short stories

~ Hibernation ~

alone man room smoking

~ Hibernation ~

For once, it was a cosy room; an attic conversion in an old Victorian house with a couple of desks, a fireplace, a comfortable bed with paisley sheets, and soft carpeting. I moved into that room at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. I didn’t bother to look for a job when I arrived; the medical trials were still supporting my lifestyle (the most recent one paying a very healthy five grand). The clinic I did them at was just down the road which made it convenient, especially because they had my old address and gave me excessive travel expenses every time I cycled my bike there. So when I wasn’t locked up inside some clinic testing a new drug to treat some disease, I was in that room sleeping, writing, reading, meditating, and talking to people over the internet. In the house there were four other people living there: three guys and the landlady. Oh and a couple of cats. One of the cats was very friendly and came and kept me company in my room, sitting on my bed, staring at me with a look of understanding that I never saw in the eyes of humans. We soon became good friends. Anyway, at this point the country was in a state of lockdown. No pubs or restaurants open, no gyms open, only essential shops allowed to do business. Couple this with the winter weather and short days, then it was fair to say there wasn’t a whole lot to do. I thought about my plan of action and decided the best thing a man like me could do was to move into a state of hibernation while waiting out the pandemic. This I did while spending the days shamelessly carefree, waking up late, avoiding the world, and just generally taking it as easy as possible (aside from a fitness routine I had devised which had me regularly running along the nearby river).

As time went on, I found myself entering a state of total peace and happiness, almost a nirvana-like state of being. This struck me as something quite interesting. All year I had heard about the mental health dangers of closing yourself off and not seeing anyone. Apparently these things were essential to people’s happiness, but seemingly not for mine. The more I avoided society, the happier I became. This was something I first discovered a few years back living in a small room in Brighton – a town I had moved to not knowing anyone. I had felt that peace and happiness then, but this time it was even greater, and I almost felt guilty for feeling this way. It seemed that most people were struggling during this ‘difficult time’. People were fearful, angry, frustrated, lonely, yet there I was – sitting alone on my bed with the cat, meditating my way to a mental paradise. I didn’t need anything else. Well, a bit of human interaction was still nice from time to time, and I got that from my trips to the kitchen where the landlady would be ready to chat away. Other than that I had a new friend in America, Cristina. She had popped up on my blog at the start of the year and we had become pen-pals, and now we were speaking regularly on the phone, sharing our day to day stories, which – from my end – were clearly not too interesting. But it was nice to hear about her life, and even though we had never even met, I considered her a closer friend to the majority of people I knew. 

The guy in the room next to me was also a recluse. He was around sixty and had been living in a treehouse in Mexico for the last ten years until he had to come back to the U.K (for reasons I couldn’t seem to make out). In that room he also lingered in solitude, playing his guitar, talking on the phone to some girl in Mexico who he had promised to go back and see when he could. It was funny; his situation was a lot like mine, even though he was over thirty years older. I considered if that would be me somewhere in the future. At times I did think about going and speaking to him, but ultimately the desire to be left alone was too great, and I felt that was what he wanted as well. Another man in hibernation, avoiding the world the best he could. I left him to it.

Other than him was a guy who lived in a hut at the bottom of the garden. He was also older and unemployed, although he managed to get by with his cheap rent and the occasional day of tree surgery. I only saw him in the kitchen making some healthy meal or smoothie, and the rest of the time he went and got high alone in his hut. He seemed like a nice guy, although his constant need to vent his frustration about the pandemic caused me to be cautious when speaking to him. Anything longer than a one minute conversation would inevitably end in him going on a massive lecture about the conspiracies behind the coronavirus crisis. His rantings disturbed my nirvana, so most of the time I said a quick hello before retreating to the shelter of my room.

The only employed one of the household was a twenty-six-year-old guy who worked in something related to environmental science. We shared a beer sometimes in the kitchen, and out of everyone there, he was the one I had most in common with. Unlike me though, he had a girlfriend and this kept him busy during the pandemic, along with his work which he did from his room, so naturally I didn’t see much of him. 

And then finally was the landlady herself: a retired nurse in her sixties, who loved to bake cakes and host music lessons, although naturally they had ceased due to the pandemic. She was a ‘high risk’ person for the coronavirus due to several health conditions, and this also caused her to become a recluse, although she seemed to be quite at peace with this as she baked her cakes and watched her seemingly endless list of TV series.

So there I was: in a state of hibernation with all these other people in similar states of hibernation. Four people living under one roof who rarely interacted, yet we all seemed fairly happy. Maybe this was just the new way of things. Maybe now society had simply gotten so insane that the way to human happiness was not by interacting with the world and having an active social life, but instead by claiming whatever small space you could find. Of course, this wasn’t how it was for most, but at least from what I saw in that household, it definitely was that for some, and especially for me. The weeks went on and my happiness just increased until the point where I felt the best I had ever felt. I just wanted to stay forever in this cosy space, sitting on my bed, writing random things like this story, and meditating with my cat. That cat had been living this way all its life, and I guess all cats lived that way. They were beings that knew the secret apparently. And I couldn’t help but smile as I watched him sleep in a little ball at the bottom of my bed. No stress, no problems, no drama. A world of apparent crisis and insanity lay out beyond those walls, and it seemed the best way to peace was just to avoid it. That was what I planned to do for that entire winter, and what I planned to do in some way for the rest of my life – finding my peace and happiness by claiming whatever cosy space I could.

Anyway, time to go and meditate for the third time this day.

articles

New Book: No Filter Necessary

Hello guys!

If you regularly read my blog, you will know that I normally just post my pieces of creative writing without any sort of casual ‘blogger’ chat (sorry, not sorry) – but today I thought I’d break that trend just to introduce my brand new book…. (insert drum roll)

mockup book
No Filter Necessary is my latest collection of writings, the third book in an ever-growing catalogue of work. It is a book that is made up of my stories, thoughts, notes and poems – all of which offer a revealing exploration of my own consciousness, characterised by my introspective and existential voice. People have described my work as “poetic”, ”raw and honest’, and that it shows the world through the eyes of the soul-searching outsider. No topic is off-limits (sorry Mom and Dad) and I write about cheery things like depression and social alienation; about alcoholism and failed romances; about being off the rails as my world falls completely apart around me.

This first-person, autobiographical style of writing is something I’ve been exploring and evolving for the last three years now since I properly started my writing journey. That journey began with me walking away from a creative writing master’s course at university back in 2017. I knew from the very first class that my path was not on the course, and just a few weeks after starting, I quit and booked a ticket to Mexico to carry on travelling the world and following heart through life’s bewitching wilderness.

When I returned from that trip, I started a blog called ‘The Thoughts from the Wild‘. The concept of this blog was to post pictures of people hiking in nature with some sort of internal dialogue about life or society. This concept allowed me to finally find and develop my writing voice – one that I have continually been evolving through the completion of my first book The Thoughts from the Wild, my follow up book Scraps of Madness: The Notes of a Wanderer, and now my new book – No Filter Necessary. 

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It’s been a journey of constant experimentation to work out what exactly it is I am trying to do with this artform, but I feel that this piece of work is the most fully realised version of the vision I have been pursuing for a few years now. While I am happy to a degree with my first two books, I feel they were full of teething problems that I have sorted out to complete my most accomplished piece of work yet (of course, I would say that – but it’s genuinely how I feel!) If you wish to purchase it, please find the UK version here, and the US version here. For anyone else in a different country, please just search the title name in the book section and it should appear near the top of the results.

Thanks for reading, and I will leave you to the opening section of the book. Otherwise, stay tuned for more introspective, autobiographical madness in the near future. Ryan 🙂

No Filter Necessary

“Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with their own blood.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

No Filter Necessary: a brief note

“But why can’t you just speak up about how you feel? Why can’t you just say what’s on your mind? You don’t always have to keep it locked up inside your own head. Please – just share something with me….”

It was in a hostel in Vietnam where I heard those words. I had just spent the last week travelling around the north of the country with a Danish girl. Naturally we had bonded over that time and formed a close connection. One night we were sat in the courtyard drinking beer and smoking cigarettes when she started to tell me about her troubled past; about her eating disorders, her mental health problems, and the childhood beatings from her father. I sat there nodding my head and listening in, just as I had done so many times before with others. Often while travelling I had found myself in the situation of being someone’s momentary therapist. On mountains paths, sunset shorelines and in smoky bars, I had stared into the eyes of others and listened to them share their secrets. Tales of pain and desperation. Tales of trauma and heartbreak. The suicides of friends. The divorces of lovers. The abuses of childhood. The emptiness of unlived lives. So many people had opened up and allowed me to go beyond the surface level of their character. But as she started asking me about my own issues, it suddenly hit me that I was always the one listening in, but never the one sharing any issues of my own. I stalled and puffed on my cigarette, trying to stop my mouth from spewing its mess and madness upon her. “Just open up and say,” she said, spotting my stalling. “You’ll feel better from it, I promise….”. An awkward silence ensued until I eventually mumbled a few vague things about past battles with depression and a general feeling of being lost in the world. She nodded and congratulated me on opening up, but we both knew I was holding back – that I was alone with my thoughts as I had always been. An atmosphere hung in the air until we eventually moved on from the conversation as we went to bed and sank into the silence of the night.

That moment in Vietnam stuck with me and over time I came to think about why it was so hard for me to share what was on my mind. I guess I was never too good at speaking up about how I felt. Staring into the eyes of my fellow humans, I often thought they would throw me into the nearest mental asylum if they were to see the contents of my head. It was something I had felt from a young age. All throughout my childhood, I spent my time daydreaming and getting lost down the rabbit-holes of my own mind. I lived inside a world of my own making, while sending out this surface-level character that would go out and interact with the regular world. A mask was on; a filter hiding my true colours. As I got older there were times when things started to get stormy beneath the surface. There were times when I felt hopelessness in my heart; when I felt the demons encircle me in the darkness. No matter how bad things got, I never sought to let my thoughts see the light of day because, as I said, I thought they would just be dismissed as nonsense by other people. And besides, even if I wanted to talk about how I felt, I just couldn’t seem to find the words. It was like there was an ocean of thoughts inside my head, and speaking was like trying to get them out through a bathroom tap. So on I went wandering through life, lingering in that solitary world inside my head, often drowning in my own thoughts and feelings.

One day I was sitting on my bed when, struck by a moment of sudden inspiration, I went online and created a blog. It was a blog inspired by a YouTube channel which played ambient music alongside pictures of people hiking in nature. Often I listened to that music and stared at those pictures, wondering what those people were thinking while in such beautiful surroundings. Getting into the heads of those people, I began to upload the photos onto my blog alongside some sort of introspective dialogue about life or society. The blog was called ‘The Thoughts from The Wild’ and it soon started to grow as people resonated with the things I was writing. I wrote about social isolation. I wrote about wanting to live true to yourself. I wrote about pain and love and hopes and dreams. After a while, I realised that the words I was sharing were the things I had always wanted to share with the world. By stepping into the heads of other characters and expressing myself through a pseudonym, I had seemingly found a way to drain that ocean of thoughts inside my head. The blog continued to grow as tsunamis of truth poured out of me. My heart became less heavy. My true colours could be seen. And I felt good. 

Over the next years, I grew more and more connected to the process of writing. I was still not totally able to express myself face to face with another person, but I was able to get down my thoughts truthfully onto paper. Through the art form of writing, I was able to finally show people that solitary world inside my head. This book is the latest journey into that world. It is a collection of thoughts, notes, short stories, and poems – all inspired from a life of what would typically be called that of ‘the outsider’. The writings reflect a period of life in my twenties that was marked with excessive physical and mental wandering. In it lie the truths of my journey. The pain and the ecstasy. The joy and the despair. The light and the darkness. In it lie the things I couldn’t say to that girl that night in Vietnam. It hasn’t been easy for me to write some of these things, and I still feel strange about sharing my deepest secrets, but I hope sharing the contents of my own mind can inspire others to do the same. Because right now in this world so many people are wearing masks and letting their true colours be filtered out. We are characters on the stage of society, and I believe many are going insane because of it. But what if we could all throw away the mask for a short while? What if we could open up and share the secrets of our hearts? Just imagine how different the world could be if we all found a way to let the filter fade and our souls show…eye

~ A Piece of Me ~

They say broken hearts can’t be healed, and it’s true. They can be pieced back together, but always they will show their scars. Those scars tell my story and it is one of pain and madness. I have stood in rooms of darkness staring into nothingness. I have crawled through swamps and sewers of desperation. I have screamed out alone in the torture chambers of my mind. My soul has been ravaged by a world in which I didn’t belong. Into those morning mirrors I stared, seeing the latest damage being seared into my soul. Often, I couldn’t help but look at that reflection and wonder what would be left of me? When the years had run their course. What would be left of me? When the storms had rained their rain. What would be left of me? When the demons had had their way with me one more time. I didn’t expect there to be much. The storms would continue and this heart of mine would continue to bleed out over the years. Still, sometimes I collected that blood and poured it into a poem or story. It gave me relief and some people out there even seemed to like it. This was our nature. We were all parasites of each other’s pain. The blood and guts of others give us the fuel we need to continue on. It is our nature to feast off the scraps of another’s soul. I hope this piece of mine gives something to you.

~ Beaten ~

Eyes full of sickness and sadness, I stared at the dancefloor with a feeling of resentment. There they all were: those happy people with their happy faces. They moved effortlessly across the floor like they moved effortlessly through life. No doubt they all lived sane and orderly lives of structure and stability. They didn’t know my pain, my madness. They didn’t know what it was like to linger always on the sidelines and stare on in. I stood there doing exactly that, leaning on the bar while watching them as they moved and grooved. I downed a double whiskey coke while continuing my distanced observation. I drank another one then realised my friend had left with a girl. I looked around for any possible chance with a female before conceding defeat and heading for the door.

Exiting the bar and stumbling out onto the street, my eyes beheld a jungle of kebab shops and neon lights leading me through the city centre. I watched as drunken revellers shouted, scoffed food, and clambered into taxis. The human race was a wild species that had been tamed by its own creation of civilisation, but there was still a certain level of anarchy we allowed to unfold. This was best witnessed at 3am on highstreets full of broken bottles and broken minds; on highstreets where couples stood screaming at each other; on highstreets bearing piles of puke that were symbolic of the inner sickness of our society. The sight of it all made me sad and it was at this point I remembered it was my first time in Sheffield and that I was supposed to be staying with my mate who had just disappeared. I had no battery on my phone to contact him and suddenly found myself in the situation of having nowhere to sleep. Not an ideal situation, admittedly, but by that point I was too drunk to care.

Lost in the blur, I carried on staggering down the sidewalk until three men started speaking to me. I must have said or done something slightly disagreeable because the next thing I know I was getting the shit kicked out of me on the floor. Kicks and punches rained down upon me. My body ground against the pavement. Venomous words of hate filled my ears. The beating continued for a good thirty seconds until the blurry figures ran off down the street and disappeared out of sight. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. Blood dripped from above my left eye as my ribs ached and hip throbbed with a friction burn from the concrete. I knew immediately that my body was going to have more scars – more symbols of defeat etched permanently into my skin and flesh.

Still not knowing what to do or where to go, I wandered aimlessly around the early morning city streets while looking like someone from a horror movie. Eventually a policewoman picked me up after some bystander spotted me in my gory state. I told her what had happened as she drove me around town in her car. I guess I was expecting to get taken to a hospital, or perhaps to the police station to file a report, but in the end she just cleared up my wound and dropped me outside a closed train station. I got out of the car and stood there alone in the cold winter night wearing just a t-shirt. Cuts to the public services in Britain had resulted in this; underfunded and overstretched, they looked for any way to avoid you utilising them. Consequently I stood there shivering and staring into the empty station, waiting for the damn thing to open. My ticket wasn’t until noon, but I decided that I was just going to board any train I could. If only there was a train off this planet, I pondered.

Finally the station opened and I went inside and sat down on a bench in the corner. Back on the sidelines again, I resumed my distanced observation of the human race. I watched the smartly-dressed business people get ready for another day at work; I watched the mothers quickly glance at me and look away in horror; I watched the little kids snicker and gossip about the wounds on my face. Those looks followed me onto the train where I tried to sleep but was woken up by a ticket inspector who told me my ticket was invalid for the current service I was on. I got out my card and paid for a new one as the conductor kept his distance. Thirty minutes later, I arrived in Derby where I was meant to switch trains to Nottingham. Looking at the board, I could see it would be a fifty-minute wait in the cold until I could catch the connecting train. Suddenly it was all too much and I left the station and paid for a £30 taxi back home.

I think it was about three o’clock in the afternoon when I awoke finally sober. Being too tired to clean myself first, I had collapsed onto the bed and left bloodstains all over the sheets. I grabbed them and threw them in the laundry. I then went into the bathroom and stared at my beaten face in the mirror. Back in a normal state of mind, I could finally see the severity of the beating I took. There were deep cuts, bruising and bumps around the left eye, as well as a few scratches on the right. It was a sorry sight to behold and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be going on a date with a girl later that evening. Maybe it could be rearranged, I thought. I then spoke to a friend on the phone who convinced me to head to the hospital to check for a concussion. I walked there for an hour as people continued to look at me like some sort of circus freak. Reaching the hospital, I stood and looked up at that grey building with its rows and rows of windows – windows in which the dying lay dying; windows in which those old hearts beat their last beats, those lungs gasped their last breaths, and those eyes soaked in their last bit of light. I guess that’s where we all end up, maybe with a few relatives and flowers beside us if we are lucky. I headed in where the doctor inspected me and told me that I didn’t have a concussion but that I needed to be careful. I then asked if there was anything I could do to stop the inevitable scarring around my eye. No solid advice was given.

All things considered, I sat back and knew it had truly been a night of disaster. Perhaps the most disastrous of any night out I had been on, and there had been a few dramas along the way. I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, but apparently the gods had a few more tricks up their sleeves. When I returned home, I checked my jean pockets and realised I had lost my passport at some point during the night. I also remembered that I was supposed to be starting a new job in a few days, and that I would have to turn up on my first day with my face looking like I had just ten rounds with Mike Tyson. That’s not to mention what the girl would think of me when I showed up to the date. It was a sorry state of affairs and, all of a sudden, a strange feeling fell over me. I touched the wounds on my face and felt like crying. It was the realisation of the horror and futility of it all. The world was relentless pain and agony, and no matter how good things got, you were always just a short way away from being stamped down by the boots and fists of life. I was only one week into the new year and already it was looking to be another one of misery and destruction. The gory reflection in the mirror said it all. I was a beaten soul, scratched and scarred and stained with a dirt of which I’d never be clean. It was a sight I had beheld many times in my life – physical and mental wounds that gathered over the years; wounds that told the story of my turbulent path through life that seemed to only get worse and worse.

I continued wallowing in my self-pity until something strange suddenly happened. Out of nowhere, I burst out laughing. I stared into the mirror and laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt. I then walked back into my bedroom and laughed some more. I even did a little dance in front of my wardrobe mirror while marvelling at the absurdity of my appearance. The misery subsided and out of nowhere I felt a strange determination within me. It was something that always appeared in moments when I was stuck in the swamp of despair. The more this world tried to stamp me down, the more I just wanted to rise up against it and bare its blows. No doubt I was still just in shock, or on the way to losing my mind totally, but I looked at my reflection and told myself I was going to make sure my life would be lived before death had its dirty way with me. With that thought in mind, I showered, put some cream on my wounds, drank a beer and got dressed for my date.

It was going to be another magical evening.

~ “You’re a Dreamer” ~

“You’re a dreamer,” she said to me.

“Yeah, and what’s wrong with that?” I replied.

“Nothing I guess. It’s good to dream. But you need to be realistic too.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well,” she started. “You want to not be shaped by the system, to live your own life and do what you love – I understand that and commend you for it – but you gotta keep one foot in the game, you know? You need a reliable way to make money, and some basic security. I’ve seen people end up in serious trouble when they just march against the system not giving a fuck.”

“Really? Like who?” I asked.

“There was this one guy I once knew who had a bit of a crisis and quit his insurance job to pursue his passion for film-making. He lived off his savings and devoted most of his time to directing short films, hoping to break into the industry. Within a year he was jaded and depressed and trying to get his old job back, but unable to. He couldn’t keep up his expenses and had to move back with his parents. The recession then hit and he figured out he didn’t actually have what it took to live on the breadline while chasing a dream. Most people need that safety net. Perhaps you should find a way to have a stable career and do your writing in your spare time.” I paused and thought about it.

“Well, I’m not like most people,” I said finally. “I’m willing to live on the edge to do what I love and chase my dream. And besides, I have no idea what else I can do anyway. If I end up in the gutter, then so be it; at least I gave it a try.”

“You say that now when you’re young and full of angst, but seriously you may start to crave a bit more stability. Things about the system you thought were traps, you may start to look at them with desire. You’ll see the value of routine and being able to plan your weeks and months. You’ll want to not worry about where the rent money is going to come from. I’m not saying you should give up your dream to be a writer – I hope you live a life doing what you love, as we all desire to deep down – but just be aware not to be too gung-ho and burn all your bridges. Think about finding the middle ground. I think that’s the best way.”

“Yeah, yeah…” I stalled. I was starting to feel a bit awkward and lectured. Still, it certainly was one of the more interesting conversations I’d had on a first date. “I’ll think about it. But whatever happens, I’ll always be that wide-eyed dreamer running toward what I love. Maybe there is a balance, but you gotta make sure that chasing that balance didn’t mean you essentially trade your dreams for comfortable mediocrity. I see that a lot; people giving up on themselves and justifying it by calling in ‘growing up’ or something like that. Ultimately the people who achieved something special were those who had the guts to go all the way on the pursuit of their passions. Yes, that pursuit can take us to the edge, but some of us are born to live on the edge. It’s that edge which sharpens our steel; which puts force behind our fingertips. It’s that edge where our greatest work is done.”

At this point I could feel the eyes of the surrounding people in the bar on me. She sat across the table and also stared at me, undoubtedly deciding there and then that things weren’t going to go any further than a first date. It didn’t need to be spoken at that point and I was okay with it; the thoughts she shared showed we weren’t compatible on that front. They were also thoughts similar to those of my sister. My sister was a bit like me – critical of the system and a bit ‘alternative’ in many people’s view, although even she had eventually decided to pursue a career and embrace the idea of a conventional life. She rolled her eyes and looked at me with a ‘come on’ look every time I started talking about how I was going to work odd jobs and do medical trials to fund my lifestyle. “You need to find the middle way,” she also said. Suggestions came of finding a trade, a stable job, or going back to school – all of those things that seemed to identify you as someone who ‘had their shit together’. The same suggestions came from peers, from parents, and from teachers. I guess people were concerned by my irregular behaviour, and felt the need to share what I deemed the common sense of the average civilised person – the same common sense that caused them to stare at me like a deranged madman when I told them my life plans.

It’s that balance you need, as people kept saying to me. To me, seeing how far you were willing to go on the pursuit of your dream was like a test of courage and resolve; and indeed, it seemed to me that the greatest treasures were found by those who went all the way. I thought about the great artists who had lingered on the edge before creating their masterpieces. I imagined a teenage Bob Dylan packing his bags and hitch-hiking to New York to perform in small cafes. I imagined Jack Kerouac drifting around the United States with barely a dollar to his name. Bukowski starving in small rooms alone. Orwell working as a dishwasher in Paris. Of course, these were the ones you knew about because they had eventually achieved success after living on the edge. For every great success, there were countless failures you never heard of. Or, as another dreamer put it: “For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.” (Hunter S Thompson)

It did, of course, occur to me that I was most likely to be one of those trampled souls in the dirt, my dreams dying in a ditch as the sun set on my unsuccessful quest of being a writer. But still, the idea of that was still more appealing than passively drifting through life without any fire in the heart. Even if you failed, you would at least know what it was like to live with a genuine passion for life in your veins. When I walked the street and stared at the faces and listened to the conversations, I felt sure that there weren’t many out there who had that same passion within them. Yes, many of them had the stability and the security. They had the car on the forecourt and the rug on the living room floor. The fireplaces were all lit and the fridges all full; but just how full was the soul? How much fire was in their hearts? How many were truly excited about what they were doing with their life? Personally I felt that many people out there lived in a state of quiet desperation in which they grew old in lives that saw them staring at strangers in the mirror; and indeed there were maybe only a few souls out there who had that magic spark in their eye. That was the spark of the dreamer – the free-spirited warrior who didn’t compromise or filter down their heart’s desires for the sake of ‘fitting in’ or ‘getting real’ or ‘growing up’.

And yes, maybe it’s just me being a romantic idealist, but I believe the world needs those dreamers. Those runaway spirits; those renegade souls; those rebel writers. In fact, I believe the world needs them now more than ever, and I was proud to be one of them – or to at least be considered one of them, as the girl on the date did, as my sister did, and many others did. I think that some of them were even envious that they didn’t have it in them to hurl themselves towards what their souls desired deepest. For me, it was the following of that desire that took me first toward travelling – hopping on that one-way flight to South America after graduating from university. Within that came the mountain climbing, the hiking, the long-distance cycling, and finally, the writing and general avoidance of anything that did not truly fulfil me. All of these things were things my soul screamed out for, and answering that call gave me a fulfillment that nothing else could. Yes, I didn’t have much physically to show for it: but if I were to lay down my head and bid my life goodbye, I would not have left this world without too many regrets. And isn’t that what a good life was? To know you lived it completely and authentically and passionately? To know you made the most of your one fleeting existence here on this planet?

That girl on the date, we didn’t see each other again, but that way okay. Some people are not made for our paths, but she did make me think – I’ll give her that. I know that my mind is a little more manic than most. Perhaps the degree in which I live isn’t for anyone, but it is for me. If one day you find me face down in a ditch – my cold dead hands clutching the manuscript of my unpublished novel – know that my life was one in which I actually felt a fundamental connection to what I was doing when I woke up in the morning. I was there in those moments, not someone merely existing like many out there dwelling in dusty offices of the mind and soul, but someone alive and awake to the world around them. Someone discovering a joy that cannot be bought or sold or manufactured. A joy that comes from living from the core of your being. A joy that comes from answering your soul’s call. A joy that comes from running wide-eyed into life’s wilderness, pursuing your treasure, and not allowing anyone else to shoot you down for daring to dream and chase that dream and live that dream.

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short stories · thoughts

~ Not A Man ~

man-studio-portrait-light-90764

The tears streamed down my face. I had just said goodbye to a friend I had made travelling and I walked back home through the busy city centre, trying to hide my feelings from people passing me on the street. Overwhelmed by my emotions, I wiped my eyes clean and once again felt ashamed of my sensitivity and sentimentality.

The shame for this side of myself came from the thought that this was not how I should have been. The advertisements and the movies said it all. To be a man in this world was to be something that I was not. I was not assertive, strong, or confident. I did not command authority or respect. I did not care much for football or cars or status. Instead, I was a meek daydreamer who cared for poetry and romance. I was someone who got affected by the little things: old men sitting in cafes alone, sad faces of strangers on the street, wilting flowers left on the side of the road. On top of this, I had social anxiety and, at times, depression. In desperation I tried to hide this side of my personality, but it always eventually came through whenever I was around people for a certain amount of time. There was just no way around it. I was a highly-sensitive person, and trying to hold in the emotions that were constantly flooding my heart was an exhausting task that left me even more overwhelmed than I already was.

The masculinity problems continued when it came to the world of employment. Making money and having a career was one of the key requirements of being a male, but it seemed I had absolutely no skills that could do so. I had no dexterity for any of the trades. I was too virtuous to play the game of the corporate world. I just about had no practical or pragmatic skills; couple this with a habit to daydream which made it almost impossible to focus on simple things, then it was sure that I was to be scraping by whatever way I could. I did have the gift of creativity, but as we all knew that being able to write a nice poem or story didn’t get you very far in this world – the classic image of the tortured artist washing dishes while working on their art being annoyingly applicable. All in all, I was a complete disaster – the sort of thing most fathers secretly hoped their sons wouldn’t grow up to be. A sensitive, deep-thinking male. An idealist not a pragmatist. A dreamer not a logician. A feeler not a thinker. 

Naturally this way of being was bad when it came to girls. Girls typically looked for strapping, butch, confident guys – guys who were able to be self-assured and take the lead and do all the things that I could not. The funny thing was I was blessed with good looks which lured girls in, but once they saw what was under the surface, they sprinted for the hills like scared deer. The circumstance of being tall, dark and handsome didn’t mean much when they saw how anxious and unsure of yourself you were. I recalled things girls had said to me. “You look good but you need to own it.” “You annoy me; why can’t you just be normal?” It was a recurring conversation and, after a while of continual rejection, I began to look in the mirror and see that ugliness start to manifest itself in my reflection.

Things didn’t get much better with the world of males. The camaraderie of ‘lad culture’ was always something I felt out of place with. I was able to be part of the group sometimes, but I could see that they sensed I was not one of them – little awkward moments in group conversation and my general strange demeanour giving my cover away. The frustrating thing was I knew there were other men like me out there. In fact, I believed that a large portion of men simply ignored their emotions because they erroneously believed they were unnatural. No doubt, this caused long-lasting internal damage. Toxic masculinity was a silent disease in our society that was making men feel ashamed to have feelings and be sensitive. The fact that two-thirds of suicides were from men was not surprising when you thought about it. Men had been taught to hide their emotions from the school playground to the dating scene to the world of employment. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and a man needed to be strong and ruthless to be a success in it. So there was simply nothing to do but to ‘man up’ and suffer in silence – something I had gotten to know all too well over the years.

Being drunk was sometimes a good way to coat my failures as a man. When I poured that liquor down my throat, I was able to numb my feelings and switch to this extroverted version of myself. My shyness and emotions were suppressed, and I felt a deluded sense of confidence. It only lasted for a while, of course, but it was good enough to fool people around me. One night stands were possible and – perhaps out of my own insecurity – I used my drunken alter ego to sleep around as often as I could. The success of hiding my true self with the use of alcohol reminded me of the words of my favourite poems:

“there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.”

Sometimes as an experiment, I let that bluebird out and revealed my sensitive side to the crowd. I spoke from my heart and shared my deepest emotions about life. As I did, I could feel the discomfort of some guys around me, but I could also feel like others felt it was a fresh breath of air for a guy not to give a fuck about masculine etiquette. Sometimes I even got brave enough to share my writing and poetry with those people. Some seemed to like it and even respect me, although many of them simply put me at distance after I did. I understood that, of course. 

All in all, it’s a strange situation and I don’t know exactly what my plan is to survive in this world as the man that I am. Perhaps one day the views of masculinity will change, but I feel that it’s unlikely in my lifetime. Despite what we like to think, we are all still just instinctive animals at our core, and I guess it does make sense why men are supposed to be strong and butch and assertive and confident. Maybe my role wasn’t to be that striding alpha male, but to be some other thing serving a purpose I have not yet come to realise. For now, I guess I will go suppressing that bluebird and trying to hide my sensitive side, only to let it out when I’m sitting alone at this keyboard away from the piercing eyes of this dog-eat-dog world.

short stories

~ The Great Escape ~

alcohol

~ The Great Escape ~

I put the bottle to my lips and poured the beer down my throat. It was a transaction I had gotten to know increasingly well throughout my adult life. I remember a time when I was a teenager, telling my parents that I was never going to drink – that I was strong enough not to need a form of escapism from the everyday reality of life. That conviction lasted till I was about seventeen when I started drinking regularly. I remember the joy of my first nights out: escaping the tyranny of the sober mind; the blurry world around me, drifting through nightclub dancefloors, kissing strangers, waking up the next day with memory loss and reading the text messages in my inbox with a sense of horror. The only cure for it was to go and hit the bottle once again, re-entering that warped reality where a person felt invincible, riding that intoxicated delusion and forgetting that tomorrow existed all over again.

Like any young person, I grew curious of the hedonistic lifestyle and eventually tried drugs too. From marijuana to cocaine to ecstasy, I explored the other states of consciousness available to me through the power of recreational substances. But I always returned to alcohol knowing it was a sustainable lover – one that was sure to take me to that place I knew well, like a cosy second home that existed in the corners of my mind. One that guaranteed me good times at the bottom of a bottle. One that wouldn’t kill me, but occasionally put me in that hungover hell where the thought of going out and facing the world made me pull the covers back over my head. 

Now don’t get me wrong. There is a great joy to be found in clean living. I often have some time off and enjoy a period of sobriety. Living healthily, exercising, meditating, taking care of your mind, body and soul is a beautiful and noble way of life. The colours of the world around you are more vivid and you can feel the whole cosmos pulsating through your veins. But after doing that for a while, I always find myself itching once again to hurl myself back into an altered state of consciousness. And I ask myself: why is it like this? Why is life a thing where not just me, but the majority of us are constantly looking for a way to distort our reality? Perhaps our brains were never to be this developed, and alcohol is the way to numb them so that our anxiety and stresses fade away. I know that was certainly an attraction to me; letting myself be coated by an emotional fleece that kept the hounds of overthinking at bay.

Those hounds seemed to have a taste for my mind and this perhaps explained why I drank more than the average person. As the years went on, I looked at my behaviour and started to realise I was more dependent on drinking than most of my peers – never knowing when to stop or slow down, always ordering a double rather than a single, sneaking out a hip-flask from time to time. I looked at my heroes and realised they were all alcoholics who either drank themselves to death, or went very close to it. I also knew there was a past of alcoholism in my family, including my uncle who had recently died from the condition. Indeed, there was a great risk of me becoming enslaved to the bottle, and every time I touched that poison, I knew I was playing with fire. Yet, there were times when I lingered on the verge of alcoholism – times when my eyes were bloodshot and my hands were shaking; times when my nervous system was in bits as the paranoia and anxiety crippled me and left me bedbound. Still I kept on drinking. Even when I was blowing all my money and screwing up my life; even when I looked in the mirror and hated who I was the next day; even when I woke up in a bed with a stranger whose name I couldn’t remember – I kept on drinking.

I drank in the pubs of England. I drank on the beaches of Brazil. I drank in the mountains of Nepal. I drank just about wherever the hell I was, and it took me to some strange situations that made me question whether it was all really worth it. One time in Australia I ended up in a jail cell for drunkenly stumbling into the apartment that was adjacent to the hostel I was staying at. The people living there found me on the sofa and promptly called the police who came and arrested me on break-in charges. Such a situation left me hitch-hiking to a court-hearing about twenty miles outside of town only to be laughed out the courtroom with a warning. Another time I found myself waking up on a ping pong table in a Ghanaian primary school while covered in mosquito and sandfly bites. Then there were the periods where I just drank heavily for weeks on end – living in a house of twenty people in a party town in New Zealand; staying with a local family in Rio de Janeiro while me and their daughter drink-drove to street parties most nights. Dodges with death and disaster were naturally common, including when the girl fell asleep at the wheel and we skidded into a ditch, or when I fell off the second story balcony of an apartment block.

Despite all the troubles I caused myself, I could feel the addiction to alcohol growing all the time. The idea of me being a teenager and telling my parents that I wasn’t going to drink seemed almost laughable by the time I was twenty-five. Clearly I was naive to just how much the world could wear down a person and, specifically, how much it would wear me down. To me pouring alcohol down your throat was a ticket out of dodge. It was the great escape. The great escape away from my sensitive and meek personality. The great escape from the tyranny of my overactive mind. When I drank, my worries disappeared and I no longer felt like a person constrained by my shyness and emotions. I was able to create an alter ego and go talk to beautiful girls. I was able to forget about my problems and indulge in a world of revelry and delight. I felt that this was what everyone was looking for: a holiday away from themselves – a ‘getaway’ to another person or dimension. And even if you were left feeling death the next day, it was still worth it just for that feeling of escaping into a hazy and warm state where all your troubles temporarily faded away.

It took a lot for me to want to never drink again, but as the years and the drinking sessions and the horrific hangovers went on, there were times where I really wanted to put down the bottle for good. I knew I wasn’t alone with this feeling. My friend James also spoke about giving up the poison. I remembered his eyes from when I first met him – he had that madman glare in his eyes; a window into the mind of a man who had just about poured every substance into it. He was one who knew pushing it too far – often destroying himself and missing work in sessions of debauchery and self-destruction. Such excess led him to periods where he vowed to abandon the bottle and start a life of cycling and yoga and living in peace. Then there was my friend Daniela who regularly went on benders that sent her into pits of existential dread and depression the next day. She would message me the next day in some sort of crisis of self-hatred and anxiety. She also vowed every now and again to give it up, before going on another bender just a week or two later. All of these dramas along with my own did make me question whether it was all worth it, and I started to imagine a trouble-free life with all the extra money and health benefits. I imagined walking through the woods with all my senses heightened from the years of clean living. I imagined myself being strong enough to not need a way to constantly distort my reality. 

It’s a tempting idea, but I fear that such a fate is unreachable, and I am just another human too conscious of his own reality and stuck with this brain inside of me – pouring alcohol onto it just to get it to calm down and enjoy itself every now again. This is the way of so many of us. We are all just addicts, users, escapists, fiends. None of us want to wake up with sober eyes and face the harsh daylight of this reality we call life. A man or woman has to find whatever escape they could. Some choose religion. Some choose to read fantasy novels. Some choose to chase love and money and the other grand illusions that have entertained for people for millennia. And most, at least in my society, choose drugs or alcohol. Maybe one day I will actually find the strength to stand sober and abandon the booze for good. No longer will I need to escape to another person or dimension. But until then, it’s back to the bottle and the revelry and the drunken delusions. It’s back to drowning my emotions in an ocean of booze. Like a true escapist, doing anything I can not to stand sober and face the daylight of this painful reality. 

thoughts

~ 2am Thought ~

“And still I can’t help but let myself wonder about us. What our lives would have been like; what our mornings would have looked like as the sun came over that horizon once again. How we would have lay under those sheets and stared into each other’s eyes. How we would have walked through those parks knowing our lives were bound together on a shared path. It is true that lost love can bring any man to his knees; with a great weight in his heart, he staggers on alone knowing that it could have been so different. And just like so many people out there, the love-starved and the broken-hearted, his path leaves him haunted by many thoughts and questions. I am still not sure whether love is essential for life; indeed it is the great illusion that we all chase after, but I do know that most people have had it reciprocated in some way by the time their hairs start to grey and skin starts to wrinkle. Now I stare into that mirror, going into old age without ever having been the object of another’s affection. Indeed, maybe I wasn’t born for it. The world needs people like me, I guess. I am ‘the friend’. The ‘interesting one’. ‘The comedian’. I seem to cheer those around me up, and indeed people do enjoy my company, but it never goes beyond that. I see them stare into my eyes and dismiss me as a being not worthy of their affection. And in a way, I no longer dispute it. I understand why they see me as they do. There is something inside of me that will now allow me to be like everyone else. And now I know that love is not going to be given to me by others, I sit in silent rooms and know it is only with self-love that I can survive this life. Flames of romantic love flicker and fade out, but self-love is the eternal bonfire from which I warm my soul. I’m burning up in my own company; blazing up with my own words. And long may I be consumed in these flames.”

short stories

~ In Between Places ~

~ In Between Places ~

Living in a hostel in my own country, I had become one of those strange ones who was a drifter in their own ‘home’. There was no way around it when people asked what I was doing; I was without a job, without a place to stay, without a woman, a car, and any real sort of life plan. I was floating in the existential breeze, a modern-day drifter, and no matter how clean my clothes were, people still stared at me like I was a bum when they found out my circumstance. I guess in reality that was the truth these days. After all, I had just spent the last couple of weeks drifting around the country on a bicycle – my few belongings crammed into a couple of flimsy pannier bags while staying in random hostels along the way. On top of that, I had quit two jobs and lived in three cities within the space of nine months. I was out living on the edge and it was a strange feeling because, although I had a decent amount of savings in my bank account, I still felt as though I wasn’t far from being completely in the gutter altogether. I guess that was just the anxiety speaking.

The time spent doing nothing allowed me to reflect a lot on what the next chapter of my life would entail. It seemed the coronavirus crisis had put an end to any international backpacking desires – that world was at least a year away from recovering to its former self. The best thing I decided for me was to get my own place and wait it all out, try and get some words down on paper and some miles down on the bike to maintain whatever sanity I had left. I began searching for a place and quickly found out I was no longer worthy to pay overpriced rent to landlords. Most house shares and apartments demanded ‘PROFESSIONALS ONLY’, as well as proof of income, three month’s bank statements and references – none of which I was duly able to provide. I quickly realised that, even with those savings in my account, I was not able to integrate myself so smoothly into human society. So in that hostel I dwelled, perpetually extending my stay every couple of days, telling people I was looking for a place and was just there temporarily whenever they enquired about my living circumstances. 

It seemed I wasn’t alone in being in between places. Another woman in her fifties was staying at the hostel in the week while working as a nurse, before going back to stay at her mum’s on the weekend. Then there was the Brazilian guy working there after leaving his family behind in Brazil. Then there were the people from the council who were put there temporarily while searching for housing. That’s not to forget the Chinese girl waiting to see if her visa was granted so she could stay in the country. All in all, it was a random collection of vagrant characters, and it made me feel slightly at home to be around people whose days and weeks were not scheduled or planned to any civilised degree. At night, we sat in the kitchen and chatted away while the world of society went on outside. The hostel was on top of a hill and I stared out the window and saw the lights of the city shimmer below: settled people in their settled lives, going through the roundabout of their routine existence’. Did I want to be like them? At the moment, for the first time in my life, I felt like I did, but I knew I’d also be feeling lost after a couple of weeks in that life too. No doubt the problem wasn’t my circumstance, but myself (as usual).

My days continued to meander on in the city of Sheffield. I took myself out hiking and cycling in the peak district. I saw some friends and drank some beer. I soon got to the point where I had no motivation to even look for a place to stay and entered into some sort of passive, detached state. I sat in parks and stared into space for hours. I aimlessly drifted down the city streets, deciding at the last second where to turn. One day that random route took me into a rundown bar in a rough neighbourhood. I sat down beside the bar and drank a beer when a guy I had met on a medical trial the year before walked in. We started catching up and I soon realised my situation wasn’t so bad. He confessed to me his drinking and gambling problems, and the fact he had spent a grand in the last five days, as well as his frequent visits to the local brothel. Maybe I had no direction, but at least I wasn’t that low, although the bottle was tempting me more and more. I tried to stay away from drinking heavily to help keep my mind clear, but pretty soon I was back at it with people in the hostel, stumbling to the pub with my comrades of the rootless life. I guess there was no way around it. I needed it there and then to help alleviate the anxiety of my situation.

I continued to look at the options I had and felt no desire toward any of them. A couple of years ago, I would have got on a plane to anywhere that I could afford. But now, something in me had seemingly changed. I was in between places physically and mentally. There was no clear thought process; everything was hazy and it was like reaching the peak of my entire existential journey through life. I was drifting in a smoky mist, expecting to see the sight of a lighthouse somewhere in the distance to help direct me towards the shores of belonging. But the reality was that the shoreline was never going to come. I was a lost sailor out on the ocean of human existence, and for now the fog was thicker than ever – my mind in a state of frozen helplessness. I think many people experience this in their lives at some point, but for me this seemed to be my eternal state. The state of being in between places. The state of feeling lost. The state of total non-belonging to the world around me.

Some more days drifted by and I eventually managed to get some viewings for places to live. I had decided Sheffield wasn’t the city for me and that it would be better to retreat back to Nottingham – the city I had lived in previously before the coronavirus had forced me to move back with my parents. I arrived at the viewing and was shown around the property by the landlady. It was an old Victorian house on a quiet street, occupied with two other tenants – a Spanish bartender and an old sound engineer who lived in a hut at the bottom of the garden. After introducing me to them, she showed me up to my room in the attic conversion. “The previous tenant was a woman who lived here for eleven years,” she said as we entered. “She was an alcoholic and didn’t look after the room too well, so I’ve cleaned it all out and redone it completely.” At that moment I looked around the room and imagined that woman being myself; someone who had stumbled in there one day while unsure what to do with her life, and had ended up dwelling there for over a decade while enslaved to the bottle. It was a grim thought and I looked at the bed in the corner. I looked at the old desk beside the window. The sight of it all made me feel uneasy. There was an aura of sadness and I imagined my months and years passing by between the walls of that small room. I imagined lying on the bed and staring at the ceiling as the fire inside me finally died out. I wanted to run far away from it, but there was nowhere to run to anymore. It was either this, or back to the hostel, or back home to live with my parents. Seemingly, I had been cornered by life.

After the viewing, I went to a park I knew and lay there in the grass. It was a hot September day and the park was full of groups of people, all relaxing and laughing; drinking and playing sports together. It was the same park I had visited frequently the last time I lived there. I walked through it and sat down in my usual spot – a patch of grass beside a tree on the back of the field. Deja vu struck as I beheld that familiar sight, and it seemed I had gotten absolutely nowhere since the last time I sat there. In fact, I had even gone backwards. I had even less direction than usual and I didn’t know whether to take the room. I didn’t know whether to book a flight to some far-off country. I didn’t know anything and I just sat there like a statue frozen in time. Perhaps the future would hold something better for me, I thought; something where I at least felt a connection to what I was doing, but for now I was directionless, passionless and devoid of any real zest for life. Questions about what I was doing with my life would have to be avoided and deflected. I was in survival mode; just holding on until the fog in my mind cleared and some basic way forward was revealed. This was it. There was no great wisdom or revelation like in past times. My guts had gone; my burning desire for life extinguished. There was nothing left to do and, with that, I laid down on the grass, looked up at the sky and closed my eyes – hoping my dreams at least could save me from the reality of life.

short stories

~ Beaten ~

beaten

~ Beaten ~

Eyes full of sickness and sadness, I stared at the dancefloor with a feeling of resentment. There they all were: those happy people with their happy faces. They moved effortlessly across the floor like they moved effortlessly through life. No doubt they all lived sane and orderly lives of structure and stability. They didn’t know my pain, my madness. They didn’t know what it was like to linger always on the sidelines and stare in from the outside. I stood there doing exactly that, leaning on the bar while watching them as they moved and grooved. I downed a double whiskey coke while continuing my ethnographic observation. I drank another one then realised my friend had left with a girl. I looked around for any possible chance with a female before conceding defeat and heading for the door.

Exiting the bar and stumbling down the street, my eyes beheld a jungle of kebab shops and neon lights leading me through the city centre. I watched as drunken revellers shouted, scoffed food and clambered into taxis. The human race was a wild species that had been tamed by its own creation of civilisation, but there was still a certain level of anarchy we allowed to unfold. This was best witnessed at 4am on highstreets full of broken bottles and broken minds; on highstreets where couples stood screaming at each other; on highstreets bearing piles of puke that were symbolic of the inner sickness of society. The sight of it all made me sad and it was at this point I remembered that it was my first time in Sheffield and I was supposed to be staying with my mate who had disappeared with a girl. I had no battery on my phone to contact him and suddenly found myself in the situation of having nowhere to sleep. Not an ideal situation admittedly, but by that point I was too drunk to care. Lost in the blur, I carried on staggering down the sidewalk until three men started speaking to me. I must have done or said something slightly disagreeable because the next thing I know I was getting the shit kicked out of me on the floor. Kicks and punches rained down upon me. My body grinded against the pavement. Venomous words of hate filled my ears. The beating continued for a good thirty seconds until the blurry figures ran off and disappeared out of sight. I picked myself up and assessed the damage. Blood dripped from above my left eye as my ribs ached and hip throbbed with a friction burn from the concrete. I knew immediately that my body was going to have more scars – more symbols of the destruction of my life etched permanently into my skin and flesh. 

Still not knowing what to do or where to go, I wandered around the early morning streets of Sheffield city centre while looking like someone from a horror movie. I didn’t have anywhere really to go and just kept stumbling around in a drunken daze. Eventually a police woman picked me up after some bystander spotted me in my gory state. I told her what had happened as she drove me around town in her car. I guess I was expecting to get taken to a hospital, or perhaps to the police station to file a report, but in the end she just cleared up my wound and dropped me outside a closed train station. I got out of the car and stood there alone in the cold winter night wearing just a t-shirt. Cuts to the public services in Britain had resulted in this – underfunded and overstretched, they looked for any way to avoid you utilising them. Consequently I stood there shivering and staring into the empty station, waiting for the damn thing to open. My ticket wasn’t until noon, but I was just going to board any train I could. If only there was a train off this planet, I pondered. 

Finally the station opened and I went inside and sat down watching the smartly-dressed business people get ready for another day at work. I watched the mothers quickly glance at me and look away in horror. I watched the little kids snicker and gossip about the wounds on my face. Those looks followed me onto the train where I tried to sleep but was woken up by a ticket inspector who told me my ticket was invalid for the current service I was on. I got out my card and paid for a new one as the conductor kept his distance. Thirty minutes later, I arrived in Derby where I was meant to switch trains to Nottingham. Looking at the board, I could see it would be another fifty minute wait in the cold until I could catch the connecting train. Suddenly it was all too much and I left the station and paid for a £40 taxi back home.

I think it was about 3pm in the afternoon when I awoke finally sober. Being too tired to clean myself first, I had collapsed onto the bed and left bloodstains all over the sheets. I grabbed them and threw them in the laundry. I then went into the bathroom and stared at my beaten face in the mirror. Back in a normal state of mind, I could finally see the severity of the beating I took. There were deep cuts, bruising and bumps around the left eye, as well as a few scratches on the right. It was a sorry sight to behold and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to be going on a date with a girl later that evening. Maybe it could be rearranged, I thought. I then spoke to a friend on the phone who convinced me to head to the hospital to check for a concussion. I walked there for an hour as people continued to look at me like some sort of circus freak. I reached the hospital and stood looking up at that sad building with its rows and rows of windows. Windows in which the dying lay dying – windows in which those old hearts beat their last beats, those lungs gasped their last breaths and those eyes soaked in their last bit of light. I guess that’s where we all end up, maybe with a few relatives and flowers beside us if we are lucky. I headed in where the doctor inspected me and told me that I didn’t have a concussion but that I needed to be careful. I asked if there was anything I could do to stop the scarring around my eye. No solid advice was given. 

All things considered, I sat back and knew it had truly been a night of disaster. Perhaps the most disastrous of any night out I had, and there had been a few dramas along the way. I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse, but apparently the gods had a few more tricks up their sleeves. When I returned home I checked my jean pockets and realised I had lost my passport at some point during the night. I also remembered that I was supposed to be starting a new job in a few days, and that I would have to turn up on my first day with my face looking like I had just ten rounds with Mike Tyson. That’s not to mention what the girl would think of me when I showed up to the date. It was a sorry state of affairs and all of a sudden a strange feeling fell over me. I touched the wounds on my face and felt like crying. It was the realisation of the horror and futility of it all. The world was relentless pain and agony, and no matter how good things got, you were always just a short way away from being stamped down by the boots and fists of life. I was only one week into the new year and already it was looking to be another one of misery and destruction. It was a depressing thought and I went into the bathroom to once again stare at my gory reflection in the mirror. I was beaten – scratched and scarred and stained with a dirt of which I’d never be clean. It was a sight I had beheld many times in my life – physical and mental wounds that gathered over the years – wounds that told the story of what each human faced on their path through life.

I continued wallowing in my self-pity until something strange happened. Out of nowhere, I burst out laughing. I looked in the mirror and laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt. I walked back into my bedroom and laughed some more. I even did a little dance in front of my wardrobe mirror while marvelling at the absurdity of my appearance. The misery subsided and I felt a strange determination within me. It was something that always appeared in moments where I was truly in the swamp of despair. The more this world tried to stamp me down, the more I just wanted to rise up against it and bare the blows. Maybe I was losing my mind completely, but I was going to make sure that life would be lived before death had its dirty way with me. With that thought in mind, I cleaned my cuts up some more, showered, drank a beer and got dressed for my date. 

It was going to be another magical evening.

short stories

~ The Barriers ~

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~ The Barriers ~

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

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

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

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

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

The barriers that would just not let me in.

short stories

~ Finding the Others ~

finding the others

~ Finding the Others ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

thoughts

~ A Familiar Feeling ~

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~ A Familiar Feeling ~

“I had been back almost a year, living the normal life. At times I thought I had gotten rid of the itch; that my life might finally begin to settle down into some sort of steady routine. Maybe it was tiredness but a part of me even wanted that at times. But no matter what happened, it was always there in my heart, like a ghost that would never grant me peace. The desire for the open road. It called my name back into the unknown. It left me staring up at ceilings in the middle of the night. I knew it would never go away: that need to throw my things into a backpack and go get lost on a new journey. It was a feeling that left me looking out at the world around me: the comfort, the security, the familiarity. It was an easy life and a safe life. It was a life many people around the world would have killed for, but I just couldn’t be happy with it. No matter how much I tried to follow the script and settle in, at all times a great force possessed me to abandon it all for the thrill of adventure. Gradually I realised that there was no way around it. Some of us just can’t be permanently adjusted to systems and societies. We cannot fit into forms or fashions. We are wild at heart, explorative in spirit. We have those eyes that look to the horizon, those feet that itch for adventure, that heart that aches for freedom. And no matter where we go or what we do, there will always be a piece of us longing to go to a place where we do not know what will happen but the rising and setting of the sun. That wilderness is our home, and it is the home that will make us wanderers until the end of our days.”