short stories

~ Moving Forth ~

~ Moving Forth ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Then something strange happened.

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

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

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

you will have the victory of yourself.

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short stories

~ The Mask Of Normality ~

~ The Mask of Normality ~

“So Bryan, what is it that you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

thoughts

~ Alien Nation ~

~Alien Nation ~

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

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poetry

~ No Final Solution ~

~ No Final Solution ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

before this slaughterhouse

does what it does best

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thoughts

~ Moments Alone ~

~ Moments Alone ~

“There are times when there aren’t enough words or combinations of words to explain yourself to the others. There are times when it is simply too exhausting to stand once again before non-understanding eyes and feel the futility of conversation. In those times what is needed is complete solitude, a total release from the suffocation and toxicity of the crowd. What is needed is a return to nature to remind yourself that, although you may be often misunderstood in society, the universe still holds a home for you out in the wild. It holds a home for you in those empty fields, sunset shores and lonely forests. It holds a home for you in the untamed spaces of freedom and purity. And often all that is needed to carry on is a moment out in that wild – staring out at a sunset sky or listening to the water sing its way down a meandering stream – that you remember that somehow, in all the mess and madness of this world, you are and always will be totally where you belong.”

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thoughts

~ Starved ~

~ Starved ~

“After another day at work, I came home and faced the man in the mirror. The reflection showed a tired stranger. His face was pale and his eyes timid. I could see the visible effects another week of drudgery had done to me. In an instant I felt the weight of this concrete world pull me down stronger than ever. I wanted out but in a society which left you starving for freedom on every street corner, where else was there to turn? It seemed like either you starved from hunger in the gutter, or you starved from monotony and routine in the offices and suburbs. From where else could you fulfil yourself? From where else could you nourish yourself on the flesh of existence? The bars and clubs offered a temporary escape, but ultimately left you further in the pit the next day. The shops and malls offered momentary material pleasure, but ultimately left you empty and decaying on the inside. If you kept your eyes open then those grey streets told a sad story. A great famine was upon us and you only had to look into the eyes of the commuters on those rush-hour trains to see how bad the situation had gotten – to see that we had become over-civilised and under-fed with the fruits of life. Whatever ‘growing up’ and ‘finding your place’ in this strange society meant, I was certain that I was a galaxy or two away from it.”

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poetry

~ Over The Fence ~

‘Over the Fence’

Wide-eyed and wild
I roam these haunted woods
living off the carcass
of my own
madness

this is me now:
nowhere left to fit into this farm
so out on the edges I linger
like a poisoned one of the cattle
away from the herd; over the fence
slowly dying – but then again
aren’t we all

may as well have fun
may as well feel good
may as well get lost and go insane
before the butchers and slaughterhouses

have their way with us