short stories

~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

pexels-photo-212286

~ Seriously, What’s the Point? ~

“Seriously, what’s the point?”

“The point to what?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      

short stories

~ Why ~

solitude

~ Why? ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “Yes.”

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

     “Yes.” 

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

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

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

short stories

~ Finding the Others ~

finding the others

~ Finding the Others ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

thoughts

~ Life as a Game ~

matrix

~ Life as a Game ~

Did you ever hear the theory that we are living in a giant computer simulation? That the universe is merely lines of code written by a higher technological body? That we are essentially living in the matrix? Enough scientists and physicists believe it could be a possibility that it’s actually a relatively respected theory. Hell, even that Elon Musk guy believes in it. I often think what would happen to our society if we eventually found out we were all living in a giant computer simulation. I mean, everything in society seemingly operated on the notion that this thing called existence was all very serious and that we must work and strive and chase success and find our way into whatever heaven it is that we were supposed to believe in. But for it to be revealed it was all nothing more than a computer simulation? Nothing more than a game without a serious purpose? Now what a glorious sight that would have been to behold. I imagined the great existential crisis speaking across the earth as the churches crumbled, economic systems collapsed and people who had taken the game of life too seriously were eventually driven to either ecstasy or suicide after finding out that none of it really mattered. I imagined the look on the faces of the likes of Trump, Putin and Piers Morgan as their ego collapsed inward on itself.

Me? Personally, I would have welcomed the discovery with open arms. I already liked to treat life as a game anyway. It was a philosophy that gave me some sort of carefree joy and one which I believed had solid grounds. I mean, when one looked at the laws of physics it was clear that the universe was essentially a singular energy system just dancing in the present moment without a clear end goal in mind. One only had to watch the waves crash repeatedly on a shoreline, or the leaves dance in the wind, or the clouds drift across the sky, or the dog chase a stick for no other purpose than for it to be thrown again. These weren’t trivial things; these were the little secrets that reality was merely a rhythmic dance of energy just flowing and changing shape for no apparent purpose or reason. Watch the change of the seasons: the leaves blossoming and falling; the flowers blooming and decaying; the stars shimmering like fireworks before they died and dissipated into nothingness. This was the reality of existence in a nutshell – a transient playing of energy which certainly shouldn’t be taken seriously to any considerable degree. Something more closely related to a game to be played, rather than some sort of battle to be won.

So let’s say just for fun that tomorrow physicists managed to conclusively prove the universe was a virtual simulation and that nothing really mattered in the traditional way we thought of it. My theory is that initially the world would lose its mind. Jobs would be quit, shops would be looted, suicides would be committed. We’d enter into an age of anarchy as a great existential crisis swept over humanity which lasted a few years. Eventually after that initial crisis was over, people would calm down and look at their situation with new eyes. With a collective sigh of relief that life was just some sort of virtual experiment, the world would return to a peaceful and loving one, everyone united under the banner of just enjoying the game while we had a chance to play it. We could nurture our environment, be kind to one another – spend our time pursuing our passions and creating art. Knowing that we were all just here for a bit of fun, we could put our trivial differences aside and make sure we enjoyed everything for the momentary game it is, rather than the job it most certainly is not. 

Of course, this sort of thing has been suggested in some way before, most notably by the hippy movement or by certain Eastern philosophies which described existence more as a state of play rather than something to be taken seriously. Hinduism in particular suggested we were all the drama of the godhead, letting itself go and play all these different beings and environments just for the fun of it. There was no point to it other than seeing how far out everything could go. It was a nice thought which alleviated many common worries and stresses, and it was no surprise to me that many western people who had gone through a crisis arrived at the doorstep of such a way of thinking. 

Although many people stood to benefit off this type of life philosophy, there was however a certain class of people who wouldn’t benefit from people treating life as a bit of fun. Let’s just imagine that there were people who knew the universe was a computer simulation system, but didn’t want others to find out because it would make them lose their power over others. These guardians of the game would be the bosses, the politicians, the media rulers and religious leaders. These were the people who needed others to think life was serious so they would keep anxiously toiling away in those cubicles; so they would keep donating to their churches and worshipping their gods; so they would fear for the future and buy more insurance; so they would bow down to trends and fashions because they cared what other people thought of them; so they would not go out and live their one life but compete against each other in some trivial rat race. Yes, there were many people who had a lot of power and wealth due to people taking life too seriously, and it made sense why some of them would not want people to have this state of mind. Conversely, there were also the ones out there who tried to remind you that it was all just a bit of fun and just to enjoy life as it is. These people were the artists, the musicians, the philosophers, the shamans, the jokers, the jesters. Like the prophetic Comedian Bill Hicks once said:

Some people have remembered (that life is just a ride) and they come back to us, and say: “Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” … and we… kill those people. “Shut him up. Shut him up. We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride…”

Hick’s speech was a piece of philosophy which stuck in my adolescent head along with many others of a similar ilk. There once was a time where I was experiencing a dark period of depression. For a long time I had suffered with the ego and the thoughts that I was failing at life and not living up to the things expected of me. Because I was still attached to taking life seriously at a fundamental level, I suffered greatly within my own psyche. But when words such as the ones from Bill entered my head, as well certain Zen philosophies from the likes of Alan Watts, I was able to let go and finally relax and just enjoy life just purely for what it was. Consequently, my depression and anxiety subsided and suddenly life became a hell of a lot more fun. This realisation of letting go from taking life seriously naturally made me think why so many had been conned into something that was tearing and twisting themselves apart. How hadn’t they also arrived at the same realisation after a few decades of running around on the hamster wheel of human existence? How hadn’t they also let go and allowed themselves to have a bit of fun? No one is getting out of here alive as they say, so ‘why so serious?’ as a certain comic-book villain once wisely said.

Now, you may think that these are just the manic musings of an existential millennial, but seriously, if you go out there and face that world tomorrow with the idea that you are merely in a game, see how different your life will become for the better. See the transient beauty of the decaying leaf, the clouds forming and dissolving in those enveloping skies, the stars shimmering high up beyond the ether before they implode on themselves. Become detached from trivial and frivolous worries that don’t deserve to occupy the space in your head. Stop wasting time doing things you feel you have to do because it’s expected of you. Imagine that all of this universe is merely a momentary playing of energy with no serious end goal or purpose. Be mindful of that fact and watch the stress and the anxiety disappear slowly; watch the trivial bickering suddenly appear meaningless; watch the world appear as mysterious and magical as it first did when you were a wide-eyed child; watch the game begin to play out more vividly and beautifully than ever before.

As some pretty famous writer once said: “all the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players.”

Now go out there and enjoy it while you can.

thoughts

~ A Transaction ~

car

~ A Transaction ~

“To lose your mind and find your soul. To abandon it all for the thrill of adventure. To not live bound by formula or convention, but instead slip beyond the boundaries and follow your heart through the wilderness. These things were all I ever wanted from life and I knew that such an existence would not come easy. Living a life true to yourself would inevitably see your character tested every day. You would be tested every moment it was easier to sell off parts of yourself to fit into crowds or systems. You would be tested when you are asked to trade your authenticity for acceptance – your dreams for comfort and convenience. I knew how it all worked and I was ready to walk my own path through life. Yes, I knew it would lead to solitude and isolation, but to be able to stand at the end of the day and say that I lived a life totally true to myself was a thought too beautiful to escape. Of course, on this path I knew I was not destined to be rich, or popular, or even accepted, but when I felt that passion surge in my heart, I knew that I was at least destined to live a life I could be proud to call my own. And to me there was no goal greater in life than that. I was out beyond the safe farm and it was a life of being completely guided by the heart. A life of finding your own truth and treasure. A life that did not allow itself to sink into some form of submission, but instead knew the glory of what it was to jump the fences and taste the air of real freedom.”

thoughts

~ Fear of the Future ~

victoria-station-busy-people-victoria-735795

~ Fear of the Future ~

The ice caps melting. Australia on fire. The ocean filling with plastic. The Amazon slowly disappearing off the map. David Attenborough on his last legs. Angry Orangutans smashing rocks against bulldozers. Young girls sailing across the Atlantic to shout at world leaders. The earth’s temperature rising and rising. The rainforest trees falling and falling. The media telling you all of this was less important than the royal family or an episode of Love Island…

The world was seemingly coming to an end and yet we still marched mindlessly through the motions of everyday life, working our meaningless jobs, sinking into our sofas, drawing our curtains and watching television show after television as our minds became as polluted as the very air we breathed. We were a species at war against the very organism we were a part of. Like a virus, we ripped and tore at the flesh of our host. We spoke of our career aspirations for the future while ignoring the fact that we were on the verge of some sort of environmental and social apocalypse. I could feel a looming sense of dread was slowly building, the storm of destruction waiting to rain down upon us. The anxiety was at an all-time high for some people and it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone talking about how bringing kids into the modern world was an act of cruelty. 

It was easy to see why some people were choosing to not reproduce. After all, why bring a baby into the blender with the rest of us? We were on track for total destruction and the way I saw it, it was going to go one or two ways. A great awakening would occur and people would realise that they are continuous with the natural universe. They would realise that it’s better to work with nature rather than against it, and thus society would begin to adjust to treat the environment with love rather than hate. Minimalism would arrive. Sustainable technologies would run the world. Meditation would become commonplace and people would put the environment before profit. It was a nice thought to ponder but in all honesty, it was just a dream. When I really thought about it, there was no way things were going to be turned around at this stage. Society had simply gotten too insane. Money and Brexit were more important than the biological health of the organism we were a part of. People cared only for their cars and castles. Angry mothers shouted at supermarket workers when told that shopping bags now cost five pence. In their resentful faces I could see the destruction and hate that our species had buried in our collective consciousness. We were always meant to destroy the world. It was ingrained in our nature from the start. It was our unavoidable destiny to wipe ourselves out.

The next century or two will be the unfolding of our demise. What will happen is the lands will be flooded, food will become scarce and society will gradually collapse under the weight of the environmental crisis. The people will live in squalor and the rich will shield themselves in pleasure-domes of material comfort. Eventually those rich will leave the earth in the last spaceships as humanity descends into desperate, frenzied chaos. All of this apocalypse waits – and sooner than we think. But still, tomorrow I will face the faces of people again asking me my plans for the future and all of that bullshit. My plans for the future? Well if you must know I imagine myself building a rocket and taking off from this sinking ship. I imagine myself sailing through the cosmos for many years in search of a new home – one in which a sane species of intellect populates peacefully. One that is harmonious with the environment rather than at war with it. One that values nature more than a piece of paper with a number on it. But for now I guess I will sit around drinking beer and awaiting our earthly demise. I will try to find what joy I can as our last years on earth are lived out with people like Trump, Putin and Boris Johnson at the helm of the ship of stupidity that sails us into the storm. Make no mistake. The abyss awaits. These men of nothingness. This system of nothingness. I know not that I can save this world, I only hope to save my soul before we all drown in this abyss. May these words been found somewhere beneath the rubble. If any aliens are reading this and are wondering what happened, I don’t know what to say. Humanity happened. And that was enough to destroy us all. 

short stories

~ Waiting For My Friends To Have A Midlife Crisis ~

dice

~ Waiting For My Friends To Have A Midlife Crisis ~

Often when my life was at its craziest and my writing its most existential, I got accused of having some sort of crisis. It was true. They were quite right. I was well and truly experiencing a crisis, although I didn’t believe my crisis was a temporary one like that of everyone else’s. In truth, my whole life was a crisis. From a young age I had wandered the world with wide eyes trying to figure out what the hell it was exactly that was going on. I mean, when you really stopped and thought about the situation of human existence, how was it not possible to have some sort of crisis? Here you found yourself incarnate in a transient vessel of flesh and bone, riding a spinning rock through an infinite universe with no apparent reason other than to make money, pay taxes and spawn some others into the same situation you found yourself in. Every day to me was some sort of crisis and I made no distinct definition of a quarter-life one or midlife one. Beginning, middle and end: it was a constant crisis, a storm, a maelstrom – a disaster akin to something straight out of a plot of a Hollywood movie.

      There was one thing I enjoyed about my life being a constant crisis: it made things interesting. Not constrained by the shackles of mental stability, every week was an adventure of not knowing where the turbulent road of human existence would take me. I had no set path – no long term plans or cultural script that I had to follow or abide by. This meant that I could well and truly be doing anything in any place within a few months. Perhaps I’d be teaching English in Spain? Washing dishes in a cafe in Paris? Locked up in some hellhole prison in South America? The possibilities were truly endless and I gradually became welcoming of the fact that my life was going to be in a constant state of disorder until the day I died. In fact, I was even excited by the prospect. At least my life was going to be an adventurous and thrilling one, rather than a very safe and stable journey to the grave down a grey highway of work, television and weekend-drinking.

     Of course, some of my friends did suggest that there was something mentally wrong with me, but I tried to explain to them that I was just ahead of the curve. I told them that everybody would have an existential crisis eventually, and that it usually came when you had gone a few decades through your life. It seemed to me that a good old-fashioned midlife crisis typically took place in the 30s and 40s when the individual awoke to the fact they had gone halfway through their life and usually done nothing more than study, work and maybe pump out a couple more children into the world. This is how it worked all across the world: at a young and influential age, you’d listen to your teachers and parents and spend the first half of your life fitting in and conforming to the traditions that were handed down to you from previous generations. But eventually after doing all that stuff for the first part of adulthood, you would wake up one day to find yourself feeling the same way you’d always felt – your life half gone – your death drawing ever closer and closer. And what did you have to show for it? A well-polished CV? A half-paid mortgage? A wardrobe full of designer clothes? In most cases, you ultimately had just passively walked through life and not paid any deeper thought to making the most of your one fleeting existence. And by that point the years had fallen by and you stared into morning mirrors seeing the hairs grey and skin wrinkle as your deepest dreams and desires lay gathering dust in the dark, forgotten corners of your ageing heart.

     Okay, a little harsh maybe, but the general point is true that most people generally had a period in their life where they begrudged what they had done with their life and how their youth had passed them by so quickly. Personally, I kept such thoughts at the forefront of my mind when I woke up every day. No doubt this ultimately explained why my path was such a wildly different one to those around me. Treating life as a continual crisis was working out to be an interesting and fulfilling path for me, but sometimes I wished that some people could join me in the adventure. The people I had met travelling were usually there walking alongside me on the crisis highway – usually the older men and women who had been divorced, abandoned careers and homes to start again doing something they truly loved. But back home in the realm of everyday life, everybody was usually very serious about their lives, and consequently I often felt a need to stir some madness in the minds of the socially sane around me.

     The closest people around me at home were my friends from school. While I had mostly been a travelling bum for the first chapter of adulthood, they had all followed the traditional path of studying and going straight into a steady line of work. We were now in our late twenties and most of them had been working in graduate settings for over five years. I knew some of them would be getting to the stage in their lives where they would begin to start questioning the reality of the rat race. Consequently, I stared at them with sinister eyes waiting ever so patiently for the first cracks to begin to form – for them to quit their jobs and come join me on an adventure out somewhere in the world. From my experience I knew it didn’t take much for a functioning member of society to slip into the pits of existentialism and start questioning everything around them. Sometimes it was a spell of depression. Sometimes it was a relationship split. Sometimes it was something as simple as staring into space while sitting on the tube after another day of being pushed around by your boss. All it took was just one moment for the seed to be planted and your reality to begin to shift to something drastically different.

     With that thought in my mind, I considered which one of my friends would be first to break and weighed up their odds. First was James – a journalism graduate who had moved to London to start working in sales. I knew he had been nursing a desire to get out and do something different for a while. He had often asked me about my travels and listened to my views on life with an interested look in his eyes. I knew he had recently broken up with his girlfriend and that he was also dissatisfied with his stressful sales job. On the other hand, he was one of the most methodical people I knew who didn’t do anything without long periods of introspective reflection and preparation. His odds of having a crisis any time soon: 10/1.

      Next up was Chris – a relatively stable guy, although he had his manic side as I had known from our booze-filled adventures in the early stages of adulthood. Since then he had become relatively settled living in London while building his career in graphic design. There was once a period where he told me he needed a change of equilibrium and that he was going to cycle across America. But time had moved on and he was now settled in a job he loved as well as a healthy and stable relationship. The odds of him having a crisis any time soon: 20/1.

      Next up came Richard. He was a guy who had planned his whole life out from his childhood. Coming from a conservative family where deviating from tradition was considered a crime similar to murder, he was the most socially sane of them all. He had once taken a gap year and used it to stay at home working to save money for his university fees. Very rarely did the madness and anarchy enter his eyes. On top of this, he was now in a high-paying job, a long-term relationship and had recently put down a deposit on a house. The odds of him having an existential crisis any time soon: 100/1.

     I continued looking at the people around me and weighing up their possibilities. There were some who might be pushed to the brink given the right combination of circumstances, but all in all it seemed that very few of them would be joining me in the wilderness very soon. Ultimately everyone was too settled, too organised, too sane. Their conversations about life were normally geared towards middle-aged things as they discussed promotions, who would be the first to get married and saving up for a house deposit. The horror of it all caused me to try and tempt them away from it all by jokingly asking them which one was going to drop out of the rat race first. Such comments however were quickly laughed off as I was left alone as the eccentric outlier they had classified me as.

      One day a moment of hope came from an unlikely source. His name was Matthew – one of the most calculated and sensible people I had ever met. He was the sort of person who did his homework the day he got it, planned out his year with a Microsoft Excel chart and would organise to meet at a place at 7.53pm. He was the most rigid-minded of them all – that was right up until his girlfriend left him. It was the end of his first-ever relationship and never had I seen a change in someone so drastic. Out drinking and chasing girls every weekend; wildly more confident and spontaneous; weekend trips to anywhere and everywhere. Finally life had worn him down to the point he was talking to me about quitting his job and travelling the world. This was it, I thought to myself – this was the proof that there was only so much sanity and sensibility a civilised man could take before he eventually abandoned it all. I thought this was going to be the start of an unconventional new lifestyle, but his organised approach to life soon came through as he started meticulously plotting and planning his year out and putting money aside for a house deposit for when he returned. Like everything else in his life, his crisis was organised down the last detail – an event that would maybe last a year or so at the most before he returned to the neighbourhoods of normality to settle comfortably back down into the realm of conventionality. Well, at least it was something anyway.

      Besides my friends from school, there were a few people I knew older than me who were in the peak midlife crisis age. Naturally their odds were much higher as this was the time when many realised that money couldn’t buy happiness, that stress was a cancer, marriage was often a trap and that suppressing your true self for so long in order to fit in only caused you misery and spiritual emptiness. Naturally some of them had been struck by these realisations including a teacher who had switched to part-time hours so he could start a business in which he rented out an inflatable pub. Another was someone who had quit her career in marketing and to work on her writing, but who was now looking at getting back into her career. Another was a banker who had purchased a Volkswagen Campervan to take on weekend trips to try and reconnect with his hippy side.

      It seemed that, like with Sean, there were some who mixed things up slightly, but never anyone who completely walked off away from normal life for good. This is how it seemed to work: the midlife crisis and quarter-life crisis was an event for most people that usually lasted a year or two at the most. Some might buy campervans and become weekend hippies. Some might grow moustaches and wear eccentric clothing. Some might leave their jobs for a year to travel and then return back home to settle down. There might have been some small deviations away from the realm of regular life, but all in all the cultural script would be followed to the grave. They’d be no becoming a mountaineer or running away with the circus. They’d be no starving to death as a tortured artist in Paris. People had a brief crisis and then went back to their normal lives with maybe a new suntan, tattoo or moustache – effectively leaving me to wander alone with my relentless existential madness until the day I died.

The thought of it all was enough to give me some sort of crisis.

short stories

~ The Search For Meaning ~

the fighter

~ The Search For Meaning ~

“So why do you do it if you don’t make much money from it? It’s a lot of time to devote to something isn’t it for a small return? What’s the end goal here?”

I looked into his eyes. Those eyes of normality. I cleared my throat. I went ahead and explained how I wrote my books not for fame or fortune, but instead of a strong need to fulfil myself from deep within. To do something that stirred my soul. To create some meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Okay, maybe I left that last part out, but I could see from his blank expression how he thought it was strange that I devoted so much of myself to something which wasn’t rewarded by money or women or a firm pat on the back from your boss. Mostly my writing was only read by a small amount of people, but still I typed away at that keyboard like a madman anyway. It was something I was driven to do with all my heart and blood and guts. In the world, I looked around at things I was supposed to desire. I saw jobs that gave you money, prestige – hell, sometimes even your own parking space – but nothing that really was going to make me content and fulfilled at my core. Some of those jobs really gave you quite a lot of money after a while, but what could I really do with it that actually fulfilled me? Buy some new clothes? Drink some higher quality beer? Gamble it all away at the races for a cheap thrill? 

Looking around at my surrounding society, I essentially saw myself stuck in a soul-sucking system where people were forced to consumerism, alcoholism, gambling and whatever else it was which helped fill that inner existential void which inevitably widened every year. Many had children and this kept them busy with a purpose for a couple of decades, but I wasn’t too attracted to that prospect either. After all, if you had children just because you couldn’t find any meaning in your own life, it seemed selfish to bring more people into the world who would have to face the same recurring existential dilemma. It seemed that it wasn’t just me who was uninterested in creating a little miniature version of myself; I was now part of a generation where people were spawning fewer human-beings into the world than ever before. Consequently, we now lived in a dystopian world where there were a growing amount of people trying to find something to get out of bed for, or to keep them busy with – or to simply just do anything that stopped them staring into space thinking about the monotony and banality of it all. The life of tedious and trivial repetition. The life of watching other people’s lives on soap operas. The life where many people’s greatest aspiration was bossing around a bunch of bored people in a dusty office room.

I guess it was that desire to transcend the monotony of the ordinary which led me to writing – to strumming away on this grubby keyboard right now. Travelling on backpacking trips had kept me busy for a few years of my young adult life, and it really was true that travelling and exploring other countries and cultures had kept me fulfilled to a degree, but eventually the novelty of it had dried up and I needed something else to stoke the fire within. Modern society seemingly had nothing to offer me, and so I now tried to create some meaning by locking myself away in an isolated room as I obsessively tried to create the next literary masterpiece. 

It was fair to say the attempts to make our lives meaningful were often extreme and I figured many of us would have been better off in the hunter-gatherers times where you spent your time gathering food and supplies while enjoying the leisure that came alongside that. It seemed to me that so many people out there had been spiritually murdered or left unfulfilled by the sedentary and relatively easy lifestyle of modern life that gave you comfort in abundance, but left you feeling like you were some sort of robotic cog in a machine. There it all was lined up all nicely for you. The animals slaughtered out of sight and packaged neatly on supermarket shelves. The clothes and furniture delivered right to your front door. The partners available at the flick of a finger on internet dating apps. Comfortable office jobs that you had absolutely no connection to. There was no real fight to be had; no great battle to be won. Some still chose to join the army and be thrown into some sort of oil-war out in the middle east, but that was a desperate measure at best. 

A life without real meaning was torture to some people and consequently the search for it often came out in violent and ugly ways. One only had to go to a football match and see the twisted, cursing faces of people in the crowd screaming out their inner frustration at a referee simply trying to do his job. Their lack of meaning and inner fulfilment led them not only to venting at sporting events, but to the bottle – the pill – the powder. It, of course, led them to political things too. When Brexit happened in the U.K, many people suddenly saw something arbitrary to fight for. With newspaper headlines rallying you to fight for your country like there was an actual war going on, so many people jumped on board to give themselves a sense of identity and purpose that they had been missing for a long time. In their shouting faces, I saw the pain and lack of meaning in their everyday lives which had drawn them to this ‘war’. Ultimately this is what happens when a man or woman has no true calling or belonging in their everyday life – they latch onto whatever the hell it is that makes them feel their lives have something worth fighting for.

Our quest to give our lives purpose was like a thorn in our sides and often I wished I could live a life as purposeless as a cat, just sitting around and being content with sleeping and the occasional meal here and there. Naturally this desire led me to an interest in Buddhism which celebrated the notion of the purposeless life. I researched a lot about Buddhism, reading books and watching youtube videos. I soon found myself meditating often and feeling the benefits of the Eastern philosophy. Western society was all about achieving success and status and chasing promotions and whatever the hell it was that was supposed to make you happy. But with Buddhism, you went the opposite way – you eliminated desire and then had everything you ever needed right on your front door. With this in mind, I went through a period of embracing the purposeless life. I meditated twice a day and went for long, slow walks in the parks. I stopped stressing and straining at work. I quit being anxious about the future and things out of my control. The lifestyle was a welcome change but after a while, the desire to find some purpose came creeping back like an incurable disease. Couple that with people constantly asking you what ‘your plans’ were, then it was only natural that my need to create some specific goal or point to my life came back.

So I went back out into the world and looked at what I could do to make my life meaningful. Of course, by that point, I already knew without question the direction I would take. The feeling I got when I read those messages that came in about my writing was like spiritual heroin. Via my blog and self-published books, I had already inspired people to change their lives, quit jobs and pursue their deepest dreams and desires. That feedback was something that stirred my soul beyond anything else I had experienced in this life; it gave me a pleasure which couldn’t come from any drink, drug or woman. I needed more of it so I sat back and planned to write another book, and then another one – and even if my writing only had an effect on just a handful of people – then that was the existential purpose of my life. To write, write, write. To share the contents of my heart and soul. To bleed my brain dry. To pour everything onto the page and hope that it had an effect on someone out there in the world. 

It’s been a long and slippery road but this is my third book of writing and I now feel like I have manufactured more meaning in my life than ever before. There is now a contentment in my heart when I wake up every day – a fire in my eyes which I can’t be sure I see too often out on those grey streets. Hell, I’ll even go as far to say that I now feel qualified to give some advice. Well, here it goes if you’ll forgive me. Are you also staring into those skies and spaces and feeling existentially empty? Are you also yearning to feel like you’re living and not merely existing? Well, if I may put forward yet another tiring opinion from the growing amount of keyboard philosophers out there: not much makes me feel alive in our modern society, and maybe I don’t have all the answers, but I know that strumming these keyboard keys right now is a better fight than stressfully chasing some promotion or saving up for something I don’t actually need. I guess if I had any advice it would be not to mindlessly grab at what’s in front of you. Don’t try and fill an internal void with external things. Don’t try and obtain happiness through material goods or whatever the hell it is your peers and parents tell you will make you satisfied. Spend some time alone and get to know yourself. Find what makes your heart and fingers twitch a little faster. Find what makes you forget about everything else. The world around you may have got you confused, but deep down inside yourself you already know what you need to be complete and fulfilled. Let it be revealed to you slowly and surely in solitude and silence. Let it be unlocked in the heart. It’s there – your true calling – waiting for you to stand up. Waiting for you to take it. Waiting for you to make sure you are living a life, and not just existing in one.

thoughts

~ The Silent Submission ~

~ The Silent Submission ~

“It’s a world of broken people with broken hearts. Of minds full of desperation and desolation. Of starving souls sitting behind desks and staring into space, dreaming of something distant and out of reach – something that can not be purchased in any store or downloaded onto any computer. It’s a world of people tightly gripping onto steering wheels as they try not to go insane on the morning commute. A world of people scrolling on their phones to try and connect with someone or something. A world of people drifting down the sidewalks of life, following someone else’s path and not their own. The absurdity pervades and I like so many others have stared up into those skies dreaming of something to take me away from all this madness. The human condition. The suffocation of society. The struggle to hang onto who you really are as this world strikes you from every angle. Few make it through the machine without being torn up beyond repair. Out there on those streets I stare at the passing faces and see eyes losing their light, hearts losing their fire, minds losing their madness. I see tired faces of sickness and sadness. I see mouths that move but do not speak. This thirst for life in my veins will not let me succumb to the same solemn fate. The wilderness in my heart roars out for some kind of glory. The glory of breaking free from it all. The glory of taking your mind back from the machine. The glory of making sure your life is one that is lived totally to the full, and not stutters slowly into a silent submission of the heart and mind and soul.”

people walking street

short stories

~ What Am I Doing? ~

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~ What am I doing? ~

I was the only ‘gringo’ on the bus – gringo essentially being the South American term for a ‘white western person’. I was heading out of Bolivia into the north of Argentina. I had just spent a couple of weeks with new friends and was hitting the road again on my own. One friend had headed up to the Amazon and the other had travelled to another place in Argentina. And so there I was: back to riding solo down the highway of life, staring out of those bus windows and wondering what chaos and madness was over the next horizon of space and time. However, I wasn’t totally alone. A little old lady had been sat next to me for the sixteen-hour bus ride. She had been quiet the whole way, but as we pulled into a police checkpoint at the border, she started to shift around in an erratic manner. I kept one eye on her while leaning my head against the window. Outside I could see a group of police officers with machine guns leading people into a room to be searched. The old lady continued to shift around nervously and eventually started tugging on my shirt to get my attention. I turned to face her. My Spanish was still pretty bad despite being in South America for about two months already, but naturally I could understand what ‘co-cai-na’ meant. She said it repeatedly before opening her bag and pulling out what looked like a kilogram of Colombia’s finest in a see-through plastic bag. Slightly taken aback by the situation that was unfolding, I stared at her blankly without knowing quite what to say. She then proceeded to grab my backpack and try to put the cocaine inside of it. Not wanting to end up banged up in a South American jail for the next few years, I politely declined the old lady’s advances. I then grabbed my backpack to get off the bus and join the queue of people who were now being led through the police checkpoint.

While in the queue to get searched, I watched the old lady stand in line on her own. This poor woman, I thought. What was she doing? What was she thinking? She must have been almost seventy and it looked like she was on her remaining years in some hellhole Bolivian prison. There was no way the officers were not going to find her stash in that small handbag of hers. Not a chance in hell. I felt bad for her but there was nothing I could do at this point. Her reckless gamble had failed and her doomed fate was sealed.

The queue continued to go down and eventually the old lady reached the table to be searched. The officers patted her down then took her bag and placed it on the table. Another one then went to open it. This was it, I thought. I was about to witness an old lady have the cuffs slapped on her and get escorted off to jail. I stood there and watched the officer unzip her bag, pull out for the bag of class A drugs, inspect it under the lighting and then toss it aside. Then, to my confusion, I watched as the old lady grabbed her handbag back and passed through freely. There she walked: no cuffs, no arrest, no drama. Off she strolled to get back on the bus.

It was only when I reached the table to be searched that I saw the large stash of cocaine behind the officers. There must have been a dozen bags of drugs all piled on top of each other. It appeared that almost half the people on the bus I was on were trying to smuggle bags of cocaine across the Argentine border. The passengers consisted of elderly people, parents and their kids, but clearly that was just business as normal in this part of the world. In a state of surreal shock, I reached the police officers myself where they took one look at my passport, saw that I was a ‘gringo’ and then ushered me through without even bothering to search my bag. It suddenly hit me why the little old lady was so keen to put the drugs in my backpack. She could have got them through after all. Perhaps we could have formed a partnership and split the profits? Perhaps It could have been the start of a bright new career in the narcotics industry? I dismissed the thought and got back on the bus where me and the old lady both sat in awkward silence. I then pressed my head against the window once more, stared out at the passing countryside of those foreign lands and wondered what the hell it was exactly that I was doing with my life…

Fast forward a few hours later and I’m dropped off in a strange town in the middle of nowhere. It was the place where I was supposed to be catching my connecting bus to Buenos Aires. However, with my original bus arriving two hours late, the departure had been missed and I was now standing alone in the dark of night in a shady bus station. I tried to communicate my problem with a bus driver but naturally my gringo Spanish was of insufficient use. Suddenly I was stranded and in a spot of bother. With a gang of men eyeing me across the street, I quickly decided that the best thing to do was to get on any bus to anywhere. Luckily there was one final bus about to depart before the station closed. I booked myself a ticket to a town called Salta. I got on and arrived about an hour and a half later where I booked myself into a random hostel and proceeded to drink shots of whiskey until the early morning with some Irish guy who was drowning his sorrows after his girlfriend had just broken up with him. As those shots flew back, I stared drunkenly into space and heard that same question once again reverberate around the walls of my skull: what the hell am I doing with my life?

‘What am I doing with my life? What am I doing with my life? What the hell am I doing with my life?’

It was a question that went through my head probably more than any other. I was an introspective and reflective guy anyway, but when you got yourself into as many random scenarios as I did, then it was a question that was frequently at the forefront of all mental musings. On this travelling adventure I had already ended up in so many random situations that left me contemplating my own existence. I had just finished university and my parents had wanted me to use my degree and go out and get a ‘real job’. Yet instead of sitting behind a desk and forming a career of some sort, I’d be in some ridiculous situation thousands of miles from home. Evidently South America was particularly bad for this, hopping from one bizarre scenario to the next. At one point I stopped and lived in Rio de Janeiro for a couple of months with a Brazilian girl I had met on the road. We stayed with her family in an isolated suburb on the outskirts of the city where no one including her family spoke a word of English. She had arrived home from her trip but had decided to stay in holiday mindset; this meant we’d spend the days at the beach before going out to get drunk at random parties, sleep in her car, crash at the apartments of some tourists, or sneak up to the rooftop pool of one of the most expensive hotels in Copacabana. At one point we had an argument and she went off with some other guys to her holiday home somewhere down the coast. In my own dismay, I found myself getting drunk at the beach on my own, staring out at the Atlantic Ocean and thinking about the alternative reality on the other side of that water back in the U.K. That alternative reality where I could have been all suited and booted up like a regular member of the human race – where I would be finishing another hard day at the office before going to have a few pints down the pub with work colleagues. My drunken mind imagined it all. The alarm clocks. The traffic jams. The work desks. The shirts and ties. The small talk. The routine lifestyle. The television screens. The suburban lawns. The high street shopping queues. It all went through my head as I knocked back the beers and passed out on a Brazilian beach.

Such existential thoughts carried on as I left South America and arrived in New Zealand almost one thousand pounds into my overdraft. Arriving to a country on the other side of the world with no money was pretty outrageous, even for my standards, but by this point I was totally lost in the wilderness of life, accepting that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but just trusting myself to the winds of fate and circumstance. That wind picked up and within a few weeks I was working in a kiwi fruit packhouse, living in a town of a couple of hundred people and renting a house with an eclectic mix of humans which included two guys from Chile, my English friend I had met in Australia a couple of years before, and my sister who was coincidentally travelling in New Zealand at the same time. Days were spent packing boxes of kiwis at a frantic rate as they poured like a tsunami from the conveyor belt, before heading home and sharing a bed with my sister in a freezing cold house in the middle of winter. It was a strange scenario to say the least, and naturally I still had no answer to that pressing question that lingered in my mind.

As that two-year backpacking trip finished and my life went on, there were times where I felt that I was beginning to realise what I was doing with my life – what was happening; where it was going; what it was leading to. Those times included coming home and thinking I was going to stop the travelling and settle down. It included times where I went back to university to study – where I eyed up career options as a journalist or copywriter and began to plot some sort of routine that would lead me safely and smoothly into old age. I should have known such things to be nothing more than mere mental musings. I’d go from having a plan to be writing poetry in the Himalayas. To hitch-hiking around Iceland. To raving beside an erupting volcano in Guatemala. To sleeping on a park bench in Slovenia. To walking across Spain in the midsummer heat (the most defining ‘what the hell am I doing?’ moment definitely being when me and four other hikers spontaneously decided to hike through the night, getting drunk off bottles of red wine before passing out in a farmer’s field). By this point I had learnt to go with the flow of whatever it was that was enfolding and even enjoy the comedy of my own chaotic existence. Hell, I even started to revel in it, smiling and smirking to myself in the most random of scenarios, stopping for a second and soaking it all in while the mess and madness unfolded around me. To some degree, I had managed to rewire my brain to living totally in the sheer anarchy of the moment.

I guess my most recent ‘what am I doing with my life’ moments came travelling in Europe. I had just flown back from Asia to meet my Dutch friend Bryan and head to Corsica to do a two-week trek through the island. However, our timetable wasn’t quite right and we had about three weeks until the snowy conditions made it possible to hike. Consequently, we arranged to travel through Switzerland and Italy in the meanwhile. Taking cheap buses in between destinations, we stopped and stayed with random friends we had each met travelling; we bummed around in cities, getting drunk in bars and parks; we stumbled around famous historic sites such as the Colosseum or the Vatican while cracking inappropriate jokes about history and culture. Bryan was like me in that he also regularly questioned the bizarre situations and scenarios the path of his life had led him to. We had been through a similar journey in life and were both highly philosophical about our own unconventional existence. This sometimes caused us to ask that question simultaneously as we walked down the streets of Rome or Florence, or when we drank beer on a random street corner and observed the human race like we were on safari. It was a very existential time of my life, even more so than usual, and ultimately we came to the conclusion that it was probably best that two manic minds like ours didn’t share paths for too long. Seemingly we were both a bad influence on each other’s lives. When I first met Bryan, he was a clean-cut guy, only having a couple of pints of beer each time we went to a bar; but now – partly due to the influence of myself and partly due to the crushing weight of the world – he was now an even more keen drinker than I was. I thought this would be a good development, but both of us being keen drinkers was a recipe for disaster. I was suffering from insomnia at the time and there was a moment every night where we would both think about being sensible and getting a good night’s rest. Then one of us would hint about going out for a drink to which the other would then utter the trip catchphrase: ‘why not? we’re on holiday…’ Next thing we’d be stumbling out again into the wilderness of the night, getting messed up and sneaking into VIP areas in clubs, before waking up the next day, staring at the hostel room ceiling and wondering that same old life-defining question…

What am I doing with my life? What am I doing with my life? What the hell am I doing with my life?’

I thought about it all those times on the road and I think about it now while I am writing these words, living alone in a new city, getting by off medical trials and agency work, not knowing what I’ll be doing in a few months’ time – whether I’ll be back out on that road or trying to write another book. It is a thought that has made itself at home in my head over the last years, but it is also a thought I think I see in the eyes of everyone around me too. I see it in the look of a businessman waiting in his car at the traffic lights. I see it at the look of a woman pushing a pram up the hill. I see it in the look of an elderly person drinking alone at a bar; in the look of a cashier in a store when they have a second to think to themselves. Sometimes I think I see it in my parent’s eyes too – in my father’s eyes as he’s doing the dishes or my mother’s eyes as she waters the plants. I have this suspicion I can’t shake that it’s all a big conspiracy and no one really knows what the hell they are doing. We all just try to follow and fake it – to go with what is expected of us by others and society – but deep down in every man or woman’s heart there are those moments of staring into skies, mirrors and spaces that are often as empty as the existential space they feel inside themselves. Perhaps that is a space that will never be filled no matter what we do or where we go. Sometimes I think I know what I’m doing, but that delusion quickly passes and I return to that bus window or solitary shoreline knowing that I am hopelessly lost in the dream of life as ever. Lost in the cosmic ocean of space and time. Lost in the woods of human existence. And accepting that, I find a sort of faith to keep walking wide-eyed through the wilderness and accept whatever it is that life brings my way. Deep down, no one really knows what the hell is going on, and the ones who do are normally just a divorce or redundancy or midlife crisis away from having their illusions totally blown to pieces. Life at its core is just pure mystery and madness, so why not just accept that? Why not go with the flow? Why not just sit back and enjoy the ride? Hell, go one further. Put the pedal down, wind down the windows, stick your head out into the wind and enjoy this random and chaotic trip of a lifetime.

God knows, somebody has to.