thoughts

~ I Don’t Care Anymore ~

~ I Don’t Care Anymore~

Like many young people growing up, I was once full of inner conflict and at odds with the world. Resentful of my surroundings and feeling misunderstood, I sought to set things straight and take back some ground for myself. My blood was full of fury and a war raged constantly inside of me. The pain in my heart meant I was willing to go to extreme lengths to slay down everything I felt was wrong with the world. Maybe it’s me getting softer in older age, but the truth is I don’t care anymore. I’ve set down my sword. And thrown away my shield. I’m no longer charging into any battle, or craving some sort of victory. Things I once fought were worth killing myself for now seem meaningless. Something has changed inside of me. A stillness comes over me. Points of tension begin to relax. And feelings of anger begin to finally fade. After all these years, it seems this soul has found some salvation from the storm. I now find myself in a state of calmness, where I find that I have obtained the victory I always wanted – a victory where I can now rest and relax, because really it was just me stopping myself from living in the lands of peace anyway. And as the smoke of the battle begins to clear, I begin to see the sun shine, and the birds sing, and my soul smile.

 I don’t care anymore.

thoughts

~ Thoughts of a Bum ~

Photo by Thuong D on Pexels.com

~ Thoughts of a Bum ~

The days of waking up and doing as I pleased continued on. As an unemployed person, you were supposed to feel down about your lack of contribution and participation in society, but there were often moments when you thought otherwise. I lived nearby a river and on a sunny day, I’d walk there to go sunbathe and watch the rowers go by. On the way there – just on the street off beside the river – there was a big office building for some sort of German bank. Often I’d stare into it and see them all through the windows: rows and rows of people sat at computers, boxed into cubicles, working under artificial lighting. I’d look in at them and suddenly feel better about my situation. Sure, I was without much money or security, but in that moment I was at least able to live my life how I saw fit without any controls or confines. I didn’t have to watch any clock or chase any deadline. And there was no boss or supervisor to answer to.

It’s common for unemployed people to feel down or pitied by other people, but at times I looked in those windows and saw some of them sat there looking out at myself without any pity at all. I walked by so often that I was sure that a few of them recognised me and probably wondered how I was always out there strolling freely in the middle of the day. Maybe I was deluding myself, but it was not pity that I saw in their eyes, but envy – envy mixed with a wistful look of boredom. I’d then carry on walking, find a nice spot on the grass beside the river and park myself down. I watched the ducks also living freely, the seagulls flying above. I’d then watch the rowers go by and the sunlight glint off the water’s surface. I’d pour back a drink and appreciate my temporary wealth, just allowing myself to simply exist in peace like the birds around me, living in a way that felt way more natural than the once prescribed to me by my country and culture. Living in a way that had been lost post-agricultural and industrial revolution. Living in a way that at least felt like living.

Truly, time was more valuable than anything; the problem with the 9-5 work system is that you exchanged the vast majority of your days for being at work, going to work, getting ready for work, and everything that came with it. To me, it didn’t matter how much money you had when you couldn’t buy the time to use it. And often that money went on things you couldn’t even enjoy. I’m talking about the house that remains empty cause you’re at work all day, or the furniture you fill that house, or the car and fuel you need to get you to work. Sure, a person had retirement, but the retirement age was now approaching seventy – and we all knew that our best days to be free were far before that time when the energy goes and the health problems come. No, I had a couple thousand pounds in the bank still, and I was gonna make it last the rest of the summer at least. This was my time for freedom; to be alive and enjoy what was left of my youth. Sure, I knew I’d be back at work at some point, trying to spin together some money once again. I knew I’d start other jobs and spend a lot of time at other jobs. But I also knew I’d quit other jobs and never stop trying to get the most out of life without it all passing me by.  I just didn’t want to stop dreaming of freedom, or becoming the person who looks out at windows all their life, dreaming, waiting, wondering, and finally fading into a job position. I wanted to smash the glass whenever I could, to come out onto the sunny street, to sit by the rivers and watch the birds and the bees and the sun shining in the sky. I don’t propose there’s any great philosophy or strength to this thought, or to propose I am some sort of countercultural hero. I’m here only to announce that I am aware that this life is about freedom, and I intend to grab as much of it as I can.

short stories

~ Frayed ~

~ Frayed ~

I entered the airport at dawn in a zombie-like state. It had been another sleepless night and it was time to return home after what was perhaps my most reckless trip yet. Leaving Portugal, I found myself depleted in more ways than one. My belongings now amounted to just three kilograms in my carry-on backpack. I was light, lighter in everything – bodyweight, money, clothes, sanity. I was travelling on an emergency passport after having lost my normal one along with other things. Those other things included my electric razor – my lack of razor made evident by the big, bushy beard now covering my face. What had happened to everything I wasn’t entirely sure about. The trip had been a total blur, fueled by heavy amounts of alcohol and a lack of sleep which was now commonplace whenever I travelled. That insomnia had left my brain in a beaten and battered state. My body too was a similar way – skinny and sunburnt and in need of some serious rest after a chaotic few weeks in the Portuguese sunshine.

In such a weary state, I naturally got reflective about things. I realised that at that point I’d been living on the run for almost ten years. A whole decade ago I went out on the road of discovery and adventure, seeing what awaited me out there in this wilderness that has maddened my mind and scarred my skin. I went out into the world with wide eyes seeking something that seemed not available in my immediate surroundings. I stuffed those backpacks with my few belongings; I stuffed my eyes with beautiful sights; I stuffed myself with soul-stirring experiences. I was living for myself and soaking in as much life as I could during my youth. But after all of that, I’m finally at the point where I start to wonder how sustainable this lifestyle is. On this trip I had once again experienced enriching moments and connections with others, but more than any other trip, I had also experienced some very dark moments, including a couple of days that I would reckon as the worst of my entire life. That time began with me being kicked out of a hostel for passing out on the floor of a room that wasn’t my own. The memory of the night before was non-existent and in my ashamed state, I decided to carry on drinking at a nearby bar in the morning on my own. The last thing I remembered was smoking a joint with a retired guy from California before waking the next day with a large number of belongings missing including my passport. I had a bus booked up north to start a five-day hike along the coast that I really didn’t want to take. Confused, stressed and with the worst comedown of my life, I stumbled onto that bus feeling like some sort of gremlin – my lack of identification now confirming I was out of place officially as well as mentally.

That feeling of defeat was also there in that airport that morning as I continued drifting around in a zombie-like state, wondering just how much longer I could keep living life on the edge like this. Just two days I was partying ’til 6am on the streets of Lisbon before going to the British embassy to pick up my emergency passport. A stern-looking guard with a machine gun searched me and escorted me through the building while my comedown and lack of sleep filled me with nerve-shredding anxiety. That moment was just another point of chaos and madness in what was now a strong back-catalogue. My mind thought back to getting arrested in Australia for trespassing and having to hitch-hike to my court case. It thought back to almost being hit in the head by a falling rock on a precarious mountain path; to narrowly missing an avalanche by thirty minutes in a Himalayan valley. It was true that there was only so much chaos one man could endure before he was pushed to the brink of total madness (or worse, death), and now – at thirty years old – I feel the voice of sanity call out to me through this mist, telling me to calm down and stop this freefall into the abyss of anarchy. “Come in and relax,” it says. “You’ve experienced enough of this hedonistic life. Take a breath. Step back. Take some time to enjoy a quiet life.”

Meanwhile, I think of a man I know in his eighties. He is a beat poet who seems to have been also living on the run all of his adult life and continues to do so in whatever way he can. I read his stories about drifting around Europe while busking and living on pennies. I also think of my friend Bryan, three years older than me who had been living even more on the edge than myself during the last few years in Australia. He’s just about to commence a one-month hike through the Alps with his girlfriend. Maybe there is a way to live like this without going totally insane. But am I like those other guys? I wasn’t sure. They certainly didn’t seem to end up in the situations I got myself into. They knew how to look after themselves and not spiral off into complete oblivion like I too often did. My self-destructive side was seemingly getting worse with each trip I went on and maybe I just had to accept that I wasn’t cut out for this high-flying lifestyle anymore. Maybe I really was crazier than the rest.

With my mind in a pensive and delirious state, I made my way through security. I wandered through the duty-free shops before finding a little cafe to sit down. I then ate some breakfast while watching others walk around the departure lounge, all of them looking so much fresher than myself.

I guess it was strange as someone who was a travel addict, but sometimes airports could make me feel alone more than any other place. I think it was the sight of the families, the loved-up couples, the rowdy groups of friends. It seemed that were very few others like myself in those crowds – solo travellers making their way to or back from another tiring adventure. As usual, when looking at regular people, thoughts of sanity and stability entered my brain. I thought of finally getting my own place and settling down in one place. I thought of women – of the French girl I had recently met in Mexico. She was on a two-week holiday there and was now back in her stable life with a good-paying job and about to buy an apartment. Maybe I’d learn French and move over there to live a nice quiet life with her. Maybe I’d finally learn to drive, get a pension and stop this calamitous journey through the wilderness. But almost as quickly as these thoughts entered my mind, they were pushed aside by the other ones – the thoughts of wandering ecstasy, of partying with new friends in foreign lands, of standing on sunset shorelines and hiking through mountainous valleys. I thought of the love of anarchy and adventure, my soul sailing further out into that intoxicating sea of the unknown – that same sea which had currently left me in a disheveled state with no passport and few belongings, with insomnia and sunburnt skin, but also with a spirit that was set on fire and a mind that was blown wide open.

Oh, what is a man to do once he has tasted such a life? This thrilling run out beyond the fences, this glorious dance in the lands of chaos – how does he return from that to a life of sensibility and suburban sanity? How does he trade the mystery and magic for the predictable and comfortable? For the safe and steady? I still had things I wanted to do, after all. I still wanted to fulfill my dream of cycling from the UK to Asia. Of hiking the great Himalayan route. Of finally travelling around Colombia. My list was still incomplete, but continuing in such a way of being didn’t bode well on the current basis of things – at least when I thought of similar others to myself. I thought Jack Kerouac – the great beat writer – drinking himself to death in his forties. I thought of Hemingway and Hunter S Thompson – their brains blown to the wall with self-inflicted shotgun wounds. I thought of that guy from Into The Wild starving to death alone in Alaska. It was true that living at full speed on the edge for so long usually made you more likely to end up in a graveyard or institution. Still, a part of me yearned to keep on living this way, putting the pedal down to the metal, soaring down that open road of life as the wind raises the hairs on my head. On the other hand, I also know it’s time to recognise that I’m slowly falling apart too. The wheels are buckling, the engine is failing, and the screws are coming loose.

The smart and sensible thing to do is to accept I’ve experienced more adventure than most people ever will, and finally begin to take my foot off the gas. But the thought of leaving this life behind fills me with tremendous sadness. It causes me to distract myself by reading through the messages on my phone. One Argentinian girl asks me when I’ll be coming back to Mexico. A dutch girl asks if we are ever doing that hike in Italy. Once again, my mind wanders and starts to dream of the next adventure, the next horizon, the next great run through this bewitching wilderness that has claimed each and every part of me.

This strange feeling of conflict is there as I sit there with my sleep-deprived mind, with my skinny body, with my half-empty backpack, with my emergency passport, with the cuts on my arm of which I’m not sure of the origin. The people around me seem to notice I’m not entirely with it as my hand shakes while drinking my coffee. A couple of coins fall out of my pocket and I reach down to pick them up off the floor. I then look at my jeans and notice that they are starting to tear apart at the seams. It almost seems symbolic and I think about getting them stitched up once again by my mother or landlady. I also think back to that nice Puerto Rican girl in Mexico mending my frayed backpack in Mexico earlier in the year. It was funny: all these women stitching me back together, mending me, repairing me. But maybe this time I’m realising that some things just can’t be stitched back together. There is no thread strong enough anymore to stop me from ripping open as I dream of the next adventure with my tired and maddened mind. And even if there was, I’m not sure I would even want that at this point.

thoughts

~ Striding Proud ~

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”

‘It was no secret that there was a great sickness in modern society. Sadness filled the streets and I saw the souls suffering around me every day. I saw the sunken eyes, the feet dragging along the pavements, the bitter words coming out of mouths. I saw the behaviour of frustrated and jaded individuals. The people staying in jobs they hated; the people neglecting their inner voice; the people dragging others down with them. It was all around me but I kept on striding and doing my thing. I made no apologies about my way of being. I was here to live my short life on this earth to the absolute fullest. If I disliked a job, I’d quit it; if I disliked a place, I’d move from it. I refused to compromise on any of this. Hell, there wasn’t time for compromising. Very soon I would be another dead person in the ground, my one precious life all spent and gone. And with that knowledge I set out to make every year of my life a great adventure. I set out to do things that would fill my soul with joy; that would leave my mind full of memories and my heart full of fire. And as the years went by and time aged me, I would refuse to let life grind me down like it seemed to do to so many walking down those streets. No, I would continue to stand proud, a straight posture, my head high and my eyes wide and open. Still looking toward the next horizon. Still chasing that inner bliss. Still discovering the beauty of life on this earth until the very end.’

thoughts

~ The Great Beyond ~

~ The Great Beyond ~

“I sat on the beach facing the almighty pacific ocean. The waves crashed on the shoreline and the sun reflected off the water onto my face. I closed one eye as I downed my bottle of beer, thinking of memories of the past and my path to here. It was true: thirty years old and still living in the dirt, dreaming in the darkness, wandering the outside spaces. Maybe some thought I would give up this freedom fight, maybe I did, but there I was once again: travelling alone in Mexico, wandering through old towns, drinking in random bars and speaking to whatever stranger drifts into my course. I am a boat out on the ocean of the unknown, and by now I don’t think I’ll ever dock. These sails still catch the wind firmer than ever and the journey shows no sign of slowing. Stormy seas I have known, and my crew of weary sailors – whose blackened faces work the coal engine rooms of my heart – their eyes know the toil of that turbulent journey. Their eyes know this ship wasn’t made for safe harbours of stability and security; those anchors of mortgages and marriages, but instead to drift in the great beyond in search of some divine light of freedom and adventure and life and beauty.”   

short stories

Stray Dogs of Mexico

Stray Dogs of Mexico

I sat on that street corner, sipping my beer, staring emptily into space. A strange feeling overcame me. I had felt it for some time but it was then that I knew for sure that a war was being waged on my soul. I knew the light wasn’t shining as it once had, my mouth didn’t dispense my truth like before, my feet didn’t touch the ground like they once did. Something was wrong inside of me. I had wandered into some murky realm where I could feel myself disappearing in a darkness. My candle was fading and I stared into the eyes of people passing me in the street and wondered if my struggle was unique or ubiquitous. How many were watching the flames of their being slowly fade out?  How many out there were losing themselves day by day? And ultimately what was a man or woman to do about it? 

At one point in my life it seemed so easy. When the fire burns bright, it feels like there is no force in this universe strong enough to quell your inner flame. Your eyes burst with light and your heart thunders. Your spirit ignites the world around you. Your pen pours out poetry with ease. But life can sometimes take you down some bewildering paths. You unknowingly start to lose yourself and suddenly you’re left facing a stranger in the mirror, speaking words that are not your own, sitting nowhere, being nowhere. Reflecting back on the past, I knew I had saved my soul before, but could I do it again? I didn’t even know where to begin this time. For once there were no direction signs – no intuition, no guiding stars, and even my deepest passions were now uninteresting to me. I was now thirty years old and didn’t have any other desire other than to get drunk and drift around a foreign country. The idea of being an author had slipped from my mind after my books had sold so few copies. The notion of starting a career or family was just as alien as ever. And even the act of travelling itself had lost much of its magic. My world was a grey place so I just sat on that street corner, sedating myself with alcohol, watching people walk by and wondering where there would ever be peace on earth for those who dreamed a little too much.

Finally I pay my bill using my bad Spanish and then get up to carry on wandering the city streets. They were the streets of Mexico City – one of the biggest cities in the world – and I drift across a busy square and into a church where I see an old lady kneel before the altar. Her hands are tightly grasped in prayer as she stares up with pleading eyes. I can’t help but wonder what she is asking, but in the end I stopped, knowing her pain was private like it was for all. I walk out back into the square and see a queue of men waiting to be cleansed with some smoking plant as it’s rubbed over them. They close their eyes and look deep in thought as the smoke shrouds them in the midday sun. I then see a ranting alcoholic staggering through an intimidated crowd. Elsewhere I see other weary souls like myself sitting on street corners and staring into space. No matter where you looked, the burden of the human condition was evident. Truly it was a hard fight for us all, and at times it became clear just how sprawled out on the canvas we all were. 

I continue walking along and see posters of missing women on walls. I see a scruffy stray dog come around a corner and stop in front of me. Its eyes stare into my eyes and there seems to be an unspoken recognition between us – a momentary feeling of union before he carries on along the way. I do the same and then see a man with a missing arm and leg sitting on the sidewalk. He holds a cup out for change and I throw some coins in. I guess it can always be worse, I say to myself. Although can it? A man can lose his mind – he can lose his arms and his legs – but once his soul is gone then what is left for him on this earth but a barren existence of emptiness.

Suddenly I felt a tiredness that was beyond anything I had experienced before. At that moment a part of me wanted to rest – and to rest in the permanent way. The toil of this soul-searching fight had worn me down over the years, and it was clear that for every victory you made, life was always there waiting to break you down once again. But another part of me was ready to respond to the war being waged on my soul. I would grab whatever I had left, stab my flag into the ground, and be ready to turn those dwindling flames into a great fire once more. As always, I was a walking contradiction. Some kind of mistake.

For now I decide a temporary rest at the hotel will suffice. I get some food and head back. Being a little older now, I tried to avoid hostels; I needed a good night’s sleep and was past having sex in a dormitory room. Of course, this meant it was harder to meet other travellers. On this occasion, it was surprisingly easy. I enter my room and open the door onto the balcony. It was a shared balcony with the other two rooms beside me. I walk out, put my arms on the bannister, and hear a voice to the right of me.

“What up bro!?” I turn my head and see a topless guy sitting there drinking a large bottle of beer. He was skinny with long blonde hair, shades, and a big grin plastered across his face. Before even asking, I could see he was drunk in the middle of the afternoon. His energy was good, however, so I walked over and engaged him in conversation. 

“It’s not going amazing, to be honest,” I tell him. “How about you?”

“Dude, tell me about it,” he says. “I had a wild night last night; it’s a miracle I even made it home. I left my phone here so I was wandering the streets until six in the morning trying to find the hotel. At one point I honestly thought about sleeping on the street. Then things got worse as the police shook me down for drugs. After that I fell down a ditch somewhere.” He then proceeded to show me the cuts on his elbows and legs. In turn, I showed him the grazes on my face from a recent drunken accident. At least he knew how his wounds were caused; mine were still unknown to me after a week. “Anyway,” he continues. “All that shit happened but here I am drunk once again at three in the afternoon. Ahaha, viva la vida bro!” He then took another large swig of his beer before his face returned to that big grin.

I could tell straight away he was another classic wandering madman, scratched and scarred on both the inside and out. He was the sort of person I had met many times throughout my travels – the sort that I always seemed destined to stumble across no matter where I went in the world. At that moment I was happy to meet him, and we continued to talk about our trips and whatever the hell it was we were doing here. It turned out he was a forty-three-year-old Canadian who was recently out of work. He decided to deal with this by flying to Mexico and drifting around the country while drunk. Although there were thirteen years between us, I recognised the stage he was at in his life. An affinity was felt and it wasn’t long before I was joining him on the large bottles of beer as we discussed life on that balcony until the sun began to sink beneath the surrounding buildings. 

“This is my midlife crisis trip,” he tells me. “Out of work, no woman, I got nothing really going on back home. And with the pandemic, it’s been a rough ride living alone the last two years. The only thing that seems right is to come to Mexico and live like a rockstar for a while off of my savings. I guess it’s not a bad way to spend a midlife crisis.”

“I hear you man,” I said. “But to me, it’s all a crisis.”

“What is?” he asks.

“Life. I mean, here you are: trapped in a slowly-decaying body of flesh and bone, stuck on a rock floating around a big ball of fire for no apparent reason. On top of this, you have around eighty or so years here, and during that time you have to deal with things like money and love and sex and purpose and politics. Yeah, there’s no beginning, middle or end to me. It’s all a crisis. To be human in this world is to be in a crisis.” He looked at me with a smile, nodding his head in agreement and toasting his beer. Our beers clinked and our connection was strengthened on the realisation we were both stray souls wandering the tempestuous wilderness of human existence.

“You know, I’ve had a good life,” he then tells me in a pensive moment of realisation. “I’ve experienced enough of this merry-go-round. You say we have eighty years here, but screw living that long. I think if I checked out in the next ten years that would be enough for me.”

“You really feel that way, or it’s the beer talking?”

“Straight up bro. At this stage in life, I feel like I’ve done it all. I’ve travelled around, slept with a lot of women, had a lot of great parties and adventures. I’ve been in love and worked in what I’m passionate about. I’m happy with what I’ve done and don’t want to get much older than what I am now. Life has been a wild ride, but I’m not sure if I can handle another thirty or forty years of it.” 

I could hear in his voice that he was being genuine. It might have sounded an extreme statement to some – even a suicidal one –  but I understood completely where he was coming from. It was something that was recently on my mind after turning thirty – that I didn’t want to experience the second half of life in old age. Besides a spiritual crisis, I guess I was also having a bit of an age crisis after departing my twenties. Of course, I was still relatively young, but not as young as I would have liked to have been. Inside there was a part of me that resented getting older, and looking at him I could see my future too – still wandering the outside spaces, drinking ever more heavily and going further over the edge of destitution and insanity. To keep on living this way past forty, well I figured that’s when a person really was a stray for life. Most had packed away their backpacks and began to settle down in some suburb of safety and sanity. For me that life was a death sentence already. And the idea of losing my youth – losing my strength and looks and curiosity – horrified me. I already saw the lines forming on my face, the grey hairs sprinkled into my beard, the bitterness in my personality that wasn’t there before. In my head this trip was one last celebration of youth before the downhill truly started.

We carried on drinking and then went out to hit the bars of Mexico City. We spoke bad Spanish to Mexican women, drank with other travellers, danced like idiots, and got lost in a hazy blur of intoxication. The bender had started and we spent the next week or so travelling together until we made it down to the pacific coast, specifically to a little town called Puerto Escondido. The nights of revelry continued there until he eventually headed off on a night bus to another part of Mexico. I bid him farewell and watched him drift out of my life to continue his midlife crisis somewhere else. “Catch you on the flip side,” he said, stumbling onto the bus with a small backpack full of beers.

I was back to my natural state of being alone, and I spent days at the beach soaking in the sunlight and watching the sunset on the ocean. It was a town I felt at home with, and it seemed I wasn’t the only one. Puerto was famous for being a ‘digital nomad’ hotspot. The place was filled with westerners escaping their homelands while they worked on their laptops and sat at the beach and tattooed their skin and prided themselves on escaping the rat race. I knew of these people already, but since the pandemic had made many jobs able to be done remotely from a laptop, it seemed they were now everywhere. Web designers. Graphic designers. Code writers. Even therapists. There they sat on their laptops working four or five hours a day before hitting the beach and sipping beers in the sun.

I thought about what I could do to join them in their little world of escapism from the system. After thirty years, I still truly saw no job or career I had an interest in. The only time I had felt purpose was when I was writing creatively, and by creatively I meant stories or poems – not news articles or anything people actually paid for. And even that passion was now fading. Like everything though, the grass was always greener on the other side, and while the idea of being a digital nomad was a romantic one, the reality of it was a little different. It came with its own struggles and own sadness. An American guy told me about this in a cafe by the beach one day. 

“I know it sounds great being a digital nomad – and it is for a while – but in the long term I’m not sure how much someone can do it. It’s a lonely existence. At least for me I’ve never really found anywhere that feels like home. I guess it’s because it’s hard to form a community when everyone eventually moves on. And on top of this, you’re constantly surrounded by travellers who are going out and doing cool things, while you have to stay at home and work.” It was something I had thought about before while reflecting on that lifestyle, and it seemed those who had escaped the rat race had their own problems to deal with. There was no magical way to ‘live the good life’ forever, despite what the travel bloggers would have you believe. No matter what you did or where you went, you were destined to struggle in some form or some way. It was the only way – the human way.

Still, I kept thinking about it; about my options in life now my main passions were beginning to lose their spark. Where was there really to go in this life for someone like me? Would I ever return to the time when I felt truly alive? What chance was there? The war on my soul continued to rage as I struggled to see the clearing ahead to somewhere that made sense to me. I was so sure all I wanted to do was to travel the world and write, but now those things had lost their thrill, I saw no glory in anything else. Nothing appealed to me at that moment in time – only the next beer, the next woman, the next night of revelry and intoxication. I thought I was bad, but I continued to meet people that were wandering further out in the soul-searching wilderness than I was.

In a town in the mountains, I met a fellow English guy who was ‘escaping his problems back home’. I eventually discerned this was trouble with gangs and the law. Never had I seen someone so wounded, on both the inside and outside. He was only twenty-two but already had scars all over his body from various stab wounds. He couldn’t even use his left hand after he had been slashed on the wrist during a drug deal. His wounds weren’t just from home; even here he had managed to sprain his ankle here during an escape from a fight. He had also been banned from various hostels and bars after just two weeks in the town. I eventually realised this was down to his addiction to Xanax – an addiction that saw him taking five tablets at once and turning himself into a zombie. The last I saw of him, he was being taken into the back of a police van after having a bust-up with restaurant staff for not paying his bill. It was his first time travelling and I knew he wasn’t going to last long in this way of life, or any way of life for that matter.

Elsewhere I stumbled into an American guy I had met four years previously in Spain. While he was there in Spain, he was constantly chasing women. He stressed and depressed himself over finding a long-term partner, and it seemed four years on that nothing had changed. His desperation to find a woman screamed out of him, and naturally this led them to reject his advances. I even found out he had come to Mexico to meet a girl he had met the previous summer in the states. That relation had broken down after just two days of being here, and so on he went, another stray soul in search of some shelter from the storm.

Although I knew most men found a spiritual home for themselves in the company of a spouse, to me that had rarely seemed the case. There was something inside of me that needed more than a partner, and that was more clear to me than ever having just left my girlfriend just before this trip. We had been dating for a year, even living together, and it was the first time in my life I had been seeing someone regularly for a long period of time. But again, whereas many men only sought to find a nice woman and settle down, I was ready to abandon mine at the sudden booking of a flight to some faraway country. Like careers and everything else, a wife and children were other things beyond me. I needed my soul to be set on fire by something. And while they could give me joy, they just couldn’t give me that spark that was so essential for my spiritual survival.

Still, I had my romances when travelling. Most were one-night stands, but when I got to a place called Oaxaca City, I started seeing a woman continuously. She was a Mexican woman from another part of the country. We hit it off straight away and she invited me to stay with her in her apartment. She lived alone with her dog – a stray dog she had taken in and given a home to. I had to look at the dog and once again see a connection in its eyes, a feeling of union of being taken in by a woman while wandering the streets. It was nice there and I stayed with her for a week or so. We went to bars and restaurants; we went to watch Mexican wrestling; we spent lazy mornings in bed making love. For a moment I almost began to feel like I belonged there. I thought about getting a job teaching English or really having a go at trying to be an online content writer. There we’d live together – my new life in Mexico – but again there was something missing, and one day I decided to book my bus out of there. The horizon called me again and on I went to board that bus to somewhere else. To a place that helped return the fire to my soul. To a place that would fill my heart with thunder again.

The wandering went on and two weeks later I was on a Caribbean island, back to sitting on a beach and staring out at the sunset. My heart was heavy and I thought of all the people I had met along the road. I thought of the path that had led me to here and the path that awaited me ahead. The strange sadness was still there inside, and my eyes were still searching the skies for some kind of salvation. It was then that the stray dogs of the island came out onto the beach, playing around in the sand. I watched them leap about before they suddenly stopped and sat beside me. I stroked one and looked at the sunset and let a smile make its way on my face. Suddenly I felt at peace with where I was; I felt the fire inside begin to flame, and for some truth to make its way into my heart again. Yes to wander, to not belong, to constantly be in a phase of soul-searching – it wasn’t such a bad way to be. And if you kept your eyes open, so many of us were this way. Perhaps secretly we all were. In a way, what else was it to exist than to be another stray on a soul-searching quest, wandering the wilderness in search of some fire. Another stray dog in search of survival. Another stray dog in search of home.

lab rat

New Book: Lab Rat

Hello, if you have followed my blog over the last year you will know I have regularly been posting extracts of a project called Lab Rat. I am now pleased to announce that I have finalised and published these in a completed book.

Mockups Design

“I looked around at my fellow guinea-pigs realising this was where I belonged – locked up with other people pushed out to the edge and testing drugs for a living because there was no room for them in the centre of things. There was no room for me out there either. But that was okay; I had found a new way. Test drugs, travel, and write. I saw my path slowly unfolding before me. I was happy with it.” 

‘Lab Rat tells the story of a young man surviving by taking part in medical research trials. Known only as ‘Subject 55355’, the anonymous narrator of this semi-autobiographical novel is an aspiring writer who has just returned home after a period of travelling. His natural contempt for the world of work causes him to quickly quit his first job back. It is then, on a night out, that a stranger in a bar informs him about ‘drug trials’ – medical studies where a person can be paid large amounts of money for testing new medicines. The protagonist immediately embraces the guinea-pig lifestyle, meeting fellow drifters along the way, all the while still chasing his dream of becoming a successful writer. An existential piece of social commentary filled with black humour, Lab Rat is a classic outsider story that will resonate with anyone who has dreamed of breaking free from the rat race.’

The book is my first full-length story I’ve published and is now available here on Amazon, either as an ebook or paperbook. The following is an extract from the book.

13

‘I looked at the current list of medical studies on the website. It was like looking at a diverse and delicious restaurant menu. The studies paid anything from £800 to £5000. There were some trials for medicines treating Asthma, some for Crohn’s disease, and some for that notorious old bad guy – Cancer. There were even some trials that involved you being exposed to radiation. I was hungry for more money but I considered where I would actually draw the line when it came to doing studies. Most studies involved you testing drugs which had already gone through one phase of testing before. Would I take part in a study where I would be the first person taking the drug? I thought not, but I also knew if I was offered a ‘first-in-human’ study with a hefty payment, I’d quickly change my tune. Ultimately I was just another man blinded by my money, putting some digits on a screen before my health. And relatively speaking, I didn’t think the trials were too dangerous, but it was true that very rarely one might go wrong. I’d only told a few people I was doing medical trials but those I told were quick to mention one infamous study that happened in 2006 in London. Some guinea-pigs were testing an antibiotic that would be used to treat Leukaemia and Arthritis. A short while after being dosed, the volunteers were left writhing in agony and projectile vomiting. Soon their immune systems crashed and they suffered multiple organ failure. It got continually worse as they were left fighting for their lives and one guy had some of his fingers amputated. Some of them even had inflated heads – helping give the incident the notorious name: ‘The Elephant Man Study’. All things considered, it was a colossal fuck-up, but it had been over ten years since that incident, and lessons had apparently been learned. The doctors assured us that there were new procedures and regulations in place to stop such a calamity happening again. It was reassuring, I guess, although it did make me wonder how much compensation each volunteer got. Would I lose a few fingers for half a million pounds? Maybe a kidney or a lung for a million? If you started down that road, then where would it end? You’d be slowly slicing yourself down to nothingness in an attempt to fill that bank account with as much money as you could. I guess it was nothing out of the ordinary for many people out there.

     I had the usual screening and chat with the doctor before being admitted onto the study. I passed with flying colours again, although he did stop to question the cuts on my body from when I got attacked in Sheffield. “Bike-riding accident,” I told him. “I was lucky to get off so easily; next time I’ll wear a helmet.” The doctor gave me an incredulous look. It was clear he knew I was full of shit, but he didn’t care – to him I was just another lab rat living off medical trials rather than getting a job like a normal person. No doubt, he pitied me in a way. That would explain the slight delight in his voice when he informed me of the next bit of information.

     “For this trial you will need to provide faecal samples.” I stopped and paused. 

     “Faecal samples?” I asked.

     “Yes,” he said. “Because this drug is a treatment for Crohn’s disease, it will be necessary to monitor your bowel behaviour. So, stool samples will be necessary.” (They used words like ‘stool’ and ‘faecal’ to make it sound a little more scientific – really they were just telling you that they were going to be analysing your shit.) It wasn’t the most pleasant thought, but at least it wasn’t me having to inspect it. And it could have been worse. A few weeks back I had checked the drug trial menu to see a study taking place in which ‘the drug would be administered rectally’. Having to provide a sample of your shit was one thing, but having some poor nurse shove drugs up your ass first thing in the morning was something else. Perhaps it was there, then, where I would have drawn the line for what study I would take part in.

14

Back in the clinic, I got settled into my second home. I was back to being Subject 55355 and this time I was on the biggest ward, along with thirteen other volunteers. It hardly seemed like three months had passed and in a way it felt good to be back on the inside. Perhaps I was getting institutionalised already, but the idea that for the next eighteen days I wouldn’t have to worry about a single thing was comforting. I could resume my feline ways, laying around, being fed, sleeping, and even – in this case – having my shit taken away by my owners. Hell, it even felt a bit like going into rehab after the heavy drinking I had done during the previous two weeks. Yes, I thought. Get me locked up before I end up as disastrous and self-destructive as Owen.

    This time the collection of fellow guinea-pigs looked a little more fitting to the situation. There were some strange looking characters including a washed-up hippy in his fifties who liked to walk around half naked – much to the disgust of the female volunteers. There was also a girl who immediately asked for screens to be put around her bed and proceeded to ignore everyone while playing her ukulele. There was one guy who sat on his bed playing Pokémon with the sound on full blast, and another who kept talking to himself while regularly hitting his laptop in frustration (I presumed he was also a gamer). It wasn’t the most peaceful environment and things got noisier on the first night when one of the volunteers started snoring loudly – so loudly you wondered if he was being strangled to death. It was an annoyance, but not as annoying as the man who cursed loudly everything he started snoring. “Fucking snoring cunt!” he would shout. “You stupid fucking pig! Shut the fuck up!” It turned out it was the washed-up hippy. I had quickly deduced he was going to be the problem man on the trial. He was an angry soul and would even snap at the nurses walking past his bed if they were too loud, suggesting they wore some stealthier footwear. “Do you think you can wear some quieter shoes? I’m trying to sleep here.” The audacity was astounding. Here was a man getting paid £200 a day to lie around and shit into a pot, and he felt it was okay to snap at the nurses working twelve-hour shifts for little more than the minimum wage. They must have hated him, especially when I later found out he had been reported on previous studies. It did make me wonder what a person had to do to get kicked off a study. They had a list of rules you had to follow, and if you broke one then you could be issued with a £50 fine. There were even some rules which would result in you being dismissed from the study and taken off the panel altogether. I wondered how far the washed-up hippy was going to push his luck. No doubt he was another bum living off these trials and maybe soon he would be joining the homeless people in the gutter. I wouldn’t have had sympathy for him. Us lab rats had to count ourselves lucky we had been given this chance to make money so easily and, for me, I followed the rules attentively and obediently, knowing full well that it was this facility which was saving me from the horrors of full-time employment in the outside world.

     Anyway, after the first night I awoke to see the nurses standing there in their red ‘DO NOT DISTURB – DOSING’ tabards. I knew the drill – it was time to get to work. I swallowed down those experimental pills and wondered what side effects I was going to have this time. After that came the usual procedures: ECG, blood samples, blood pressure, temperature checks. A few hours later the moment arrived where I needed to go to the toilet. I had seen some other volunteers sheepishly come out of the bathroom with their pots and place them on the tray in the ward. None of them appeared too comfortable doing it (I guess it was quite hard to not look awkward walking through a room full of people while carrying your own shit). Well, at least I wasn’t the first person to do it. I grabbed my pot and headed over to the bathroom. I also grabbed a chart from beside my bed; there was a picture chart of all the different types of ‘faecal discharge’ and you had to write down on the pot which one your sample resembled. Was it runny or was it sturdy? Was it long or was it lumpy? Apparently, this was of utmost importance to the people conducting the study. 

     Inside the bathroom I sat there and prepared to do my business. I crouched on the toilet and held the pot under myself. It was then, squeezing out last night’s dinner, that I had a bit of a moment. I looked in the mirror at what I was doing and realised my life path had led me to this. A few years back I was a young man with a promising future in the communications industry. Wide-eyed and optimistic, I left university with my degree, ready to get a proper job and begin a steady career. Like every good graduate, I was preparing for a middle-class life of stability, security, and suburban sanity. My CV was updated with all my skills and my parents were eager to see me make it as a high-earner with a respected profession. Well, the years had fallen by and here I was – squeezing out a turd into a pot in order to get money to survive. It was a strange situation and I had to think of all my coursemates from university. No doubt at this moment they were in good jobs or further education. They would all be handing in important assignments or projects they’d been working on. Me? I was quite literally handing in a piece of shit.

15

One week into the study and things were going a bit rocky. The washed-up hippy had continued arguing with everyone he could and there was an uncomfortable atmosphere in the air. It became quite clear to me that he was another man encumbered with a lot of pain, and, typically, when he was crammed into a small space with a bunch of other humans, he tried to offload it to them. This was how pain and anger worked when inside the heart of a human-being; the more torment and bitterness a person was stuffed with, the more they barged about trying to fill other people with it. I watched him in his volatile ways and considered what his life had been like; was he abused as a child, screwed over by a woman, made angry by years and years of stressful work? Was he made this way by all the drugs he had tested on medical trials? It could have been all of these things for all I knew, but I wasn’t going to find out. I avoided such a person like the plague. Conflict was draining and I had no room for confrontation in my life – especially when I was locked up in a closed environment with that person for weeks on end. 

     It wasn’t just him causing the drama on the trial though. At one point a woman was on the phone to her partner when he and her son turned up by the lounge window. Whilst in the clinic you weren’t allowed any visitors, and typically this meant you also weren’t allowed to have people come up to the windows. We were on lockdown and they couldn’t risk any contraband getting in to interfere with the results of the study. Things like chocolate and caffeine could affect the blood results and so, upon entry to the clinic, they searched our bags for such illegal gear. The windows were covered with a steel mesh on the outside, but there was still the chance you could sneak a chocolate bar or something through. Perhaps some McDonalds fries? Alcohol through a straw? Or even some of the more fun types of drugs? Anyway, the CCTV cameras had caught this woman’s family coming up to the window, and ten minutes later a dozen nurses marched onto our ward telling us there had been ‘a security breach’. They then got us all to empty out all our belongings onto our beds. Suddenly it was beginning to feel like an actual prison or concentration camp. Even a loony bin. Well, the shoe fitted, I guess.

     Another drama involved the Pokémon guy. We had quickly worked out he was a bit of a creep. No doubt he was another guy starved of sexual contact, made crazy by his rejection by the female kind, and for once he was in an environment where he could talk to whatever poor woman was in close proximity. He had expressed creepy comments to all the women on the trial and one night he had been caught standing at the end of one woman’s bed at 3am. “What are you doing?” she asked, rather shocked.

     “Just going to the toilet,” he lied, rather poorly.

      The arguments and the awkwardness – it did make me think what a social experiment these trials were. Here were a bunch of people who would never meet in ordinary life all confined in a small space for a short time. It was only natural that every now and again it was going to bring out the worst in people. Ultimately human-beings were tribal, primitive beings at their core, and for most it was a good thing they didn’t get together. For me, I quickly decided that my tactic when starting a trial was to sit back, observe, and keep myself to myself for the first couple of days. While in that state of observation, I tried to work out which person was left-wing and right-wing, which person was religious or atheist, and which person was actually a reasonable human-being. After that had been deduced, then I was able to know how to interact with each one accordingly; or which people I was just going to avoid all together for the sake of my own peace and harmony. I figured this was a tactic I used anyway in the outside world when interacting with humanity, but one which is even more necessary in this intense sort of environment.

     After a couple of days of such observation, I realised there was one person on the trial who was ‘one of my kind’. His name was Steven and he was a guy in his thirties who lived in a van. He had long hair and looked like the sort of guy you would meet after midnight at a campfire in a rock festival, perhaps offering you some mind-altering substances. He had been living in his van for the last four years which you could see from the window. There it was parked in the car-park – a big, meaty, army-green van which resembled something between a furniture removal vehicle and a horse box. Inside he had turned it into a mobile home complete with a bed, kitchen, sofa, solar panels, and a toilet. Like me, he had spent his twenties wandering around the world and was now trying to figure out how to navigate life as he approached the middle-age section of it. He had recently just slip with his girlfriend of ten years and as a result a lot of his talk was about women and sex. Speaking to him, it became clear he was another wanderer of life probably wondering where he fit into the system. The brutal fact was that these wanderers didn’t; they were square pegs in a society of round holes, hence why they wandered. Their isolation is part of who they are and you can usually see it in their eyes – a specific look which is often confused with someone daydreaming. Often I myself wandered the streets looking for others with that look. I searched for it in the faces of people waiting at bus stops, or supermarket queues, or the crowds that temporarily formed at the traffic lights. Sometimes I think I even spotted it, but I never did anything about it. I continued about my day and accepted my isolation from the rest of my species. Well here I was with one in front of me: another person who probably felt he had crash-landed on the wrong planet and was wondering when somebody was going to come take him home. For now his home was that van, and this clinic, and wherever the hell he was going to drive it to after we got out.

     He was a free soul to many, but I could tell he had anxieties about the life he was living. It was clear with certain things he said:

“I’m thirty-three now and I’ve got nothing to show for it except for some wrinkles. I’ve got no savings or prospects.”

“You want to be careful, one day you’re a young man full of promise, the next you’re a middle-aged man living in a van on your own.”

     He was relentlessly witty and would love to crack self-deprecating jokes, but under that comical persona, I could see there were some actual concerns about the life he was living. His words reminded me that in the end not many people were truly free – hell, maybe no one was. There were only those who were good actors. Hippies, travellers, people living alternatively – they were always called ‘free-spirits’, but they were usually full of anxieties and inner conflicts. Ultimately human-beings were social creatures and it took a lot to live differently from the herd. To watch your friends buying houses and settling down while you shitted into a bucket in the back of a van and lived off medical trials was always going to cause some insecurity. Human-beings all had that innate need for social gratification, so it was only natural that when you wandered away from the herd, you felt some sort of anxiety. I knew this because I had felt it myself during the last few years of my own life. Doing your own thing was often tiring and I knew there was comfort in the herd – but I also knew that the best things in my life had come from venturing away from it. That was something I sought to share with him.

     “Not many people have the guts to live in a van,” I told him. “So many people say they want to do it, but so very few ever will. People like to talk to talk, but when it comes to actually living this type of life, most people will choose comfort and convenience every time. An easy shower, a steady job, having things in common with people… It’s all a trade-off. But life is obviously more exciting when you choose a different path. Living in a van takes guts and you will no doubt inspire a lot of people. Like Hunter S Thompson said: ‘Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of the rat race is not yet final’”.

     “You love a quote don’t you,” he said, noticing I had quoted about four people in the space of half an hour. “But that’s true. It takes guts to live like this. Everyone accepts the rat race so easily, but I couldn’t live that way if my life depended on it. For me, I’d just end up suicidal or something. I don’t want to be another victim of the system living a mediocre existence. Most people aren’t very interesting or even happy by the time they reach middle-age.”

     “I hope I’m still living an adventurous life in ten years’ time,” I then said. “I’m at that age now where a lot of people who have been living adventurous lives begin to pack it all away. The backpack goes and sits in the garage gathering dust, the long travel trips become weekends away to the Cotswolds, and people generally filter themselves down in order to fit in some way into the system. Of course, you have those that momentarily wake up from their slumber and have the classic mid-life crisis. They get to their forties, realise their halfway through their lives and that they haven’t done anything they ever wanted to do. Then, to compensate for this, they have a few years of hedonism and pick up some new eccentric hobbies, but by that point they are too burdened by responsibilities and stuck in their ways to truly change to the version of themselves they wish to be.” I could feel myself getting into a big old speech, and I had noticed one of the nurses listening in – no doubt they regularly overheard these types of existential debates amongst us lab rats.

     “You seem pretty switched on for a young guy,” he said. 

     “I’m just another kid who read too much philosophy. No doubt I’m just full of shit like everyone else.” I was joining Steven with his self-deprecating humour, but I really believed what I was saying. Ultimately there isn’t a man or woman out there who hasn’t felt suffocated by their cultural reality. We all know it. We all stare at each other’s faces and let sentences of sanity exit our mouths, trying to appear normal and fit in and be accepted members of society. It was a sham but we went along with it for our own survival in the herd. Being accepted among the crowd paved the way to an easy life, but god, how I sometimes wanted everyone to just toss the mask aside, tear up the script, walk off the stage, and just start acting like who the hell they really were. The frustrating thing is that I think deep down this is what the vast majority of people want: to actually just be themselves and enjoy their fleeting time here on this earth. But for the sake of convenience, most of us go along with the big charade. It’s the human desire for social validation. The comfortable place among the crowd. The small talk down the pub. The camaraderie at family dinner tables. The pats on the back. The likes on social media. It was simple how it worked: the bigger the crowd you tried to be a part of, the more of your own individuality you had to kill. The dynamic of a group meant there had to be a shared connection for it to work, but the thing was every human being was a uniquely beautiful and complicated mess. This mess had to be ironed out so everyone could unite in the ‘middle ground’ – typically the dominant cultural values of the herd. As a result, the true individual was usually alienated, isolated, and often teetering on the precipice of madness (or living in a van while surviving off medical trials).

     It was a few minutes later that I found out me and Steven shared another similarity. Like me, he was another person infected with the writing madness. He told me about his fantasy novel he had been working on for years. Progress was ‘slow’, as he put it. It sounded really slow, in fact, and I had to wonder whether he was ever going to get it done. “I’m such a lazy piece of shit,” he told me. “I sit down to write and then end up procrastinating or finding some way to kill a few hours without writing a word. It pisses me off.” Although my idleness wasn’t as bad as Steven’s, I did resonate with what he said. Sometimes I sat down to write and would find myself going on a YouTube binge or exploring some strange rabbit-hole of the internet. I also aspired to write a novel. I had even given it a go in the past, but all my attempts had crashed and burned by the time I got to the ten-thousand-word mark. One day I decided that I simply just wasn’t ready to write it. Ultimately I hadn’t lived enough and was better off getting beaten up some more by life before I attempted the mountain of writing a novel. At least, that was how I rationalised my idleness. Maybe we were both those cliché pretentious guys who went through their lives saying they were writing a novel, but never actually got around to doing it. In reality, we were just good for nothing bums. Well, not completely nothing. At least we were ‘helping advance the world of medicinal research’. If that would be all we contributed to society, then I guess it was still better than nothing. And even if we didn’t make it by the time of our death, we could always use a bit of delusion and tell ourselves we were like Kafka or Van Gogh – unappreciated in our lifetimes but hailed as geniuses by future generations. Sadly, I could see us both going insane and cutting off our ears (or losing them on a trial), but perhaps our artistic success ever arriving was a fantastical daydream at best. Well, maybe that was all people like us really needed to make it through.’

thoughts

What Will Become Of Me?

“What will become of me? I ask myself this now in the summer of 2021, aged twenty-nine, with the world in a state of chaos and my life in a state of transition. I sit on the shore of a Scottish beach, staring out at the sea and the setting sun. The future looks unclear and often I don’t even know what I believe anymore. My mind feels frazzled and things I once knew for certain now seem murky. The morning mirror doesn’t show the person I once knew with such certainty. My path now seems more unclear than ever. There is an ache in my heart as I stare into those waters and ask myself: what will become of me? As time ages my mind and body. What will become of me? As close friends become distant strangers. What will become of me? As society changes in crazy ways. What will become of me? As my body accumulates more scars, as my heart is filled with more pain, as my soul struggles to shine its light. No, I don’t know what will become of me. Maybe I’ll be reduced to madness, that ranting maniac on city streets lost in his own mind. Maybe I’ll settle into a peaceful and simple life somewhere in the country. Maybe I’ll end up on a path that takes me to something I never knew even existed. As always, it’s hard to know what awaits in the unknown, and sometimes finding the faith to march on into that mist can be hard. But, as I sat there on that beach, I realised the only way forward was to just do what I’d always done before. I believed that the only way forward was to get up and keep following the heart, no matter which direction it led me. Inside I felt that was my only shot of making it through, of ending up in the right place – of becoming exactly who I was supposed to be.”

thoughts

~ Towards the Adventure ~

~ Towards the Adventure ~

“Sorry, but I guess I’ll always be a bit of a runaway, a dreamer, a vagabond. This blood that runs inside me will not allow me to do anything else. I have stared into the eyes of those people on the street and decided I am not one of them. Their words have been heard and their perspectives considered, but ultimately the life they live is a strange foreign one to me. There is a priceless pleasure in following the heart fearlessly through life, and I guess I would rather do that all my years than allow myself to dwell in an existence that doesn’t bring me any real fulfilment. I am out on the quest, and yes, I know my road may end in wreck or ruin, but in my heart I only desire to be able to say that my life was one lived to total completion; that my soul at least knew what it was to run free through a great wilderness, rather than to stay stuck in a way of life which did not allow me to truly live.”

thoughts

~ What I Have ~

~ What I Have ~

“No, I haven’t got that stable mind, that polished resume, those practical and pragmatic skills. I haven’t got many things that most people in this world have. But such is life and I have learnt how to survive my own way and by my own rules. Because I got those feet that march through the swamp, those eyes that lift to the horizon, that spirit that never quits. I got those values that never corrupt and a heart that can’t be tamed. And when the others lose their way, I have just enough madness left inside to pull myself up and continue on through the storm. These are the things I have, and although they may not be the things most people desire, I would not trade them for all the riches in the world.”