short stories

~ Social Distancing? No problem ~

solitude

~ Social Distancing? No Problem ~

The great crisis of our generation came almost out of nowhere. It was just after the turn of the new year when reports of a novel coronavirus spreading through China started appearing in the media. At first it seemed like something very far away – a drama unfolding in the far east, something similar to the outbreak of SARs virus a few years before that quickly petered out into nothing. I guess it was that sort of scenario which people expected again. After all, we were a generation who was regularly being told the world was about to end: swine flu, bird flu, ebola, the climate crisis, Donald Trump – we had read about our imminent destruction many times before as editors fervently created sensational headlines to shift newspapers. So, it was only natural there was a sense of ‘here we go again’ when Covid-19 started featuring on the front pages of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

However, fast forward a couple of months and the disease had now started spreading throughout Europe. A side effect of the virus was seemingly the sudden urge to travel the world, and consequently hundreds of people had brought the virus over with them on their holidays and business trips. The north of Italy was the first region of Europe to have a mass outbreak. Almost overnight, towns and entire regions went into ‘lockdown’ – a phrase that was quickly to become one of the most spoken words of 2020. People were confined to their residences, only allowed out for ‘essential’ things such as getting groceries or medicines, as well as travelling to work (that was if your company was still open and you were not out of work or working from home). All things considered, it was the biggest change to people’s lives in peacetime, and it wasn’t long before most countries in the world were imposing tight quarantine and social distancing measures to stop the virus from tearing through the population.

There was hardly a person on earth that wasn’t negatively affected by the crisis, but it was fair to say the outbreak of Covid-19 came at a particularly bad time for me. I had just left my job with the anticipation of taking part in a lucrative medical trial and then using the money to go travel on my latest backpacking trip. With the job quit, the trial cancelled and no international travel possible for the foreseeable future, I was left in the situation of being unemployed, stuck in my apartment and having about £5000 less in my bank account than I had anticipated. Obviously there were people far worse off than me – the ones who lost businesses and, you know, those who would actually die from the virus – but it was fair to say I wasn’t jumping for joy about the emerging situation. 

Nonetheless, I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with it like everyone else. I did exactly that, spending the first few weeks of lockdown in my apartment that I was supposed to have been moving out of. Instead, I was now stuck inside that apartment for twenty-three hours a day, only going out for my one form of permitted exercise, as well as the occasional trip to the supermarket to try and buy whatever food the panic buyers had left on the shelves. It wasn’t so bad. Having been someone who delighted in my own solitude, the whole self-isolation thing came as no big deal to me. Often I had looked at the four walls and thanked them for the great guardians they were. They were the walls that kept humanity out; the walls that gave me some peace from the insanity of society. I could have happily spent months within those walls in my own company, and I quickly realised having a hermit nature was a great strength to have in the era of Covid-19. Apparently the act of having to keep yourself socially-distanced proved to be something that was the challenge of a lifetime for many. Past generations had endured world wars, civil wars, crusades, genocides, great depressions and the black death; our great crisis was having to stay inside and keep ourselves entertained with Netflix, Disney movies, social media and group video calls. The difference was almost laughable, but apparently many people couldn’t cope with actually having to be alone with their own thoughts, while also not getting their regular dose of social gratification. A part of me almost delighted in it all. All my life I had been stuck in a society that catered almost exclusively for extroverts. Introverts had always been told to be more sociable and outgoing to fit into the system, but now the tables had turned and the extroverts would have to learn to be happy in their own company to survive the lockdown. The age of the introvert had finally come and the thought of it made me sit back on my bed with a smug sort of grin. What a time to be alive it truly was.

The great global crisis of our generation continued unfolding as I kept myself busy with a routine of meditation, writing, reading and just going on seemingly endless hikes through the Youtube wilderness. Of course, I kept my eye on the situation too by regularly checking the news reports on the development of the outbreak. The death charts and infection tallies were shooting up all the time, and it had quickly gone past 9/11 to become the biggest news event in my lifetime. I was now living through history and I sat back in my lair of solitude to soak it all in. I knew people were dying from the disease and, of course, it was a tragic and sad thing; but I also couldn’t deny that a part of me also found it refreshing that something dramatic was actually happening in our everyday lives. It really was like one of those end-of-the-world movies: the sight of people wearing masks, empty town centres, skies without planes, shops without food, police patrolling the streets – they were the sort of things you only saw on a movie screen, but now you were witnessing them through your own eyes. Finally, I didn’t need to quit a job and go travelling in some dangerous country to feel like something exciting was happening. 

Still, although I found many things about the lockdown refreshing, I was not without my problems. I was living off the savings I had and not being able to find a job, I soon faced the prospect of moving back in with my parents. At the age of twenty-eight, moving back home wasn’t ideal, but if I was ever going to do it then this would be the time. Like most people my age, my happiness to a degree was built on my own independence, but strange times had arrived and I figured this would be the next step down the rabbit-hole of Covid-19. The decision was made. I packed my bags and moved back in with mommy and daddy to set up camp for the rest of the lockdown. 

Back in another city, I started looking for jobs again. Luckily there was an Amazon warehouse close to my house and I now had the opportunity to be a modern-day sweatshop worker. At this point, Amazon was comfortably the biggest company in the world. Jeff Bezos had capitalised on the age of mass consumerism by providing an online e-commerce store in which you could buy anything you could imagine under the sun, and even have it delivered to your front door within twenty-four hours of clicking the purchase button. This meant that all the ‘thing’ addicts in society now had a place where they could order whatever caught their attention that day. This would naturally be even more extreme now that people couldn’t spend their money on getting pissed in pubs and clubs. Thankfully, good citizens like me were on hand to help them get the important products they needed to survive such as celebrity autobiographies and one-litre bottles of ‘luxury anal lube’.

Sorting those products for them to be distributed for ten hours a day was how I kept myself busy during the great crisis of our lifetime. I could imagine little children asking me what I was doing during the great Covid-19 crisis of 2020. “Well, I was helping people to keep busy with acts of experimental sex,” wasn’t quite as good as saying I was fighting on the beaches of Normandy or parachuting behind enemy lines; still – it was something I guess. And besides, I actually ended up enjoying the experience of working there. I felt like I was some sort of dystopian sci-fi movie having to distance myself from fellow workers, wearing protective equipment and having to go through a temperature check every time I entered the building. It was something I knew would feature in textbooks for school children for many years to come and I made sure to stop and enjoy every moment of history unfolding around me. 

After a while of working there and waiting out the crisis, I got speaking to a girl online. Meeting girls in real life was something of a bygone age and Tinder had connected me to this girl living in the city I had just moved out of – Nottingham. She was a teacher assistant who had been ‘furloughed’ – something which meant she got paid her normal wage for sitting at home, sunbathing and drinking bottles of fruity cider. I envied her situation as I texted her while stuck inside that dark warehouse for over ten hours a day. We were soon speaking most evenings on the phone as I began to feel an attachment to someone I hadn’t even seen with my own eyes. Maybe it was the drama of the situation, or just that I was sexually frustrated due to the lockdown, but we struck a connection that I had rarely come across with another girl. She was another misfit like me; someone a bit scratched and scarred by life who loved animals and nature and fantasy movies. Fantasy was an important thing in the world of lockdown and often we imagined going on weird and random adventures. Hell, I even convinced her to write some poetry and short stories – one of which she turned into an erotic camping trip in the peak district. It was a modern sort of love story; two people separated and unable to meet from the lockdown of Covid-19, but still living out imaginary lives over internet messaging.

We continued talking online for weeks until one weekend when we arranged to break social distancing measures by meeting up for a day in the park. She drove to my city to come and meet me where we walked around and had a picnic under the trees beside a stream. Finally together, we spoke about the world and our lives and all the things we had chatted about over the phone. We then moved to the long grass and fondled before spontaneously deciding to drive back to Nottingham where we played with her dogs, watched Lord of the Rings, got drunk, ordered pizza and put an end to our lockdown sexual frustration. In the morning, I lay  by her side and watched the curtains flap beside the window. Out there was a world in the strangest state I had ever seen it; and the situation I was in seemed to fit in with the madness of the age that had arrived. I was truly living in some sort of strange dream – a surreal reality that wouldn’t have been out of place in a George Orwell novel. I imagined the future of the modern world; perhaps this random meeting would turn into something long-lasting and we’d be telling our children the story of how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I was supposed to be going travelling but with international travel looking like a shitshow for the foreseeable future, I didn’t know where the next tumble down the rabbit hole of Covid-19 world was going to take me. Life was as bizarre and unpredictable and weird as ever, and not even Donald Trump or Boris Johnson had a clue where we were all going. 

Well, for now, I guess the only thing we can do is sit back and enjoy the dystopian movie we’re living in. Let’s let the crisis play out while we all isolate ourselves away within the walls of social solitude. Let let the earth’s atmosphere and environment recover while we are all stuck inside our homes writing these books and getting drunk and watching Lord of the Rings and having sex and ordering bottles of luxury anal lube off the internet. The future is a scary thing and we no longer need to watch the sci-fi movies and episodes of dystopian series Black Mirror to see something crazy. Just pull back the curtains, look out at the world and you will find something stranger than anything from any fictional book or movie. Welcome to the world of Covid-19.

 

articles · short stories

~ The Comfortable Life ~

the comfortable life

~ The Comfortable Life ~

I stood at the top of the hill above the city, looking out at the sprawling concrete jungle before me. It was a world our hunter-gatherer ancestors could not have imagined in their wildest dreams. A whole society living indoors, buying processed and packaged meat from supermarkets, getting everything delivered to their front door and communicating with each other via satellite signals. Lives lived behind desks staring at screens rather than sunsets, chasing promotions rather than prey, climbing career ladders rather than mountains. Lives of sedentary comfort but existential pain; lives of technological development but spiritual emptiness. A life – ultimately – not for me.

It had been just two weeks working an office job and sitting behind a desk all day only to come home to my apartment and sit and stare at another screen. Already I was beginning to see how I was slowly being moulded and melded down into a life of systematic routine. Each morning I awoke at the same time to the alarm clock. I then walked to work and watched the same cars stutter through the traffic jams. The day, on the whole, played out exactly the same as the last one without any real surprise or novelty. This is how it was for masses of people out there: each day sitting behind a desk and staring at a screen before you came home and sank into a sofa to watch yet another screen. Gradually you sank so far into that sofa that your dreams and desires disappeared down the sides. The curtains were drawn along with your creativity and curiosity. From society’s point of view, you were an accepted member of civilisation who had found your groove in the grand scheme of things. You fitted neatly into the system and your life became some sort of well-polished pair of shoes, shiny car or well-groomed lawn outside a suburban home. Things were pretty on the face of things, yet beneath that superficial surface, the spirit began to wane. Too much comfort killed a person. Murdered them. Left them with a tamed spirit and an idle mind. Left them unable to think for themselves.

It was the way of modern society that was now accepted as ‘the real world’. Personally I felt it was a hollow existence but what was the alternative? Running off into the wilderness often seemed like a good option. Sure, I knew that the wilderness was full of things that wanted to kill you. Storms could drown you. Mountains could freeze your toes. Rocks could break your bones. Animals could poison you and tear your flesh apart. It wasn’t quite the easy everyday existence of modern life no doubt, but it seemed a sacrifice that was worth making sometimes. I thought back to my hiking trips in the Himalayas. There were times where my adventures had led me to the precipice of death and destruction; there were times where the feet blistered and my brain ached with apprehension and doubt. But, in those times, there was something that stirred my soul and made the blood flow through full-speed through my veins. That something was a something that was extremely difficult to find in the everyday life of the citizen in modern Western society – a something that just didn’t seem compatible with the life expected of you by your peers and parents.

Of course, the consumer capitalists argue that anyone who thinks differently should go back to the prehistoric ages and live in a cave and hunt boar with a spear or something. They’d argue you’d live twice as long now as you did back then when we didn’t have our comfortable lives, cubicles, smartphones and our takeaway delivery systems. It was a reasonable argument I guess, but I could see people who have made it to eighty yet not lived at all. People stuck in lives that led to obesity, heart disease and vitamin depletion from being stuck inside all day. Then came the mental health problems that this society caused. The anxiety, stress, depression and quiet desperation that haunted the hearts of so many people out there. Seemingly there is a price to pay for all our industrial development; there is something that is twisting and tearing us up because deep down we know that we were not meant to live this way. Our evolution has taken us to a weird place where we now don’t have to worry about dying of disease at thirty-five, but instead we work jobs we don’t like and use that money to pay for therapy and drown our sorrows at the weekend.

As always, I kept my eyes open and looked to find a way to liberate myself from the entrapments of the system. I was from the U.K and there wasn’t much wilderness around apart from the odd country park. So my plan was just to keep saving up some money to afford myself some far-off adventure every now and again to remind myself that it was to be truly alive. That was the trick I had been doing so far, and it seemed to work, always reinvigorating my soul with a sense of life that was sorely missed in the monotony of the work routine. That spell of chaotic adventure every year was truly valuable, and I knew it would be the thing to reach for whenever I felt my spirit slowly being sucked and swallowed up by that sofa of submission.

That sofa of submission was always waiting for you and the thought of it made me recall an elderly guy I used to serve in the supermarket I used to work at. Like me, his life and happiness were dependent on a bit of adventure. He had kept himself in great shape all his life due to regularly going mountaineering, running and on long cross-country bike rides. One day he was up in Scotland when he had a bike accident which permanently damaged his right hip and leg. Consequently, at the age of seventy, his days of venturing out into the wilderness had come to an abrupt end. He was now left to embrace the comfortable life. We spoke often about life in the store while I told him about the latest adventure I had planned and he told me about his new state of being. He wasn’t suicidal or something, but I could sense a sadness in his voice. Confined to his small bungalow, his life was now dependent on television, reading and the same old walk around the neighbourhood. Consequently, I could see that once blazing light in his eyes slowly begin to fade. He was now one of the many comfortable souls out there and the special energy he had had before the accident quickly began to fade. 

Still, at least he had tasted the thrill of an adventure for the majority of his life, which was not something said for many people out there. So many will never know the beauty of jumping the fence of security and allowing themselves to become a little scratched and scarred by the rugged wilderness. So many will never taste the joy of not knowing what is around the next corner or where you will sleep that night. Such a way of life is becoming increasingly alien and the comfortable, sedentary life will only get worse from here. Soon the sex robotos will be here and people will no longer even leave their houses. Soon the food will come through pipes in the ground like water and gas. Soon the Amazon drones will deliver your latest gadgets and gizmos through your window and we will all lie on sofas working from our computers. The wilderness will disappear from the earth’s surface as well as in the majority of people’s hearts. Our souls will be paved and tarmacked over. Our minds will be connected to the internet and there will be no unique or original thought anywhere. Life will become easy and safe and predictable and boring beyond words.

It’s a way of life increasingly hard to avoid but I guess I’ll just keep resisting the system and letting myself get lost in the wild every now and again. I know, I know. Those rocks can break your bones, storms can drown you, mountains freeze your toes and animals poison you and tear your flesh apart. If I die early on some mountain-path, please know I died content with the thought I at least knew what it was to taste the thrill of adventure. That I had explored the unknown and not let myself be spiritually murdered by the mundane. This is the way life that will keep me alive to the end; a way of life that will see me happy to bid it farewell when my time is done. Not a slow and safe march to the grave down a grey highway of routine, television and weekend drinking, but a thrilling run through the wilderness that leaves you screaming for more.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine – it’s lethal.” – Paulo Coehlo

thoughts

~ The Silent Submission ~

~ The Silent Submission ~

“It’s a world of broken people with broken hearts. Of minds full of desperation and desolation. Of starving souls sitting behind desks and staring into space, dreaming of something distant and out of reach – something that can not be purchased in any store or downloaded onto any computer. It’s a world of people tightly gripping onto steering wheels as they try not to go insane on the morning commute. A world of people scrolling on their phones to try and connect with someone or something. A world of people drifting down the sidewalks of life, following someone else’s path and not their own. The absurdity pervades and I like so many others have stared up into those skies dreaming of something to take me away from all this madness. The human condition. The suffocation of society. The struggle to hang onto who you really are as this world strikes you from every angle. Few make it through the machine without being torn up beyond repair. Out there on those streets I stare at the passing faces and see eyes losing their light, hearts losing their fire, minds losing their madness. I see tired faces of sickness and sadness. I see mouths that move but do not speak. This thirst for life in my veins will not let me succumb to the same solemn fate. The wilderness in my heart roars out for some kind of glory. The glory of breaking free from it all. The glory of taking your mind back from the machine. The glory of making sure your life is one that is lived totally to the full, and not stutters slowly into a silent submission of the heart and mind and soul.”

people walking street