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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thoughts

~ The Medicine of a Mountain Wilderness ~

~ The Medicine of a Mountain Wilderness ~

“How beautiful life was that day when you allowed yourself to forget the stress of life and just be happy in the moment. With just a backpack on the trail and the playful hunting of the horizon, how beautiful life was when nothing else mattered except putting one foot in front of the other and just moving forward through time and space. How happy you were when you looked at the world like a child once again and saw the simple beauty of a singular flower swaying in the valley breeze.

In all our civilisation and development, we have led ourselves astray from real wealth – from what really matters. The greatest beauty of the world is so often missed every day because we are too caught up in a convoluted system in which we fly around like electrons in a circuit board. We seek status but not contentment; we seek products but not peace; we seek future but not a connection with the present moment – the only thing we can ever truly experience.

The system has us confused and sometimes all it took was a backpack and a walk in nature to discover our humanity once again. Because out on that trail, I have seldom seen faces of fear and stress and hate that march down busy city sidewalks. The reason why is that everyone shines a little brighter the day they rediscover the playful joy of the natural universe – when they reconnect with their childlike spirit. Everyone shines a little brighter the day they remember that life is a mystery to be experienced, and not a battle to be won.”

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thoughts

~ The Outsiders ~

~ The Outsiders ~

“Too often in this life I have stood before non-understanding eyes, unable to explain how I feel, unable to communicate my total and profound incompatibility with absolutely everything that surrounded me. Too often it has been a case of standing on the sidelines and observing how mindless conformity was rewarded while originality and genuity was neglected. At first, like many, I thought something was wrong with me; that there was an illness that must be cured so I could be like the others. With this in mind I silenced my inner voice and tried to fit myself into the paradigm of my society; but like a jigsaw piece taken from the wrong puzzle, any attempts to slot myself into place only twisted me up and left me worse off than ever. Confused, I returned to those sidelines, trying to make sense of my place in the world. It was a place that was empty; a place that was solitary. It was the place of the outsider.

To others out there who stand on the sidelines and stare in, know that you are not alone in this madness. The problems with cultures is that they seek to mould and meld every unique individual into a particular shape and form – into a being who sees reality in the same way as everyone else, who follows the same path as everyone else. It is a mechanical system and not all of us were meant for such a rigid path or confined state of being. The truth is the second we join a crowd and fit in we sell off a part of ourselves – and for some of us that part of ourselves is simply not worth selling off. There are as many ways to experience life as there are as many people on the planet, and if we were all to follow that same path, the world would quickly become a nightmarish, Orwellian nightmare devoid of art, originality and colour. A fresh perspective is truly priceless in this world and any society needs its outsiders to create the novel, to see the new and rescue the wisdom from the wilderness. This normally comes at a great cost to the individuals who are destined to walk their own path away from the herd.

From the outsiders who do not follow the script of culture and convention, we are often troubled. We suffer anxiety in a crowd, we remain frustratingly misunderstood by those around us, we often turn to the bottle to try and create some excitement. But the cost of all of this is one that must be paid to protect ourselves; it is the price that must be paid to protect the heart of original thought and being. For it was the outsiders who pushed the boundaries of art and science. It was the outsiders who charted the uncharted, who said what hadn’t been said, and who saw what the others could not see. And no doubt in this age it will be the outsiders who will save us all from losing our minds and destroying the very planet we live on.

So here’s to the outsiders, misfits and eccentrics. Here’s to the artists, adventurers and explorers. Here’s to those who march to a different beat; who dance to a different tune. Don’t be afraid to stand up from the crowd and be your true self. Go out there and shine your light. Wear your colours. Scream a little with whatever sets your soul on fire. Fearlessly explore the new and original. Fight for what you believe in. Go forth into this world and don’t compromise your unique nature. Your free soul is a precious and beautiful gift. So hold onto it all you can. Stay wild. Stay weird. Stay wonderful.

This world needs you more than you know.”

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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

~ Silent Warrior ~

~ Silent Warrior ~

“Some of the greatest battles of humanity will never be studied in the textbooks or commemorated in the museums. Some of the greatest battles of humanity will never be known to the average man or woman. They weren’t fought in the trenches or castles, but instead inside the heads of people struggling to carry on in a world they didn’t understand or belong to. They were fought in the minds who dived into the darkness to find their light even when they were full of fear and doubt. They were fought by those rising up against the storms that no one else could see or hear or feel. Some of the greatest battles of humanity are taking place right now in the houses and streets of your own towns and cities.

Here’s to those warriors out there winning their silent wars. Here’s to those summoning their strength and courage – rescuing themselves from the swamps and storms without the help of another. Keep on fighting. Your efforts will not be in vain. Stand up and tall and show this world how a warrior walks after their demons have been slayed. Show this world the face of victory. 

Show this world the victory of you.”

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thoughts

~ An Inner Belonging ~

~ An Inner Belonging ~

“And you didn’t see the world like the rest did, that much was clear. You didn’t belong in those crowds or sat on sofas in those suburbs of sanity. You didn’t see no victory in comfort and security, nor find salvation in the acceptance of others. You knew somewhere inside of you that you were a foreign thing; a wayward wanderer of the cosmos incompatible with the world that was presented to you. The situation seemed hopeless, but with a heart full of fire and a mind full of madness you began your solitary journey through the wilderness, following that ineffable pull of the heart, rising up against the storms, trudging through the swamps – moving fearlessly towards some sort of place you could call home. And as your journey went on, you gradually began to realise that the destination never mattered, for it was out there in that untamed wilderness where your stray-dog soul truly belonged. Out on those rugged plains was the place your spirit could run free – a place you could be yourself in your gritty messiness and madness. Out there you travelled so far until you eventually ventured inward and found the place you finally belonged.

You finally found the home that was the kingdom of yourself.”

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poetry

~ Time to Turn ~

~ Time to Turn ~

There comes a point where you need to stop lying to yourself. 

You are hurting.
You are hurting and it’s not something that is going to be cured with a pill
Or a new pair of shoes
Or screaming at a referee
Or bottles of liquor
Or rough sex

You are hurting because you have neglected the nature of the soul
You have chosen acceptance over authenticity
Comfort over adventure
Ignorance over exploration
Convenience over fulfillment 

You have failed your child soul
Abandoned your passions
Allowed yourself to become moulded and melded down
Into a life of crowd-pleasing acceptance
That fills your pockets 
And not your soul

My child, 
Collect yourself and begin again
Toss aside their script of convention
Return to the woods of infant madness
Leave the safe farm and find what you have forgotten

It’s always been there, around you
The magic and mystery of life
The truth of your own being
The starry skies of infinite wonder

Yes, collect yourself and begin again
Be still in the enveloping silence of the night
Feel the breath of the cosmos whisper through your veins
Let your mind become clear of all mist 
Let your heart’s compass be recalibrated

There it will slowly emerge:
the direction you lost track of
the direction you drifted from

the direction to take you home
to those shorelines of the soul and spirit

That long for you to return

To the kingdom of yourself.