. Sometimes I think I spotted it – the living creature in a crowd of mannequins – but I never did anything about it. I kept quiet as the robotic small-talk filled the air and a collective, cultural insanity left me alone in my mind once again.”

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poetry

~ No Final Solution ~

~ No Final Solution ~

The doors have shut and
the people await their fate
in these cities
in these chambers
where we live and die
and fight to survive

amid it all I see
the fearful eyes
the hands clutching together
sometimes in prayer
sometimes in marriage
but always in futility

in this world nothing is certain
but the panic and pain
the decay and death
the crashing and the burning

yet with these brains inside of us
and these hearts that plead for peace
we struggle and seek
a way out – a secret door
that leads to something else

but it cannot be found
and so here I stand also
trapped with everybody
awaiting my fate
in these cities
in these chambers

with my hands
scraping the walls
scraping at this typewriter
trying to find the way out

before this slaughterhouse

does what it does best

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poetry

~ In Too Deep ~

~ In Too Deep ~

I walk this urban jungle
and I see people so lost
wandering through life
desperate and depraved
clinging onto lottery tickets
and shopping bags
and briefcases
and beer bottles
looking for the way out

I see people so lost
stuck in a movie they never asked to star in
working for causes they don’t believe in
trapped in lives they never imagined
a life where the tramp and the lawyer
wear the same frown

I see souls starving and dying
behind counters
behind desks
behind smartphones
behind steering wheels
mothers, fathers,
teachers
bus drivers

people so lost
in too deep 
drowning in traffic jams
while turning the radio louder
and louder
to escape the reality

that kills us all

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short stories

~ Misdelivery ~

~ Misdelivery ~

   The decision to quit was made somewhere around the end of the third week of the course. I watched with sad eyes as the man opposite me sat reading out his writing while everyone in the class sat around like a bunch of vultures waiting to pick at the flesh of his work. That everyone did as a bunch of people, all of different backgrounds and lifestyles and perspectives, weighed in with their suggestions for changes to the man’s story. To my horror I watched as the man nodded in agreement with everyone and butchered his piece apart to please everyone in the room. Any chance of there being any fire in his work was thrown out the window as he reduced everything in it to appeal to the lowest common denominator of a diverse crowd. Like so many people concerned about their reception with the masses, he had abandoned his authenticity and courage at the judgement of the crowd. This was supposed to be creative writing course, but I had quickly remembered that creation was an act best done alone in the pits of solitude. From Van Gogh to Bukowski, any art worth its salt was usually forged in the shadows from an individual who created out of necessity instead of desire, and who went out and experienced the world, rather that who sat in classrooms with notebooks trying to please people and make academic sense of something which belonged to the realm of mystery and magic.

    Since the start of this course it had become clear to me that I had no doubt started it as sort of a last ditch attempt to cling on to the ledge of normality. Doing a master’s course at a university was almost enough to convince people you had your life together, and no doubt a part of me wanted to delude myself with that idea too. But it was true: I was fooling myself I realised there and then. Despite my connection to the act of writing, I didn’t belong here either. It was time to let go of the ledge of normality and free-fall into the abyss of the unknown – to throw myself off that cultural conveyor-belt. I was better off being beaten up by life some other way that would allow me to retreat home to a dark room to pour out the pain onto the page without the guide of any teacher or textbook or institution.  

      Leaving the university for the last time, I headed home back to that familiar dark room to sit and try and make sense of it all. In that space of isolation I sat and thought about the circumstance that had befallen me. Oh god, I cursed myself. I had moved to this city specifically for this course, and now I had made the decision to quit, I had to figure out what it was I was going to do next in the absurd game of life. As always there were no easy answers and I thought about changing my mind and sticking with the course. Of course I knew that this was the cowards way out; I knew I would just still be clinging to that ledge of normality a little longer just to trick myself and others into thinking that I actually had my life together in some basic way. So many people did this their entire lives, letting themselves empty out on the inside just so others would think they had their lives together. Such a fate seemed like a nightmare. The absolute intensity of the feeling of sadness I experienced in that class felt like the entire universe telling me to get the hell out before it was too late. Yes, I was definitely through with the course I decided. I wouldn’t bother to notify my tutor; I was too annoyed at her and the course to even write a basic e-mail. And my parents, well, they had just about given up on me, and this would be the final nail in the coffin for sure. But hey, at this point maybe that was for the best.

      After a while of sitting there in the dark and staring up at the ceiling, I decided that some fresh air would do me good. I removed myself from my lair and went out to face the world. Out there in that concrete jungle I roamed at leisure with no particular place to go to. As I roamed, I looked around at the faces. I looked around at the houses and the front gardens. I looked around at the job advertisements and the shopping malls and the newspapers and the billboards. Once again I didn’t understand any of it. Sometimes I was certain the gods had made a mistake. Perhaps there was a mix-up at the cosmic warehouse? Surely my intended destination was another planet somewhere a few galaxies back in the other direction. Where was the manifest? Who had screwed up the works? Who was I supposed to be angry at? Looking out at the foreign world before me I wanted explanations and answers.

    I kept looking around at the faces of the people on the street. I saw businessmen and pram-pushers. I saw sub-cultural groups like hipsters or rockers. I saw many types of people but I couldn’t see anyone I truly felt at home with. Often in this world I felt like some sort of diseased alien, and I couldn’t help but stare into the eyes of those humans and desperately want to make them understand who I really was. I guess it was true that at times I felt anger and resentment toward the human race. All I wanted to do was to vomit my pain onto their pressed and polished realities. I wanted to drag them into the woods of madness and steal from the sanity from them. I wanted to lead them into my wild and show them the spaces of solitude where my soul resided. I guess I just wanted at least one other soul to step into my mind and see and understand how I felt with the reality and society that had been presented to me. But as always it was useless and all I could do was wonder whether it was all some kind of joke the gods had played on me. If so the humour was lost on me. Yes, oh yes: the humour was lost on me.

     Soon enough the shitshow of reality was too much and I decided I’d try to add some excitement in my life by doing what so many did in times of desperation. Alcohol. I went to the nearest store and bought a four pack of beers. For a small price hopefully I could trick my brain into thinking something exciting was happening. I went in, purchased the liquor off a young female clerk and exited back onto the now rain-sodden street. I stood still on the sidewalk and began to drink the first can. After a few sips I started walking down the road. I finished my first beer and started drinking a second. By the time I had finished that I was feeling pretty good – so good in fact that I decided to befriend a homeless guy with a dog sitting in the gutter of the sidewalk of a busy intersection.

       “Alright lad, got any spare change?” he asked as I walked over.

       “Yeah don’t worry my brother” I said. “I’m going to give you some change, but first would it be okay if I joined you for a drink?” He looked at me with a confused and hesitant look. After a few seconds of scanning me up and down he accepted me.

       “Well sure, take a seat lad.”

       “Thanks.”

       I sat down and nestled myself into his cardboard which was soggy from the rain. I put my back up against the wall, stared out at the street, sipped my beer and offered my final can to my new best friend. He looked down at it, scrunched his brow and shook his head.

       “No thanks lad, I stay away from that stuff these days; that’s what caused me to end up like this. It’s the devil’s blood that stuff. You ought to be careful with it too.”

       “It’s helping to keep me sane right now” I told him.

       “That’s how it starts” he said. “But if you’re not careful soon it’s not you consuming the drink, it’s the drink consuming you.”

       “That’s kinda poetic” I said. “You ever thought about being a writer?”

       “A writer? Does it look like I’m interested in that kid? That’s the last thing on my mind. A roof over my head and some warm food in my stomach would be nice.”

      “Sorry. That’s true. I just thought you expressed yourself nicely and all.”

      I carried on sipping my beer, feeling the alcohol flow through my veins. I could feel myself getting comfy. We got chatting about his life and he started telling me about all his travels in Asia and South America. Having travelled in those areas myself, I was naturally curious about his ventures out there in the world. I began asking him about his adventures. Typically his travelling stories were full of chaos and anarchy and bohemian madness. As he spoke about his nomadic life, I couldn’t help but identify with it and think whether or not I was staring into my own future. It seemed that the man had led a similar existence in his twenties to the one I had been living. It was full of wandering wide-eyed through the world – of drifting wildly on the fringes of society. I couldn’t help but let myself wonder. Perhaps the life I was living was also going to lead me to be sleeping in the gutter one day? I mean, the possibility was viable for everybody out there, but in particular anyone who dared to drift away from the cultural conveyor-belt like I had done. The automatic life on the cultural conveyor-belt may have been boring and predictable, but it protected you from those rain-soaked gutters – it protected you from the madhouses and the cemeteries. Riding it like a good citizen of the state you were transported through education into a steady job, into a mortgage, into the shops on the high-street, into parenthood and finally into retirement where a grave and wooden box awaited to package you into eternity. Sure, it may have sounded dull and tedious to the adventurous individual, but hey, at least you didn’t freeze to death alone on some cold winter street.

     After fifteen minutes of talking about his life, my beer can was empty and I decided to leave my new friend alone to himself – something I now suspected he wanted. I gave him some spare change, said goodbye and headed off down the street. I then thought about what to do next. I was now pretty drunk and didn’t want to go home, so I thought I would head further into the city centre and try and find a party of some sort. After one month of studying here I still had no friends to drink with, and so I decided to go and find a hostel. From my travels I knew that in a hostel you could often find some other souls who were also out of sync with the human race too. And this was Brighton: the end of the line – the place literally and culturally on the fringe of the country – the place where the hippies and minorities and artists and madmen gathered together. Surely there was some life somewhere out there on those streets.

     After walking around for a while, I eventually found a hostel down by the seafront, just across the road from the pier. From the outside it looked dirty and unmaintained. Stain-covered curtains blew out the cracked windows as dirty towels hung out to dry. It seemed like the perfect place. I purchased some more beers from a shop and walked over to a group of people outside the front drinking and smoking. The group was made up of a diverse crowd including dread-locked hippies, Australian backpackers and some stoners sitting around on the floor eating pizza. They didn’t bat an eyelid to me joining in their group, and within a few minutes I was chatting to a Polish guy and a Kenyan guy over a beer. It turned out that both of them had recently emigrated to the country and were now working in Brighton while living in this cheap hostel, trying to get by in any way they could. I told them my story of just quitting my course to which they laughed and toasted drinks and offered me a joint. The good times were flowing and after one hour they made the decision to go do cocaine off a bin in an alleyway. Following this they then offered me to come with them to some rave in a “dark and dirty but decent club”. It had been a strange day so far, so naturally I made the decision to keep the pedal pressed down. I finished my drinks and joined them to the club.

      It was sometime around eight the following morning that I found myself standing with a bottle of wine on the edge of the roof of a house on the seafront, thoughtfully advising some stranger walking on the street below “not to take life so seriously”. A night of anarchy had ensued and by this point I was completely ruined; it had over twelve hours of drinking and partying with no sleep or rest. I had left the flat alone and now was at some random person’s place with the last remnants of a group of ravers strewn out across floors and sofas and beds around the house. The Polish guy was still there after having decided to miss his shift at work, but the Kenyan had disappeared somewhere into the night after dropping a tab of acid. Most people were asleep or unconscious by this point, but I stayed up chatting with some young English guy who had run away from home and had plans to live on a boat and sail around the south coast. As he told me with wild eyes about his little plan, I realised that the night had given me the medicine I needed: finding and talking to some others who were also existing on the fringes of society – who lives were also in a state of chaos and  permanent disorder. Finally, the situation of letting go from that ledge of normality and quitting my education didn’t feel so bad. I napped on the couch for a few hours and then stumbled back to my apartment.

      In the following days I had no urge to find a job or plan my next move, so I spent time just living quietly and simply, going for runs down by the coast, meditating and writing away in that dark apartment room of mine. I also spent a long amount of time simply roaming the streets of the city itself. As I did I kept looking more and more for these people who were living on the fringes of society or who had fallen off the conveyor belt altogether. Like a man on safari for a rare species, I looked for the freaks, the misfits and the weirdos. I looked for the outcasts and outsiders – for the aliens and the eccentrics. I searched for them out on those grey streets and when running down by the seafront. One area a little out the city besides the water was a good territory to spot them. Roaming there, I often saw some outsiders and misfits living in vans, fishing in the ocean, and smoking out on the rocks. I always wanted to go up to them and ask how their life was, but I figured they wanted to be left alone.

      Eventually one such creature came up and approached me as I was walking back to my apartment one afternoon. I was listening to some music through my headphones, but could still hear his drunken staggering and slurred words creeping up from behind me. I took my headphones out and turned around to face him. He was a bald-headed, middle-aged man in cargo trousers and a long grey coat. He was holding a bottle of cheap cider in his hands and had a wild glaze in his eyes.

      “I said, lad, I asked you how’re you doing – didn’t you hear me? Don’t people in this town ever speak to each other anymore? Do you think you’re better than me or something? You think you’re better than me don’t you..” I studied him curiously for a moment, trying to deduct if we was a harmless drunk or something to be afraid of.

      “I couldn’t hear you” I told him. “I had my headphones in. But I’m good thanks. How are you?” He looked at me silently for a second and then grinned maniacally.

      “That’s okay my son!” he shouted. “That’s okay. It’s all good! I’m all good! Do you want some cider lad?” He held out the white lightning cider in front of my face. I declined politely to which he carried on chugging away. After a few seconds of watching him drink I continued to walk down the street. He decided to join me. We then walked together for a while as he told me about his life in Brighton, and how he had been a DJ for over twenty years, and how the rest of the time how he liked to climb buildings, presumably drunk.

      “You see that block of flats over there lad? I climbed that just last week. And the week before that I managed to make it all the way on top of the hospital. The police came and arrested me as soon as I got down of course, but they’re used to me by now! A little slap on the wrists, nothing else! All the coppers in this town have been arresting me for climbing for over ten years now. I’ve just about climbed all there is to climb. I’ve had a few little falls and injuries, but I’m still going! You can’t stop me! Oh no, oh no. You can’t stop me!”

      As I listened to his tales, I wondered how this man was still alive. It was only four in the afternoon and already this man was so drunk he could barely walk straight. Climbing any sort of building or scaffolding in his current state surely was a sure outcome of severe injury or death. Yet he must have done it dozens of times. I never even thought to ask him why he actually had this obsession with climbing things. But I felt like I didn’t need to after a while. The passion and delight in his drunken voice said it all. He was a child in a middle-aged man’s body. He was just simply having fun and enjoying his life in any way he could. Such a wild, free-spirited person again made me feel good. As Bukowski had once said: “The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it. Basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.” And it was true: just hearing his stories alleviated me of some sort of pain inside me. It made me feel relaxed. Most people his age were climbing career ladders, yet this man was out DJ-ing and climbing the city buildings for no reason other than having fun.

     In the next days I continued seeing him walking along those street pavements with the same brand of cheap cider always in hand. His energy never changed. Always energetic and friendly. Always smiling and chatting the head off some stranger. Whenever I saw him he updated me about his climbs and exploits, and in return I told him my story about quitting my course and how I was just drifting around for a moment, figuring out my next move in life. One or two times he invited me to drink and climb with him, but I decided against it. My life already had enough madness in it for the time being.

     Eventually a few weeks went by and I stopped seeing him in the neighbourhood. I was always out there on the streets roaming and expected him to come into sight, staggering around a corner with a bottle of cider in hand, but he never did. At first I assumed he had packed up and moved to another town, but then I remembered that he had lived in the city all his life and loved it to the bone. It didn’t seem likely for him to hit the road so suddenly. I kept an eye out for him constantly. It wasn’t long until I overheard some guys at a construction sight. They were talking about a man falling from some scaffolding. I stopped and listened curiously. They spoke about a man who had fallen to his death in the city somewhere a week or so before. My stomach sank suddenly. Immediately I rushed home and went on the internet. I started searching for the news story. I typed some keywords into Google – ‘man’, ‘dies’, ‘death’, ‘falling from building’, ‘Brighton’. I pressed enter. A load of results then appeared, including one which immediately caught my eye – a news story from six days before from the local newspaper. I clicked on it hesitantly. I started reading. I scanned through the story and, sure enough, it was what I had feared. It was the man I had spoken to. It was the man with the big smile and drunken swagger. It was the man who had been climbing buildings in the city for ten years. He had died after falling from the top of a new block of flats still in construction. Finally, the gravity of existence had claimed him.

    Hearing the news of the death, I had a sudden urge to get out of Brighton as soon as I could. I was spooked. It was true that I saw something of myself in that wild-eyed man. In those pupils I saw the alien madness and the child spirit struggling to survive. I saw the pain of existing in this concrete society. This world was always at odds with those types of people. It had swallowed him up and surely those streets and this society were going to swallow me up to. Under the weight of this thought, I went and made a drastic decision. I went online and booked a flight to Mexico with the student loan money that had just come into my account for the course I had quit. The government had paid me a student loan to last the full year, but having already left the course in October, I now had some finances to play around with. I had wanted to travel in Central America for a while and now these tempestuous circumstances called for the adventure to come into play. I arranged the trip for the upcoming weekend and then went and poured myself a glass of red wine to toast my next voyage.

      After finishing the bottle of wine, I sat there drunk for a while staring at my bedroom wall. I was feeling lonely and had a sudden idea to go and see if my homeless friend was there on the street again. I headed out, bought some beer from the shop and walked down the street. Sure enough it was raining again and there he was in his usual spot: sitting there on his soggy cardboard, back against the wall, stroking his dog playfully. I went over and said hello. I then sat down beside him, soaking in the gutter, feeling the rain fall down from the heavens above. I opened a can and offered him one – this time he accepted.

     As I drank and chatted with the homeless man, I thought of the chaos of the last few weeks; I thought of my life and this man’s life and the life of the alcoholic climber who had fallen to his death. It really was true. Some people had just simply been misdelivered to the wrong planet. They found themselves stranded on a rock apart of a species they just didn’t understand. There was no room for them in human society and, like this man, my place was seemingly on the sidelines. It was in the solitary shadows – in those rain-soaked sewers and gutters. Since the playgrounds of youth, I had always felt separate and isolated from my species, and here, twenty years on, nothing had changed despite my attempts to fit in. This little attempt to cling onto the ledge of normality by doing a masters course had quickly failed and now I was falling back into the abyss of the unknown. I was heading back out into the wilderness of planet earth. I was as lost as a man could be and, as the rain started coming down more heavily, I cast my gaze up into the dark night sky, dreaming of something distant and far-off – a home somewhere out there in the galaxies of the cosmos. I didn’t expect to find one however. I didn’t expect to ever find one here on this planet. It was doomed and destined way of the wanderer. It was the way of the outcasts and outsiders – of the misfits and aliens. And by now it was clear that I one of them too. By now it was clear that no matter how far through life I travelled or where I travelled, I would always return to those spaces of separation, sitting alone, drinking beer, staring up into skies – waiting and looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.