short stories

~ A Brush With Normality ~

a brush with normality

~ A Brush With Normality ~

It ended with a crash. The pieces finally fell down as I sat there reading her texts. “You need to sort your head out,” she told me. “I mean that in a caring way.” The previous couple of days had been a mess of emotions, arguments, excessive drinking and brushes with self-harm. Something had been brewing for a while, and it was the inevitable end to events we both knew was the fate of our short and sweet romance. With the realisation it was over, I left her dad’s flat covered in empty bottles of spirits and headed to the train station to retreat back home.

Alone once again, I reflected on a story that had started three months previously. It was a strange time to meet a girl, I guess. The world had just gone into lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In most countries, people were restricted to leaving their homes except for food, medicine, exercise or essential work. Perhaps it was that surreal turn of events which led to a change in my character. I was never one to pay much mind to the settled life with a girl; in many ways, I had already resided myself to a life of solitude and isolation, but every now and again there was a moment of connection with another that caused me to imagine strange and foreign scenarios. Apparitions appeared in my mind: visions of a peaceful existence with a girl by my side, holding hands while walking in the park, lying in bed and caressing her cheek as the sunlight came through the window – that feeling of knowing that everything would be okay for that day just because I had her next to me. Like I said, it was something that I wasn’t really expecting for my life, but I was soon to find myself daydreaming about more and more.

At first, it was just a bit of virtual chit-chat via a dating app; just two people keeping themselves busy and wanting someone to talk to while undergoing lockdown of the virus. We chatted about movies and music. We chatted about poetry and philosophy. She told me about her pets and I told her about my backpacking adventures. It was nice. There wasn’t much to do in the world at that moment, so sitting around and chatting with a stranger kinda made sense. Plus, it was something I really needed at that time. It was soon to be the weirdest few months of my life, and she would be there to help lead me through it. With lockdown messing up my travel plans, I had to move back in with my parents and get a job at the local Amazon warehouse. My days there would be spent alongside a conveyor-belt while sorting packages for ten hours a day. It was a depressing reality, in all honesty, but having her to chat to allowed me to exist in an alternative world. It was a world of romantic escapism. A world of sharing your soul with a stranger. A world of exciting possibilities such as going camping together while the whole country was under quarantine. 

After talking some more, we finally arranged to break lockdown measures and meet up. We were living in different cities and she drove fifty miles down the highway to come and meet me for a walk. Normally, I would be nervous meeting a girl for the first time, but due to the connection we had already formed over a month of chatting online, I was strangely calm. I met her in a pub car-park near the entrance to the park where we got walking and talking. Within ten minutes, I knew this wasn’t just another date. Speaking to her was a surreal experience; it was like meeting someone I had already known for many years, two long-lost companions reconvening from another life. With that connection fueling our conversation, we strolled idly through the countryside; we petted horses and sheep; we lay in the grass and talked about our lives.

It soon became clear we were two people who had walked very different paths in our twenties. She had led the settled existence in one place with a long-term partner, and I had been out travelling the world on my own. Yet, although we were different on the surface, it seemed we were surprisingly similar at our core. I already knew we shared similar interests in nature, fantasy films and philosophy as well as having the same personality type, but meeting her showed me just exactly how much of myself I saw residing in her troubled eyes. She even told me how she had always wanted to do the things I had done, but had left it as a sort of distant dream for another lifetime. I told her something similar as we shared our first kiss before heading back to her city where we got drunk, cuddled up in bed and watched a Lord of the Rings movie.

Our story continued to develop and I soon felt like I was somewhat in a fantasy movie of my own. The world continued to get stranger by the week as the crisis turned society into a dystopian state. Entire countries continued to lockdown, people lost jobs and businesses, strange new rules were implemented. There were skies without planes and shops without food. In the meanwhile, I went to work every day before coming home and spending the evening chatting to her on my bed. I continued to get lost in that world of romantic escapism until we met up again to go camping. It was a glorious spring day and we sat in a farmer’s field at sunset where everything melted into a perfect mixture of human connection. The wine, the weather, the music, the conversation. At one point she started telling me how much she missed her grandad and started crying. I think it was probably at that moment where I fell for her. Once the sun had fallen below the horizon, we retreated to the tent to eat pot noodles, make love and listen to music under the stars. Holding her in my arms, those grand visions appeared again in my mind: taking our campervan out together in the peak district; walking her dogs in the park; drinking wine together and making love in a drunken evening haze. I even imagined telling our grandchildren how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to me, but by the time we did our next camping trip and sat by the stream drinking wine again, I was convinced the gods had put some sort of temptation in front of me to change my lifestyle.

Before lockdown began, I was just as committed to the life of bohemian travel as I had ever been. In fact, I was right on the verge of flying one-way to Colombia. But the life of flinging myself relentlessly into foreign lands was on hold and suddenly my mind entertained new possibilities. Could I lead an adventurous life at home with a girl? Buying a campervan, going on weekend adventures, getting drunk and writing poetry together? Maybe I had it wrong all along; maybe the happy life was within grasp right here under my nose in my own backyard? It was a thought I couldn’t slip as those apparitions continued to grow clearer in my mind. Dreams of wandering alone in foreign lands quickly changed to living a more settled existence at home. I imagined our days and years together. The summer vacations. The lazy Sunday mornings lying in bed. The flowery dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. By the time summer had arrived, I knew something had struck me deeply. I looked into the mirror and questioned the very essence of who I was. This is what a woman can do to a man. Every person thinks they know what is going on in their lives, but at the touch of love, we crumble and lose our minds. We go crazy, deluded, insane. We wander off into the woods and lose ourselves in places we didn’t know existed.

I continued losing myself in those places until the inevitable troubles arrived. It was gradually becoming clear that our story was not going to be a straightforward one. She had made me aware that things weren’t completely finished with her ex-boyfriend, and that the door was still open for them to return to their relationship once he had sorted some things out. We had flirted with the idea of being in a relationship, but it was becoming apparent that she would have to decide between pursuing this new connection with me or sticking by her ex. Someone was clearly about to get hurt. Her ex to me represented her past eight years of her life: comfort, security and familiarity. I was a strange new thing to her: a being of a different form and territory. Emotions were getting deeper and it was reaching a tipping point where she would have to choose. The inevitable crash came one morning. She messaged me saying it was messing her head up continuing things between us because of her ex. She now wanted us to be just friends. It came at a bad time. The night before, I had laid beside her in bed and decided for the first time in my life that I wanted to be in a relationship with someone. A foreign thought, quickly proven to be a foolish one.

Following the argument, I hit the bottle and delved into a darkness I hadn’t quite known before. Those apparitions that had almost become reachable faded back to mere visions in my mind. Ideas of sharing my path were revealed to be illusions. Our summer plans of adventure disappeared into smoke. Her flowery dresses disintegrated before my eyes. There was nothing I could do and I stared into the mirror and saw myself for the deluded dreamer I was. That delusion even continued as I kept hoping she would see a light and decide to start a new adventure with me rather than return to the past. But it became clear that wasn’t going to happen and what was left to do but to keep spiralling out of control in a drunken blur of despair and pitiful self-hatred.

Over the next few weeks, I collected myself and tried to make sense of what had happened. Clearly, I had felt something that was foreign to my heart and allowed myself to get lost in it. I simply hadn’t ever experienced a connection like that with another person. All my life, I had stared at the passing faces of lovers. I watched their hands connect and their lips touch. I watched their warm embraces. I observed the happiness and contentment in their eyes. It had taken me twenty-eight years to find a girl I had a real connection with and now it was gone in an instant. Back alone in my own world again, I looked into that mirror and saw myself for I really was. I could see it in my eyes. I was a gollum, a wretch, a creature belonging to a cave. I was banished to a barren wilderness while she would return to her ex and live a peaceful existence with her dogs and her kids. Outside the comfortable homes of lovers, my feet would tread that earth of solitude and isolation. The warm fireplaces would not warm my flesh. The pillows would not support my head. The dinner tables not know my company. I knew in my heart this was the way it was destined to be. Some of us are just destined to be lone wanderers til’ the end of our days. It is written in who we are and visions of sharing our path with another soul will always remain as mere apparitions and daydreams as we stumble on alone through life’s wilderness. It was the way it was and I knew the sooner I come to terms with it, the more straightforward my life would be. 

One month later, I booked myself a ticket to a foreign country and prepared to hit the open road once again.

“Girl, I was always a bit of a solitary soul, but for a second there I saw this thing with you. To wake up on Sunday mornings with the light coming through the window. To caress the skin on your cheek as you smile with contentment. To know that I have another day by your side as my eyes open and for everything to be okay, if only for that day. I saw this thing with you. Some call it the normal life I guess. To stroll through parks hand in hand; to make love in an evening haze; to smell the scent on your neck and to not have to look anywhere else because all that I desire is there right in front of me. I saw this thing with you – this thing I now know is not gonna come. I have held you in my arms and because of that I have held happiness in my arms – that foreign thing, that strange concept. I would have given you everything of me. I would have thrown myself to your wolves, drowned myself in your sea, got lost in your forest. Yet we want different things; so it must be that we drift like ripples on the surface of water, and go separate ways. But you will always stay with me, like the other ghosts that linger inside me, those apparitions of happiness that haunt the hallways of my mind. Apparitions of something I can only see and not touch. Apparitions of another lover lost, another path not taken, another happiness not felt.”

thoughts

~ Incompatible ~

~ Incompatible ~

“At the tail end of my twenties, I stood and looked out at a society of sane and stable minds. I saw people who were settled and content. I saw people who fitted in neatly to the system. I saw people who strolled through life without any real problems. To see myself as one of them was almost impossible. Everything that came so easily to everyone: jobs, sanity, expectations and small-talk was like poison to my soul. I was one who didn’t see the world as they did. I went on adventures in my mind. I looked out for the birds overhead. Instead of thinking about laying roots, I dreamed of flying away to far-off lands. I walked those streets and felt like a foreigner in a strange land, looking out for someplace I belonged or could at least take shelter in. And those faces that passed me: I couldn’t relate to any of them. The mouths that moved but did not speak; the eyes that looked but did not see. Who were these people? Where had they come from? To roam alone your whole life craving connection with another but to somehow never find it is perhaps the greatest loneliness of all. Alone in the crowd you yearn for some sort of communion, but those streets leave you feeling like a creature from another star system. As time goes on, you gradually accept that those people aren’t feeling what you’re feeling and seeing what you’re seeing. Your place among their world is non-existent, and consequently you become a wanderer of the outside spaces. Those spaces are ones of constant reflection and for me I do not know what awaits me out there in the future. I didn’t ask to come to this place and now I am here I hope to find my way to some sort of home. I’m a long way from that but I will carry on toward a place where I understand my reason for being. Before my death, I hope to know what that is.”

marginalised photo

thoughts

~ Cave Dwelling ~

~ Cave Dwelling ~

“Too often I stared into that mirror and felt pitiful and pathetic. That reflection showed me the things I didn’t want to face. I was a gollum, a wretch, a creature belonging to a cave. I had some dirt in my soul I couldn’t get out, but just try to scrub out in futility. I thought I deserved love, but I was sensitive in a world where the cold-hearted were the majority. I had to hide away; to hide myself far away from their piercing eyes. I retreated to the dark spaces to try and survive on the scraps of whatever strength I have left. Within those shadows, I resided myself to a life of loneliness and isolation. I came to realise that some of us are not destined to have inner peace and happiness; we are the broken ones, the lonely, the castouts, the rejects. We are ones that just do not belong to any heart or home. Our lives are ones of tragedy and heartache; of despair and desolation. And yet through all of this, light sometimes finds its way into my cave, offering glimpses of hope for me to crawl out too. The idea that one day I’ll stand back in the daylight; no longer locked away in the darkness, but standing strong and free and accepted for who I am. Finally escaping this internal prison. Finally being free of this living hell.”

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thoughts

~ Apparitions ~

~ Apparitions ~

“Girl, I was always a bit of a solitary soul, but for a second there I saw this thing with you. To wake up on Sunday mornings with the light coming through the window. To caress the skin on your cheek as you smile with contentment. To know that I have another day by your side as my eyes open and for everything to be okay, if only for that day. I saw this thing with you. Some call it the normal life I guess. To stroll through parks hand in hand; to make love in an evening haze; to smell the scent on your neck and to not have to look anywhere else because all that I desire is there right in front of me. I saw this thing with you – this thing I now know is not gonna come. I have held you in my arms and because of that I have held happiness in my arms – that foreign thing, that strange concept. I would have given you everything of me. I would have thrown myself to your wolves, drowned myself in your sea, got lost in your forest. Yet we want different things; so it must be that we drift like ripples on the surface of water, and go separate ways. But you will always stay with me, like the other ghosts that linger inside me, those apparitions of happiness that haunt the hallways of my mind. Apparitions of something I can only see and not touch. Apparitions of another lover lost, another path not taken, another happiness not felt.”

not felt

thoughts

~ A Stagger Through the Storm ~

~ A Stagger Through the Storm ~

“Never understood, never valued, my gifts wasted and unappreciated, a part of a system which had no place for me. It is only inevitable I am the way I am. Don’t think for one second you can judge me; you have no idea what I have been through to still be standing here today. For many, society is an easy fix; for others it is a horrible nightmare, that leaves you battling your whole life to not go insane. I guess I am one of the latter. Late at night, I have stared at ceilings thinking how I would make it through one more year. The sheer amount of effort at trying to fit in and survive in this world drains me; I’d rather sit alone before a keyboard and pour out all this pain inside my heart. Isolation fills my soul, but I do believe there is a place possible that would leave me happy with connection to others, but for now, in this current system of living, that is but a distant dream. I look in that mirror and know that my life will not be one of sanity and order; of peace and happiness. It will be a stagger through the storm, a crawl through the swamp, a ceaseless fight towards something perpetually out of reach – a state of happiness that will elude me for as long as I am who I am.”

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short stories

~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

writing-1209700_1280

~ Things They’d Never Understand ~

“So, how’s the job going?”

“I quit,” I told him.

“You quit? why?”

 “I wasn’t able to write.”

“What do you mean you weren’t able to write?”

“I wasn’t able to write, like when I went home. I had used up all my mental energy at work.”

“So?” he said. “The job was a good opportunity for you. Who cares about the writing?”

“I do,” I said.

“But you don’t even make money off your writing. Your job had a lot of opportunities.”

“It doesn’t matter about the opportunities,” I told him. “If I’m not able to write then there’s no point to any of it.”

“I don’t understand you really. Your writing is just a hobby. You had room for progression at that place.”

“Look,” I said. “It doesn’t matter about the job or the money or the room for progression. None of that stuff fulfils me like my writing does. If the job stops me from doing that then I’ll happily leave it and struggle to get by another way. As long as I can write. That’s all that matters. As long as I can write.”

He stared at me with a confused look. I could see the cogs in his head turning as he tried to grasp my view, but after twenty seconds I could see that he had given up and dismissed me as a madman. I thought of a load of other ways I could try to explain it to him, but knowing that he was a career-focused guy whose reality and sense of self were determined by his employment and bank balance, I knew it was like trying to speak English to a goldfish. There was simply no way to convey how my happiness or value system worked. There was no way to explain how just putting some words down on a page kept me from going insane completely. After ten seconds of awkward silence, he shook his head in disbelief and walked off.

A part of me understood his confusion in all reality. I had been working the ‘proper job’ for over four weeks now. It was my first ever nine-to-five role that paid better than anything I had ever had before. My parents were happy I had finally got something stable; my friends thought that I was finally preparing to conform to the norms of society. In all honesty, I was quite happy to have some sort of stability after surviving on agency temp jobs and medical trials for a while, but I knew straight away that the job was going to twist and tear me up. Besides the main problem of losing my energy to write, a lot of the job involved speaking on the phone which was a pet hate of mine, and it also involved being concentrated and engaged for the majority of the day. I was a chronic daydreamer and didn’t want to be deprived of my daydreaming. Having to advise someone on the phone for forty minutes meant there was no way for me to go sailing off through the galaxies of my mind on my latest introspective adventure. Besides that, the whole sitting behind a desk all day in artificial lighting in an office was something that was spiritually suffocating to me. 

Typically I got accused of being depressed or anxious or something like that. But in reality, it simply wasn’t true. I actually felt amazing once I quit. I mean, I was back to being poor, but every day I woke up happy and went to sleep happy. In between, I meditated, napped, read, went for long walks and spent hours working on my writing. To be honest, I could imagine myself doing that until the day I died. I just wanted to work an easy stress-free job and have time to do the things I cared about. Naturally, to many I seemed to lack ambition, but my ambition was simply to be healthy and happy and live a simple life where I had time to explore my passions. To me it was just basic common sense, but apparently such notions were some of the things they would never understand. And of those, there had been quite a few…

“Why do you keep travelling all the time? What are you trying to prove?”

“You’re so smart. Why can’t you get a proper job?”

“Why would you rather be alone than join us at the party?”

There was only so much of being misunderstood a person could take before they went insane completely. I was a complicated person I suppose. A person guided completely by the heart with no logic. A feeler not a thinker. An idealist not a pragmatist. Turbulent and temperamental. Slightly schizophrenic to a degree; able to switch my personality and perspective as I had pleased. Someone who had no set place in society that I could easily slot myself into. Someone that even the therapists and shamans stared at with confused eyes.

Those looks of confusion struck me relentlessly as I went about life. Sometimes they struck me in social environments, sometimes at work, sometimes at family dinners. I think the one that stuck in my memory the most was when I was asked why I was so open about how I felt about life. I had been ridiculed and called weird for expressing myself so openly in the writings I published on my blog.

“Don’t you think it’s a bit strange all of the things you tell people? Don’t you think there are some things you should keep to yourself?”

“No, not really,” I said. “It makes sense to speak from the heart. If everyone did that, the world might not be as complicated as it is.”

“But it just makes things awkward. You’ll scare people off. Can’t you just act normal for once?”

“I don’t like to wear a mask. I think it leads to a world of people hiding who they really are.”

“Not everyone thinks like you do.”

“Sure they do. Everyone thinks deep about stuff, yet we just sit around talking about the weather and football and television. No one has the guts to speak about how they feel deep down. People are afraid, and so they should be. Speaking from the heart all the time automatically makes people put up barriers against you. They keep you at a distance. They don’t accept you. Humanity isn’t ready for a world of people not wearing their masks and speaking straight from the heart. Because I do this, I am cast out and categorised as the insane one. Don’t you realise how absolutely stupid that is? That I am the outsider because I just speak up about how I feel? In the meanwhile, the people who are fake and insincere attract the most people toward them…”

They looked at me in total silence. As usual, I could see the cogs turning in their heads. I thought maybe my luck was in and they would understand my perspective for once, but a few more seconds passed and I was dismissed as a madman once again. My view was simply the comical ranting of a lunatic to them – something that belonged to another time or place or universe. It was something that I found frustrating and damaging beyond words. When you pour out your truth and your heart and it appears as incoherent nonsense to another, then that is the moment when the loneliness strikes you greater than ever. I didn’t even think what I was saying was difficult to comprehend and understand. I just wanted a world where people were authentic and genuine; where people didn’t sell off parts of themselves to fit into the crowd. I tried to explain this to them but they just didn’t want to hear it. My values were so horrifically different from those of society that I knew I was doomed and destined to be an outcast until the end of my days. Deep down, I knew that I was never to be understood totally, but I had this vision – this dream if you will – that one day if I could write down everything correctly, and become good enough at the art of arranging words into sentences and stories, that people may be able to get a glimpse into my reality. Perhaps then there would be some level of understanding of the world I lived in; perhaps then those looks of dismissal could turn into looks of understanding. Ultimately, it was this reason why I sat alone at a keyboard for hours every day. The pain of being so misunderstood made my heart scream out, and I guess fundamentally that was the reason why writing was the most important thing in my life. The reason my fingertips fought relentlessly for freedom. The reason I stayed up late pouring my heart onto a page. The reason you’re reading these words right now.

To try and make them understand,

the things they’d never understand.

 

short stories

~ The Age of Anxiety ~

alien nation

~ The Age of Anxiety ~

The age of anxiety they called it. This mental health problem was now the most listed disability of all – the biggest reason people took time off work and study. Social anxiety. Social bloody anxiety. Your mum had it. Your best friend had it. Your cats and your dogs and your goldfish had it. There it was causing dread in the minds of so many good people out there just trying to get through life whatever way they could. Clearly we had become too connected, too convoluted. All the expectations and cultural influences one was supposed to live up to. All the things that hung on your shoulders. The fact you were relentlessly characterised and labelled. The fact your body was viewed by thousands of pairs of judgmental eyes every day. Throw into this social media and a general sense of dread that came from the news media basically telling you that the world was coming to an end, then it was only natural that people were riddled with an anxiety of some kind.

The feeling was ubiquitous and, like many millennials, I suffered from it. There were many times that a dark room of isolation seemed a better alternative to going out there and joining in with the madness of the world. In my mind, modern society was essentially a giant mental asylum where people had been sent insane by a combination of media, advertisements, smartphones, peer pressure, expectations and the general ridiculousness and mindless behaviour that being in a crowd of any kind caused. As Frederich Nietzsche once said: “In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” That collective insanity of society led to situations where you were expected to participate in small-talk regarding work colleagues and television shows, rather than discuss meaningful and worthwhile things. If you didn’t then the eyes of the crowd fell on you as if you were in some sort of play and not reciting your lines properly.

I thought back to the first time I started experiencing social anxiety. I was twenty-four and returned home from a long backpacking trip. For almost two years, I had lived a life of easygoing adventure before arriving straight back into the rat race. One week I went to a packed pub on a Sunday night; it was a bank holiday the following day so many were out celebrating their extra day of freedom. There I stood at the bar listening to the conversations and feeling more foreign that I had on my world trip. For some reason, I couldn’t find any common ground with anyone I spoke to. Their conversations left me out the circle and I was even mocked for wearing casual clothing and working in a supermarket. It was something that struck me deep. To feel like an alien in your own home town was a surreal and scary experience. As the night went on, I could feel the eyes and judgment of the people around me. They knew I wasn’t one of them; that I was not reciting their script and dancing to their beat. For the first time in my life, I could feel my body shake anxiously as if I was being attacked by some sort of virus. It was like I needed the isolation to save myself from the feeling of being eaten up by the crowd. In the end, it was all too much; I left the bar early and realised that I was now suffering from the phenomenon of social anxiety.

I thought about that situation and tried to work out why such a condition existed. My theory was that social anxiety existed because society couldn’t tolerate anyone who deviated from the norms of the group. Culture behaved and spread almost in the same way as a biological virus. It was as if every person who conformed to the dominant values and behaviours of the culture was an individual cell in that collective virus. Whenever the other humans saw someone who was a bit different and out of sync with their cultural coding, their glares would fall on them and they were targeted in the same way virus cells targeted other cells when infecting a host. Such insidious hostility thus invoked anxiety into the cell that hasn’t been converted to the culture. That shaking feeling you feel when you feel the judgement and ridicule of the crowd is the culture trying to convert you to become another cell in the collective. As Philosopher Alan Watts once put it: “our society shows anxiety because it cannot tolerate the existence of people who don’t belong.”

So then, if this is truly the case, it seems to me that you have two choices to stop the social anxiety. You either let yourself be taken over by the crowd and convert to their norms and behaviours (thus alleviating the anxiety because now you’re in sync with the others), or you isolate yourself from them completely to stop yourself from feeling the dread. To quote another philosopher (for the last time, I promise): “The cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation.” – Terence Mckenna

When I thought about it, a certain level of alienation didn’t seem like not too bad of an option. I was lucky enough to be at peace in my own company. In fact, in all honesty, most of the time I wanted nothing more than to be alone anyway. In solitude, you could hear yourself think straight and dedicate yourself fearlessly to your own interests. Besides, the more I interacted with the others, the more I felt myself being screwed up at some sort of fundamental level. By just being myself in a group, I was rejected and cast out. People scared me with how judgmental and superficial they were when in social environments. I remember speaking to a friend of a friend who was a successful football pundit for the BBC. When she asked me what I was up to,  she scoffed and rolled her eyes when I told her that I was currently working in a factory – something I found amusing the next day when she posted on social media about the importance of understanding the mental health of others. It truly was a madhouse out there and – when you had a super-sensitive personality as I did – the superficial and shallow nature of society was just simply too much, especially when the bullshit came flying from you relentlessly at all angles. There in those social settings you had people judging, labelling and staring at you from every angle; you had people wanting you to gratify their egos by reciprocating their world views; you had people that pressured you to participate in meaningless conversations just to maintain the bonds of camaraderie among your fellow man.

Like I said, it was one big mental asylum for me anyway, so I retreated into the darkness – into the darkness of my room and the darkness of my mind. I wanted to hold onto my individuality and keeping myself distanced from the masses was a reasonable price to pay. And in truth, I didn’t see my social anxiety as a problem anyway. To me, our current society was the problem, and I think that if anyone were truly sane, then they would also feel anxiety when surrounded by a species that acts so crazy and irrationally whenever they congregate together in groups. Watts, Nietzsche, Mckenna and all those other alienated philosophers knew the score. The strongest men are those most alone and I will keep living to that motto. To anyone else out there still getting social anxiety, my personal advice is just to avoid the crowd as much as you can. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your anxiety is not a disorder. It just means you still have some sanity and want to keep it. And make no mistake about it: in this society, frequent social interaction is enough to send any sane man insane.

 

short stories

~ The Barriers ~

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~ The Barriers ~

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

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

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

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

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

The barriers that would just not let me in.

short stories

~ Finding the Others ~

finding the others

~ Finding the Others ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

short stories

~ A Nightmare on the High Street ~

entrapment

~ A Nightmare on the High Street ~

I woke up in my room with a hangover from hell. A storm raged in my head and my tongue felt as dry as sandpaper. I had no recollection of getting home and a quick search in my pockets gave no clues to the tragedy of the night’s story. I sat up and looked around at my lair. Beer cans lay toppled on my bedside draw, my clothes were strewn across the floor and a general sense of dread seeped into every corner of the room. A spot of tidying up was necessary, but first my stomach was screaming out for sustenance of some kind. I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed and went out in pursuit of something to alleviate the hunger and the pain.

It was normally a ten-minute walk to the city centre but I made it there in fifteen. It was a journey which soon turned into a sinister one, and not just because of the rain clouds gathering. Walking down the busy Saturday high-street, I looked at the faces of the people around me and felt like I had entered some sort of nightmare. Perhaps it was the paranoia of the hangover, but this time they looked even more abhorrent than normal. Their expressions were hideous, their laughs were hideous, their movements were hideous. A sinister aura filled the air like I was in some sort of horror movie. Humanity was a strange foreign species and sometimes when my mind was in the right place, I could see them for the terrifying creatures they were. It was the way they clutched those shopping bags; the way they stuffed McDonald’s burgers down their throats; the way the red-faced mothers pushed those prams with the screaming kids along. In their red faces you could see the strain and the pain to heave humanity relentlessly forwards to its doomed future – towards a future of greyness becoming constructed by the cranes that loomed over us.

Suddenly I felt the paranoia and alienation stronger than ever. I felt that they were going to spot that I wasn’t one of them and lynch me up for the unwelcome guest I was. They were going to burn me on a stake, stone me to death – chop me to pieces and feed me to their dogs. A panic attack was brewing and I knew I had to get out of there fast. I looked around. I spotted a run-down old bar just off of the side streets and headed there to take shelter.

After entering I looked around cautiously to observe my surroundings. It was a dark room with a musty smell in the air and a decor that was in desperate need of refurbishment. Old men were dotted around on tables alone and an awkward silence filled the air. I ordered a pint of Guinness from the bar and sat down in the corner. Across the room an old man with beer down him sat on his stool leering at me. He took a large sip of his beer and then placed it down firmly on the bar.  “We got ourselves a newbie here,” he said. “What’s your name kid?” I told him my name then looked away to sip my beer, hoping he would leave me in peace. It was no luck; he kept talking at me and by this point there were three other elderly men glaring at me with frightening looks. I thought the darkness of the bar would save me from the terror of the streets, but it appeared I had stumbled into a haunted house of some sort. I could see the horror and consternation in their disturbed faces. Faces of sadness and defeat; faces ravaged by time and life; faces of tired old men drinking alone at tables while waiting to live and waiting to die. I then spotted some obese woman plastered in cheap make-up eyeing me up while trying to stir her drink with a straw seductively. There was only so much I could take before I took my leave and headed back out onto the streets.

Outside I turned and almost tripped over a homeless person sitting there in the rain. “Got any change kid?” he asked. Naturally I didn’t; no one had physical cash any more. I apologised and left him there wondering if one day I would face the same fate of the gutter. The next corner I turned around there was a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing and preaching their gospel to anyone who would listen. They claimed to be people of faith, but looking into their eyes I could only see fear. It was the way they stared and the way they spoke. It was the way they clung onto those signs and ideologies because they were as lost and frightened as we all were. And so they should have been. Looking at the scenes around me, it was clear the apocalypse was coming and that no god was coming to save them.

I continued making my way across the main square while trying to avoid the manic crowd. They now seemed to be coming in the hundreds of thousands like an angry swarm of locusts. The noise was deafening. My panic started brewing once again so I sat down for a second to try and calm down. I breathed in and out deeply to catch my breath while observing my surroundings. Looking around the square, I saw an old man feeding the pigeons a little down from me. He had a look of sadness in his eyes; it was subtle but it was there. Some little kids pointed and poked fun at him. One of their parents spotted them but said nothing, instead turning away to look at their phone. The old man noticed the kids and continued to feed the pigeons. I thought I could see a tear in his eye, but perhaps it was just the rain – I couldn’t be sure.

After a couple of minutes I carried on looking for somewhere to eat. I turned a corner and saw some flowers left outside a shop where some kid had been stabbed to death on a night out a couple of weeks before. It was a place I had walked past many times drunk and the thought hit me how easily it could have been me who bled out alone in the cold winter night. Twenty years old and slain on the sidewalk in a drunken moment of madness. The flowers lay soaked in the rain and some had already begun to wilt. One card bore the message “May you rest with the angels.” Another read “I pray that you are now in a better place.” I hoped they were right.

 Suddenly the crowds on the street started getting bigger and bigger; the noise louder and louder. My head started spinning and the panic struck hard again. I needed to get out of there. I started jogging. I carried on until I reached a food joint I liked. I headed in, ordered some food and sat down alone in a corner. Five minutes of solitude passed until a family came and sat down next to me. It wasn’t long before the mother started shouting at one of the children for throwing a chip at his sister. A stern telling off resulted in the kid to start screaming and crying. The mother carried on shouting until the point she was almost screaming too. At that moment it felt as if the whole world was screaming and crying. The people, the buildings, the walls, the weather. All that noise that pierced me to the bone; all those shrieks and cries that I just couldn’t escape.

I couldn’t take anymore and headed back out onto the street. At this point the rain was coming down more heavily and a sense of total desolation washed over me. I stood frozen in time and space like some sort of statue. I could hear the sirens wailing in the distance, the chavs cursing, the drunks shouting, the cars beeping. I could see the plastered makeup faces and mindless marching crowds. Suddenly I had this feeling I was stranded in a strange world far, far away from whatever place I was supposed to be. I had crash-landed into a place where I didn’t belong. My flesh and bones knew the terror of my environment and asked me to retreat from it all. My apartment room called to me and I started running home at a quick pace. I weaved in and out the crowds. I darted across the traffic. I passed the houses, the parks, the buildings. I kept running and eventually made it to my apartment and ran inside. I slammed the door shut and walked over to collapse onto my bed. 

Back in my lair, I stared around me and suddenly felt an overwhelming gratitude for my solitude. I looked at those four walls like the great guardians they were. They were the walls that kept the world at bay – the walls that sheltered me from the horrors of humanity. It was all out there: the mindless people, the empty eyes, the broken hearts, the starving homeless, the stabbing victims, the lonely souls, the screaming children, the old alcoholics waiting to die in dank bars. Maybe my fate wasn’t great, but to be alone in this room was a relief from the terror that lay waiting for me outside. I was trapped in a world to which I didn’t belong, and sometimes when my mind was in the right place, I could see the true horror of my circumstance all around. I closed my eyes and laid down on my bed, not fearing the darkness of sleep. Sometimes the greatest nightmares were right in front of you, if only you dared to open your eyes.