short stories

~ Trapped in Time ~

pexels-photo-5207797
Trapped in Time

It was a random weekend I had come back to visit the parents in my hometown of Coventry. I was unemployed and waiting to do a medical trial in a couple of weeks’ time, so I thought I’d pop home to be bored there instead of where I was currently living (Nottingham). It was still national lockdown from the coronavirus and there wasn’t much to do, so I arranged to meet a friend and walk around the local park while venting our frustration at the situation. We were both approaching our 30th birthday as the closing years of our twenties were wasted by a hysterical overreaction of a virus outbreak. Both of us should have been out travelling the world, having romances, living life, but instead we were wandering around the drab suburbs of our childhood town, unable to even go to a bar or do anything of any real excitement. After a while he told me his younger brother had just bought a house and was having a house-warming gathering. Well, what the hell; it was something else to do other than wander around aimlessly, so we bought some drinks from a cornershop and then headed over.

We made our way inside the house where his brother and a friend were setting up a TV on the wall. We helped them assemble some chairs and then got started with the drinking. His brother and his friend were 21 years old; they had crates of beer, wide eyes, high spirits and were ready for another Saturday on the booze. Soon another couple of his brother’s friends arrived to join the party. We were a good age distance apart from everyone there and it wasn’t long until the obvious subject of our age came up. “How old are you?” one of them asked. “29 I said. “29? That’s old man. I thought I’d be having kids and stuff at 29. Don’t you want to have kids?” I shrugged my shoulders and told him no. I then cracked open another beer before moving on to the drinking games. At first it was drink whenever someone with your name scored in a football game, then it was beer pong, then a load of other games as shots and drinks were consumed every few minutes. Vodka, Rum, Bucksfast – it all went down as everything began to darken and my memory blacked out as it had so many times over the years.

The next day I awoke in my bedroom covered in cuts and scratches. There were blood stains on the sheets and unhappy parents downstairs. It took me a while to figure out the ins and outs of the situation, but apparently I had been kicked out of the house-gathering by my friend’s younger brother. Having skipped dinner and downed copious amounts of alcohol, I had become intoxicated to the point I was spilling my drinks everywhere and falling over into thorn bushes. I had also lost my jacket and smashed a bottle of liquor I had bought my mum for mother’s day. Oh – and just to round things off – I had left the key in the front door along with blood on the handle (something my parents found slightly disconcerting). The thought hit me that I was about to leave my youth behind and I was still doing the same stupid shit I had always done. In fact, I was even worse than those 21 year-olds. It was a sobering realisation and I tried to avoid the judgment of my parents by hiding in my room all day. In that lair I dwelled in my hungover state until boredom and horniness caused me to get out my phone to go on Tinder. It was after a few minutes of swiping that I came across the profile of a girl I used to see when I was twenty-two. Seven years had passed but I thought I’d start speaking to her again anyway. Suddenly I was feeling super nostalgic; probably I just wanted to feel like I was younger again, but I asked her to go for a walk over the local farmland near where we lived. She agreed.

We met on a street corner and got catching up. It had been a weird year since the pandemic began, but this was a whole new level of sailing out onto the sea of strange. We hadn’t spoken in five years but somehow it felt like no time had passed at all. Tales of the past and present were discussed as we wandered around the farm fields under a grey and gloomy sky.

“So what are you doing with your life now?” she asked. “It must be weird now the pandemic caused you to be a stable UK citizen.”

“It has been weird,” I said. “I was about to jet off to South America when the pandemic hit but  instead I found myself moving back in with my parents and getting a job at Amazon. Then I quit and enjoyed the summer before moving back to Nottingham. But yeah, to be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now. I always wanted to just travel throughout my twenties, but now that has been taken away from me by this pandemic. Right now I’m just living month to month, working here and there, doing medical trials and trying to get by. You know how it is in lockdown.”

“Yeah I can imagine it’s been strange for you not being able to take some trips…” There was a pause. “So do you think you can finally see yourself settling down or are you planning to get away again after the crisis is over?“ I knew why she was asking this of course – it was to see if I was finally someone worth imagining a future with. That was what she wanted in the past and what I had disappointed her with once already. When I came back from an eighteen-month trip five years ago, she had hopes that I was finished with the life of being a wandering nomad. We saw each other a couple of times again but I quickly realised it was the wrong thing to do. She only ever wanted a normal life and back then even after that trip I knew there was no way I could give her what she wanted. Well, here I was five years on still feeling the exact same way. Time had changed nothing; I was still just a drifting bum with no direction or desire to join her in a settled existence. Well, if I wanted to get laid I’d have to give her hope, so I continued talking about how I was open to whatever life brought my way now travel wasn’t possible.

It must have worked as the next day she invited me around to her place for the evening. I walked over to hers from my parents, a fifty-minute walk through the streets of a sleepy suburb, filled with big houses and nice cars on the drives outside. I got to her house, knocked on the front door and entered. Inside I was jumped upon by her puppy – an eight-month-old cocker-spaniel. She had bought him during lockdown, presumably to have some company while living alone. I then made my way into the living room and sat down with her on the sofa. As we chatted about life, I looked around at the interior of the house. Something about it saddened me. It was a new-build house and you could see it was a formulaic design –  a computer-generated building on a computer-generated street where everything looked the same (almost like it was taken from The Sims). I looked at all the Ikea furniture tidily laid out; I looked out at the garden which was a blank square of grass with a small shed at the bottom. Everything was neat, clean, featureless. Of course, I couldn’t knock her for buying her own home at the age of twenty-five, but to me there was just no soul there at all. In that house we sat discussing old times as I imagined the possibility of finally forming a relationship with this girl. I could live here with her in suburbia, come home to this sofa, walk the dog in the local park, make love with her at night. I could get my old job back at the Amazon warehouse that was right off her street. It was all there within my reach: a civilized and normal life. A chance to come in from the wilderness. A chance to ‘grow up’, as my parents kept pressuring me to do. No more getting drunk and hurting myself. No more floating idly with the breeze. Just a steady, sensible, neat existence.

After a while we started making out and I ended up staying the night. The next morning we made love again before I headed to leave her so she could get started with her job. Of course, I didn’t have such responsibility and I walked out into the rain to begin the long walk back to my parents place. “Do you want a lift?” she asked as I headed out the door. I remembered how she always gave me a lift home in the past from her old place. I still hadn’t got my driving license after all these years, but this time I couldn’t allow her to drop me home. “No, don’t worry about it, “ I said. “You’ve got work to do.” I then left her with a kiss before walking off into the rain (without my rain jacket, of course, which had been lost at the house-warming party).

When I got back to my parents, I packed my bags and began the journey back to Nottingham. It had been a strange old weekend and I just wanted to be back far away from my hometown. The train journey would be two hours and I spent that time staring out the window, my old pastime, wondering what was next for me in this purgatory state of living I had been experiencing. It had now been one year of living in this existential blur. No direction, no desire, no possibility to do what I wanted to do anymore. All the years were coming and going. I saw the younger kids buying houses and settling down. I saw past love flames still living a stable existence. Elsewhere friends were getting married or engaged, climbing career ladders, having babies. All those things which I still had no desire to do. My way of life was dead for the time being and I saw myself as just plodding along, acting as stupid and reckless as I had always done. Getting drunk and hurting myself; losing my belongings and breaking things; leading girls on I had no intention of forming a relationship with. Not much had changed over the last decade. I was a man trapped in time, repeating the same reckless behaviours I had always done. A couple of lines across the forehead showed the passage of time ageing me, but other than that just the same old fool I had always been. Where to go from here? Who the hell knew. The lockdown of the world had left my brain in a frozen state and all I could do was stare into space and wait for something to appear to me in the greyness.

When I got back to Nottingham I got a message of a twenty-year old Italian student I had recently had a fling with. We had arranged to buy some psychedelic drugs and take a trip together sometime soon. “I’ve got the goods,” she told me. “Nice,” I said. “Let’s do it tomorrow.” And so we did.

thoughts

~ The Same Old Feeling ~

lifee

Now I’m turning 30

I’m about to be an age where the average person is supposed to have it figured out. The career, the partner, the place of residence. In all honesty, things haven’t changed much since my 20th birthday. I look at the world I am supposed to be a part of and still feel nothing but total indifference with it. It’s all just so beyond me. The expectations, the traditions, the system of living. I still read the job descriptions and feel hopelessness in my soul. Is that what a man is supposed to become? A business analyst? A communications officer? A marketing manager? I could never bring myself to even engage in that world just cause the very sight of it filled me with despair. Even just writing a CV made me sad. The robotic nature of it; the notion that my intrinsic worth as a human-being came down to some bullet points on a piece of paper. The depressing thought of sitting in front of an employer with a fake smile and speaking insincere words just to get a job I didn’t even want. Then there was the idea of marriage; standing all-dressed up at a pompous ceremony, wasting money on that event while having to engage in small-talk with people you didn’t even like. Kids, well, I looked at how crazy the world was becoming and felt only the selfish wanted to bring more inmates into the asylum. Owning a property also had no appeal; I looked at houses and was disinterested with the idea of looking after them and paying council tax and being tied to one residence. No, all these things still confused and depressed the hell out of me. My mind disregarded it all and instead toyed with far-fetched ideas. Riding a bicycle to Asia. Hiking through the Himalayas. Working on a vineyard in France. Writing poetry under the stars. I imagined myself meeting a beautiful woman and residing in a quiet little village somewhere in Spain, sipping wine as the sun set across the fields every evening. I imagined hitch-hiking around Europe, working season to season while meeting strange and interesting people. My mind was a gateway to a better place and I imagined myself living a life of purity and beauty, far away from the suffocating reality of a society which had taken all the life out of living.

thoughts

~ A Beacon ~

woman

~ A Beacon ~

“You’re not alone. Forget about it. There are many out there who feel like you out there. There are out there dwelling in the crowds, in the cities, in their chambers of solitude. They are returning home to a dark room everyday to stare at the walls. Like you do, they will enjoy their solitude and release from society. They will enjoy their peace and their quiet and their cats and dogs. But a part of them needs to know there are others out there somewhere. So write your words. Spill your soul onto a blank page. Graffiti the walls with your deepest secret. Send out a beacon of your own soul for others looking for some guidance through the wilderness. You never know who is out there needing to know they’re not the last of their kind in this world.”

thoughts

~ What Am I Going To Do Now? ~

What Am I Going To Do Now?

Well, it seems I haven’t got much to say these days. I remember when I sat before this laptop, the words of passion loaded in my fingertips, waiting to explode onto the blank pages of the world. Now the ammunition is low, the gun is jarred, and the desire to pull the trigger not even there. I have my excuse: the collective madness of society losing its mind and collapsing over a virus with a 99.5% survival rate, leaving me locked up alone and unable to live life during my prime years. The coronavirus had inspired a new peak of human insanity: shutting down the world, locking children up, fining hikers for walking alone, not allowing anyone to live their lives to potentially prolong the lives of some elderly people who had already lived theirs. Ahh yes, it sounds harsh right? But just think about it for a second – many countries had crashed their entire society at the thought we could once again control a natural force (spoiler: we can’t). The countries who hadn’t locked down had shown had utterly stupid this whole thing was by having a death rate that was not too dissimilar from everyone else’s (and, in some cases, actually better – see Sweden, Nepal, and the state of Florida). Hysteria reigned supreme and I now lived in a country where McDonalds was open but gyms were closed; where smoking and drinking were legal but sitting on a bench in a park was deemed too dangerous for public health.

I knew the next ten years would slowly reveal how utterly insane and foolish these lockdowns were, and that people would lie about their support of them (just like people still lie about their support of the war in Iraq when figures show 80% of the public supported it at the time). The second-hand deaths from lockdown would far outweigh any potential elderly lives we managed to prolong (and these deaths would include younger people who still had their lives to live). Besides that, many people would have their life quality forever lessened by the poverty and mental health pandemic that was sure to follow. The youth were especially fucked and I essentially saw the whole situation as something similar to forcing young people to have kidney transplants to prolong the lives of some elderly people. This very notion sounds utterly insane and evil, but in reality that wasn’t far from what was happening. So many young people were having their insides tore out against their own will. Due to lockdown, I knew many who were depressed, stressed, anxious, lonely, jobless. Suicide rates were up and with a bleak looking future ahead of them, so many had nothing much to live for anymore. They had already lost an entire year of the best period of their lives due to the tyranny of a government and the docile nature of a public who swallowed whatever the media told them. And I was amongst those betrayed young people, hence my anger, and now the one thing in this stupid life that kept me going (travelling) was taken from me. At first, I had thought lockdown was the right thing to do, but now I had time to clear my head and actually think about it, I deplored it with every ounce of my being. I wanted to see heads roll over what had been taken from us. I wanted the people to awaken and go out and live their lives again with the knowledge of the fact that – shock, horror – they are mortal beings who will die and decay into cosmic dust. And that it’s okay – it’s okay to die; what is not okay is to not live in the first place when locked up living in irrational fear.

Okay, I can feel the virtue-signalling do-gooders sharpening their knives and shouting ‘granny-killer!’ The same people who never said a thing about the millions who die from starvation a year, the 500,000 who die from flu, the millions who die from smoking, from suicide, from obesity, from heart disease, from malaria, from road accidents, and not to mention who happily consume thousands of animals a year while turning a blind eye to the fact that all major disease/virus outbreaks of the last thirty years originated from the meat industry. The same people who go around supermarkets filling their trolleys with junk food that will cause them heart failure but feel outraged at the sight of someone not wearing a useless face covering. To be honest I was done with humanity to a degree, but this last year has cemented that. I always knew people were irrational and illogical, but I never knew it would be to this extent. I always knew people were willing to throw away freedom for illusions of security, but I never knew it would be to this extent. I always knew people were brainwashed by the media and public opinion, but I never knew it would be to this extent.

So yes, I have detached myself from the situation, but still, now in the prime of my life when I should be living life to the full – when I should be out meeting new people and experiencing things and dating women – I now have to reformulate and adjust to the tyranny imposed upon me. For a while I have been doing that: living the healthy life, getting my fitness up to new levels and meditating in my lair of solitude. I published a new book and even started learning how to drive before that was also made illegal. Now comes a time where no matter how much I meditate or masturbate or write, I can still feel the dissatisfaction brewing within me. Naturally it’s nice to believe that this will all be over soon, but it appears that society is only going more and more insane. Human rights are slowly being eroded and soon I will be forced to take a vaccine for a virus which poses no threat to me while also having to show a vaccine passport to go out to a bar or a concert or a cinema (despite the fact the people actually vulnerable to the virus had been vaccinated). We are on a slippery slope into the dystopian, totalitarian abyss and soon life will be something like Blade Runner or a Black Mirror episode. I always felt it would be that way, but I genuinely didn’t expect things to disintegrate into the realms of madness so quick. Well, silly me.

Anyway, I am twenty-nine and probably have another fifty or sixty years until I happily die of the coronavirus. That’s a lot of time, and with the world now changed forever, I have to sit back and stare at the ceiling and think: what the hell am I going to do now? Seriously. All that time ahead of me with a world that is taking away everything good about life. For the last decade I have based my life around travelling – around flying to new countries, meeting new people, exploring new cultures, dancing on beaches, kissing strangers, living wild and free and soaking in the sun and the sights. Now that world looks decimated at least for the foreseeable future, and probably even longer if this madness keeps unfolding. I mean, yes, writing is also my life passion; but my words came from that wilderness of travel and freedom, and I am not sure what exactly I will have to write about while living this new dystopian lifestyle which is insidiously being imposed upon me. I still have my running and cycling of course (they hadn’t taken that away from me yet), but I needed more of an adventure than riding my bike to the next town or jogging beside the river. I guess I could do what so many men do when they don’t know what to do with their lives: find a good woman, settle down, reproduce, and force myself into a steady and tracked existence for the next few decades. God, even just writing that sentence out makes me want to hang around unmasked on a covid ward. Maybe I could try and start a career finally? Ahh too bad – the economy is fucked, young people have no opportunities, and we are now about to enter an era of mass unemployment as small businesses crumble and psychopathic billionaire elites finally take full control of the world. 

Well yeah, things aren’t looking so good I guess. And yet I still need to go on – to keep breathing and feeding myself, to keep waking up in the morning and finding the strength to pull myself out of bed, to face the world, to talk to other human-beings and be a member of a society I can’t stand the sight of. Maybe there’s just no way around it anymore: I’ll have to become an alcoholic or drug user to make it through. A comfortably numb existence which so many have chosen to live just because the pain of being human in an unhuman system is all too much. God, now my sentences are crumbling apart. I used to write with such flow and fluidity, but look at these words now – plodding along, going nowhere, dissipating out. I can’t even be bothered to edit this shit anymore. This is what the lockdown has done to me. My one talent is now dying due to the suffocation of this tyranny as politicians and billionaires sit laughing, counting their profits, amusing themselves over the pitiful plight of the common man.

I won’t bore you with my jaded words and frustration any longer. I would normally finish a piece like this by trying to make some grand point, but there isn’t one; this is simply nothing more than a scream against the absurdity and insanity of the world. A howl in the wilderness from a wolf who has locked in a cage. A thrash of a shark who has been imprisoned in a tank. A tear of a soldier who has been deprived of his battle. I don’t know how it came to this, but one thing is for sure: no matter what society throws at me, I remain determined that this world will never take this fire from me without a fight. It may cage me and totally prevent me from living the life my soul cries out for, but I will not bend over and die like the rest. What am I going to do now? I don’t know exactly, but I will find a way to keep my soul alive, even when this world seems to want it dead and buried. Even when I can no longer distinguish society from a mental asylum, I will fight my fight and do whatever I can to keep something real and true inside of me.

short stories

~ Power Out ~

man window

~ Power Out ~

I sat alone in the darkness drinking rum. A power cut was a good enough excuse to finish off the emergency bottle I had stashed away. The remaining battery on my laptop was offering a little light for my room, and I stared at the shadow of my desk against the wall, listening to the winter wind howl against the window. A storm had been battering the country for a couple of days now, and this – alongside the national lockdown of the coronavirus – had left me feeling like I was living in some post-apocalyptic nightmare. Right now was perhaps the moment when the absurdity of the situation had peaked. I should have been somewhere else, living my one life, making the most of the last year of my twenties; instead I was imprisoned in a room of darkness, watching my youth disappear with absolutely nothing else to do but get drunk and stare into space. I couldn’t go around a friend’s house. I couldn’t go to the local pub. I couldn’t even go for a walk along the nearby river as it had recently flooded from the non-stop rain. It was a moment in time when life had just gotten so ridiculous I didn’t even know what to think or do anymore, so I just carried on sitting there in silence, drinking rum straight from the bottle, completely paralysed by the reality of the situation.

Like many people, I was frustrated and suspicious about what was actually going on with the pandemic, but at this point trying to have an informed viewpoint on the whole thing was a tiring affair. It had been almost a year since the initial outbreak, and it was hard to know what to think anymore when there was so much conflicting information out there, the media constantly creating hysteria, and everyone shouting their own viewpoint as if you were in some sort of football match. On one side you had the ‘sheep’ – the people who devoutly followed what the government said, lived in fear of the virus, and saw nothing suspicious about the whole thing. On the other side you had the ‘conspiracy theorists’ – those who questioned the rationale of the lockdown, pointed out that the statistics were being manipulated, and that there were hidden agendas at play. I researched and contemplated what I could, but it eventually got to the point where I started to question my own sanity and morality, so I had decided to just mentally detach myself from the whole thing. Maybe that was what they wanted.

Not having a job during the lockdown left me with nothing but free time, and I spent my days in a zombie-like state, daydreaming and mindlessly browsing the internet. Normally I would have used the situation at hand to get some writing done, but very little writing had been done over the last couple of months. Like the house, the power was just not there within me. That creative force that had once surged through me was dwindling, and I listened to the raindrops outside as if they were the sound of my soul being slowly bled dry. Perhaps a part of me was actually dying, I considered. This lockdown had me in some sort of spiritual prison, and looking into the mirror my eyes seemed a little dimmer than usual. Something was definitely missing inside of me, reflected by my writer’s block, and I knew I needed to do something soon to stop it from disappearing for good. But what could I do? Where could I go? How could I keep my inner flame burning in a world of rain and darkness and nothingness?

Of course, it wasn’t just me struggling in some way with the situation. I had one friend, a bar manager, who hadn’t been into work for months and was surviving off what would be half of his usual paycheck. He stayed at home all day smoking weed, playing computer games, putting on all the weight he had worked hard to shift in the time before the pandemic. Down in London I had another friend who had just been made redundant, stuck in a house-share with people he no longer liked, spending his savings on simply surviving while also struggling from a variety of health issues. Back in my hometown was a guy who had saved up to go on a big world travel trip before he turned 30; with that trip not looking like it was going to happen anytime soon, he sat at home every evening drinking heavily, complaining that his hair was going grey and that his trip was never going to happen. All in all it was a total shitshow, and one couldn’t help but wonder when everyone was going to crack and start rioting, like they had started doing on the streets of France and The Netherlands. 

I didn’t expect that to be any time soon; us British were too polite for things like that. We bottled up our frustration and instead sat in rooms of darkness, drinking our pain away, complaining about the world but never actually doing anything about it. I was no different and, in a sense of helplessness, I got out my phone and downloaded the dating apps to try and force some excitement into my life. In a time where excitement was practically illegal, you had to do whatever you could to get some, and the idea that you might meet up and have sex with some stranger on the internet was about as thrilling as things got.

Scrolling and swiping through the sea of faces, it was always good to know that there were women out there looking for companionship; looking for someone perhaps like you. Of course, the majority of matches didn’t result in conversation, and even the ones which did usually died out after a few messages. Most talk was about lockdown, about how shit life currently was, and how you were only on the app out of sheer boredom. Naturally you tried to push the idea of meeting up for a bit of fun, but most girls weren’t into that. They wanted socially-distanced walks in the park and constant messaging to eventually see where things went after lockdown was over. It was a tedious affair, and I was quickly reminded why I had downloaded and deleted the app so many times already. I put it away and carried on drinking my bottle of rum, which was now down to the final quarter, reflected by me starting to feel my head spin. 

It was then that an almighty bit of luck came my way. Like a holy bolt of lightning had struck, I got a message off a girl I knew. She was a twenty-year-old Spanish nurse who had been living back in Spain, but had just arrived back in the U.K for her studies. We had hooked up the previous summer and she was now inviting me around her new place to “watch a movie and chill”. Of course, by doing that I would be breaking the rules, but as a single man who hadn’t been laid in five months, I had no choice but to answer nature’s call. I finished off the bottle before heading down to the garage and grab my bike. Finally, some action was on the horizon.

I took to the road and started pedaling like a madman through the storm. Her place was on the other side of town, so I cycled as fast as I could, weaving my way through the deserted streets and alleyways, battling the wind and rain which almost seemed to be trying to stop me from reaching my destination. My willpower prevailed and after twenty minutes I arrived at her place soaked and exhausted. Unfortunately I couldn’t just knock on the door; there were two other students living in the building unaware of me coming over, so she would have to stealthily sneak me in. I locked my bike up against a streetlamp and used the last of my phone battery to announce my arrival.

She came to the door and immediately dragged me toward her room. “You have to be quiet,” she said, leading the way. “There is a girl in the room above us. I’ve told her I’m video-calling people, but if she hears your voice she might get suspicious.” I entered her bedroom, took off my rain jacket, and used a towel to dry myself. We then sat on the bed and started catching up about our lives over the last few miserable months. We were talking in hushed tones for about ten minutes until there was a sudden knock on the door. “Hey Eliana, are you there?” It was the girl from upstairs. My friend then quickly dragged me into the walk-in wardrobe and told me to be silent. I stood there in the dark listening to her and her housemate chat away, feeling like I was taking part in an act of infidelity. It was already the most excitement I had experienced in months.

After she had gotten rid of her, I came back out quietly laughing at how ridiculous life was at that moment. My friend then got out the alcohol: a bottle of red wine and another bottle of rum. We poured ourselves some drinks, chose a movie to watch, and got cosy in bed. Lying there it felt strange to be so close to another person; to lay entwined limb to limb, almost as if things were normal again – almost as if human interaction was actually legal.

“How are you dealing with the lockdown she asked?”

“Oh you know, same as everyone else I guess. Doing whatever I can to not go completely insane. It didn’t help that my house had a power-cut today.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. Well, I was thinking we could at least do something fun tonight…” My excitement level suddenly increased. “I’ve got some pills of 2C-B that my old housemate left me, and I thought we could maybe take it together. It’s like a mix of ecstasy and acid, but the psychedelic effects aren’t too strong, and the high only lasts a couple of hours.” I sipped my drink and thought about it. Well, I had never taken any psychedelic drugs before, and it had been on my to-do list for a few years now. And distorting my consciousness with Class-A drugs would be a nice change from the current depressing reality of life.

“Sure,” I said.

Next thing I know, she has her little bag of drugs out on the desk, measuring out a couple of pills of 2C-B. There were also a couple of tabs of acid which we decided not to use.

“There you go,” she said, handing me half a pink pill with a batman logo on it. “I think this is a good enough amount to take for your first time, and if you don’t feel high enough, there’s another pill we can crush up and snort later.” I looked down at the pill then grabbed my glass of wine to gulp it down. She did the same, and then we went back to watching the movie while waiting for the effects to kick in.

It was about an hour or so later when my peripheral vision started to become wavy. The curtains of the bedroom looked like strands of wheat blowing in the wind, and a little crack in the ceiling looked like the whole reality of the space-time continuum being ripped open. “Can you feel it yet?” she asked. I told her what I was experiencing as we started laughing, pouring more drinks, talking absolute rubbish; no longer in hushed tones. I then went to the toilet where I sat down and looked at a bag full of clothes in the corner of the room. On top of the clothes was a grey fleece which had assumed the shape of a baby elephant all cuddled up in the womb of the bag. I could see its face, its eyes, its trunk, its legs. It stared at me for a while and then suddenly blinked. It was at this point I decided that I was hallucinating for the very first time. At least I hoped so, anyway.

I returned to the room to find Eliana dancing to some Latin music. It was clear by then the movie wasn’t going to be finished. She kept telling me how much energy she had that she needed to use in some way. I was going to suggest that she used it through the act of sexual intercourse, but before I could utter my thoughtful suggestion she was putting on her shoes and telling me that we needed to take a walk around the neighbourhood. I wasn’t too keen to go back outside but obliged her request. 

Out on the streets, the storm had quietened down and there were even a few stars visible in the night sky. The temperature was now well below freezing though, and the ground was covered in a thick, glittering frost. The glints of ice on the grass and bushes looked like a starry universe itself, and we walked around like children marvelling at the world around us. The streets were eerily silent and we talked about what it would be like when things went back to normal; if they would ever go back to normal. For that moment, it didn’t really matter though as I felt the high in my veins and saw the world through a magical new lens. In a way it felt weird to feel some form of fun being experienced again, almost as if my body had almost forgotten what it was.

We eventually returned to the room to finish the rest of our drinks and climb into bed. It took about ten minutes of cuddling until we started having sex. I’m not sure how long we went for, but it felt like hours, and god how I needed it after all that time locked up alone in my room. It did make me wonder how actual prisoners in jail fared on their life sentences. Suddenly the soap in the shower scenarios began to make sense. 

The next morning we had some more sex before I grabbed my stuff and quietly left. I had barely slept and was in a strange state of mind from the tiredness and the comedown. By now it was snowing instead of raining, and I brushed my bike seat clear of snow to begin my battle back home. Cycling through the white stuff beside the flooded river, I had to think how much life felt like some sort of disaster movie. Truly, it had been one of the worst winters on record with the grim weather reflecting the mood of society. Storms, floods, snow, the sun barely making an appearance through the constant dark clouds. It really felt like the end of days. But at least I had had some sort of life last night, which helped my spirit as I tried to keep my eyes open while cycling through the slippery roads.

Back alone again in my room, I sat down on my bed and tried to warm my hands up. They were shaking from the cold and I lay paralysed under the sheets, waiting for life to return to them again. I was also completely exhausted, yet somehow unable to sleep. There were some leftover Christmas chocolates on the table and I smashed them down, trying to get some energy back into my body. By now at least the power in the house had been sorted and I was able to charge my phone again. 

I turned it on and started mindlessly scrolling through social media once more. It was then that I got another message off Eliana. “So I still have those tabs of acid left….” Jesus, for such an innocent-looking person, this girl was really wild. I looked around my room and thought about how to reply. It would be another day of staring at walls, existing like some sort of house plant, waiting for the world to go back to normal while another day of my youth died and disappeared forever. Well, maybe I was a bad guy for breaking all the rules, but at this point I didn’t care. I texted back and told her I would be back over in the evening. I then tried to sleep and I couldn’t. I then tried to write and I couldn’t. There was nothing left to do: no job to work, no project to work on, no life to live. There was no choice but to go back to hers, take some more drugs and hope that whatever life in me would still be there when this winter had subsided, and the light of spring had returned.

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. 

no filter necessary 2
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.

hand writing



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.”