A many-mirrored mind

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I did a lot of thinking while I was waiting for news of my dad and not writing much, and I let myself go a bit, mentally. I got fed up with being the only person around here who cooks, does the shopping, pays the bills and cleans the place. I live alone, but still…

Kusama-Yayoi_Infinity-Mirrored-Room-Hymn-of-Life_2015_1500x1000-980x653Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Hymn of Life, 2015

The sole occupant of a life can have a tendency to over-think things, especially when so many other people inhabit their mind. When that person has mental health issues, those can become self-pollinating. And when the person’s a writer, some might think that makes things easier. It does and it doesn’t, because writers think more than average, they have a reputation to maintain in reporting those thoughts, and the more they think about the right prose, the more they’re obliged to think. It’s the proverbial vicious circle and yet another paradox in the life of the writer with depression. Sometimes I feel I should just go out and meet people. Then I remember, I don’t like many people and I don’t enjoy going out. My life, in a box, which I decided to take a look around.

Writing is a very lonely game anyway, more so when you’re someone with many different people in your mind. Some might think a writer with depression is a sadomasochist, but when you have anxiety too, it’s the only way to live. If I’m to keep living, I have to keep writing. It’s a self-propagating paradox.

I thought I’d found some kindred spirits in a few Facebook writing groups, then the one I favoured closed down because of an admin’s family bereavement, and paranoia tells me everyone I touch turns to shit. It’s a reflection of my real life, where I erect barriers to prevent anyone getting too close. Sometimes I let the barriers down but end up kicking people away, when they subsequently invade my personal space, inadvertently because they’re on my mind.

Some of the writing groups were challenge-based, and I’m stuck for words as often as I have too many to put into decent prose (very much the manic depressive, bipolar writer). Sometimes I set my own targets, and have nowhere to put them, so they go here. When I’m working freelance, I’m in charge, and with so many people in my head, it’s easy to find one to boss. Other times, I’m lost for words, let myself down, and simply lost in life.

I wouldn’t return to drink, as I never found myself there, only when I dried out. As well as losing all that I did before (and more, and on a more permanent basis), I’d lose this whole new brain function I’ve found, but which sometimes drives me to distraction or to switch off. I do have a drink to hand (I’m a functioning alcoholic), but I prefer a nice cup of French coffee and a croissant, sometimes with a cannabis joint, and I think some more. Sometimes, good fiction will arise, and others a full-blown existential crisis. My life in the mirror.

I’m 48 this year, which means I’ll have caught up with Douglas next year. I was born in May 1970, and it occurred to my reflection that in 2020 I’ll be entering my seventh decade: Conceived in the 60s, born in the 70s, grew up in the 80s, lived the 90s, married the noughties, and finally found myself in the teens. It was 2013 when I found myself on the streets, before becoming counsellor and friend to all those young strays who found the squat.

Last time I checked, there were only two or three people who truly understand real me: My kid sister, Courtney, and a couple of the young girls who adopted me in lieu of a father figure in their lives when I was on the streets. These are the ones the plastic police and defective detectives used to wind themselves up about, as they imagined what went on in the squat (if they’d bothered to come in themselves, like the real police used to, they’d be wiser). Those were mutual adoptions, which have proven symbiotic since. We remained friends, because I let my barriers down and didn’t feel a need to raise them again. These are friends I trust, because they placed so much trust in me, and who can read me as I can them. Courtney can listen to a list of perceived issues I have – A, B, and C – then suggest option D: That I’m being paranoid, and invariably she’s right. Those girls can somehow get me to look inside myself in a different way to my everyday.

There are barriers, of course, even if what we were once suspected of is legal now the girls are older. They’re still young girls, so it’s a one way street: I give a shit about them, but I don’t intrude on their private lives unless they bring them to me. It’s a life of ‘Do not disturb’ (I’m disturbed enough already), but I welcome the odd disturbance.

In writing, my peer groups are reflective of real life too: Never a core member of many things, but on the fringes of many more. Cyrus Song was me reaching out, when every day of guilt laden sobriety might cause a less occupied person to lapse. It’s a good job I have writing, but I need people to read, so that more might understand me and help me understand myself. All writers hope that what they do is worthwhile.

Barring another wobble, I have a lot lined up, if I can keep my mind on the job. I’ve got some short stories planned, and some already drafted or in process; I have a list of research projects for later blog posts; and now that dad’s on the mend, I can get back to the family history book, albeit now with a revised publication schedule.

I’m still a bit lost, in life and in writing, but both are the same, just as my real and virtual lives blur and merge. So I carry on in my writer’s life because what other is there? I seem to thrive in captivity, like a snake.

I was interrogating Captain Mamba, as I’m plotting Cyrus Song II as well. We discussed the snakes’ future plans for humanity, and as today is Valentine’s, we discussed snake and human birth control. We agreed that we both already employ an effective method: Being who we are as people.

The mind is a many-mirrored room when you look around it, then just write it down as you see it and read it back.

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Breaking the mind cycle

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

I said I’d be more open when I could, and now I can write more honestly about a few things which have been keeping me quiet lately…

Break the cycle

Top of the vox pops has been my dad, who’s been unwell. He’s home now and all the evidence suggests he’s much better. Long story short, he was having problems with his memory and sense of direction. It had been a process so gradual that it was barely noticed by those closest to him, until one night when he went missing.

A keen and able driver with 60 years of incident-free motoring behind him, and a man who would invariably be early for any meeting, appointment or gathering, it was unusual for my dad to be late home. So when my mum phoned me to say dad was an hour late, alarm bells began to toll in the distance.

I spent at least ten minutes on the phone to mum, during which she kept popping outside the front door to see if he was coming up the road. It was getting dark and it was a Saturday. Dad was never keen on driving in the dark, and there’d be something on TV he’d scheduled to be home for (probably a transport, engineering or emergency services documentary), now finished.

Eventually I phoned the police, and in doing so, I knew I was robbing my dad of his main liberty: his car and the freedom to drive it. I was also taking away my mum’s ride, and their means of visiting me and others. I asked mum several times if I should grass the old man, when there might be a perfectly valid reason for him being late, but none seemed likely. I knew – and I told mum – that as soon as I reported dad missing, the police would put out an alert, dad would trigger an ANPR camera and probably get a TPAC by three fed cars (I watch a lot of police procedurals myself). After a couple more checks on his whereabouts outside, she agreed, better that than a starring role in 24 Hours in A&E.

As it turned out, it wasn’t that dramatic. Dad did indeed trigger a camera, and was soon lit up by blue lights from behind. He pulled over to let an emergency vehicle pass, then quickly realised it was him the police were after. “Your son reported you,” they’d said, so that was nice of me. One officer then drove dad home in his car, tailed by her colleague in the Battenberg. I found this all out when dad phoned me when he got home, to thank me for getting him there. But I knew there’d be fallout.

Dad’s 75, so his slight doddering might have been put down to simple ageing. But when it became life-affecting, thoughts turned to senility and degenerative neurological conditions. I’d been aware of his ongoing decline when I reported him, and dad’s health had been one of the police’s concerns. He was at the consultation stage at the time, but it was serious enough for him to have to surrender his driving license, for his own safety (and that of others). I felt like shit.

Further tests and scans revealed a build up of fluid around dad’s cerebellum, causing pressure on his brain. Dementia couldn’t be ruled out, but it was likely that relieving the pressure would restore his cognitive functions. This was at the end of last year, so any treatment would be in the new year. I’d displaced my whole family over Christmas, as my dad was the only one with a car. Everyone was going to have a shit Christmas, because of me.

Early this year, dad had the first of two operations, initially to drain the build up of fluid around his brain stem. Later he may need a stent, but the first procedure was a success. Very soon after, dad regained a lot of himself, and he was reading, watching TV, and even got some fine-detail colouring books. It was quite incredible to witness someone return so suddenly from something which had been so gradually debilitating. Then it all went tits up.

Just a few days after returning home, dad was hit with an infection, specifically at the site where the excess cerebral fluid had been drained (he’d had a spinal tap, after all). Infections are never welcome interlopers, but the ones who attack the brain and central nervous system can be particularly worrisome. Earlier dad had been picked up by a police car, now he was being carted away in an ambulance (to the best of my knowledge, my parents don’t play with matches).

Dad was in hospital for three weeks and I didn’t see him once. It would be a five-stage journey for me, by public transport or taxi. Social anxiety aside, I simply couldn’t afford it, and I had no-one to give me a lift. But in some respects, I’m glad I stayed away, if only to witness my parents becoming much closer. Mum gets free travel, so she was at the hospital every day and I spoke to her as regularly as I thought appropriate, caring, but at the same time, not wanting to be in the way. Now dad’s home, where he can recover quicker, and after 50 years of marriage, him and mum are still very much in love.

I’m told I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking my dad’s liberty, and that I’m not to blame for his ill health (his cognitive decline brought on by my breakdown and subsequent conduct), so I must just be paranoid.

Paranoia breeds and cross-pollinates my other neurological inflections, anxiety and depression, and together they form the unholy trinity in my mind, which many others suffer. I live alone and I’m left alone, so few have to suffer me.

I’m an alcoholic, who lives with a guilt complex. I could probably get utterly pissed and get away with it, and no-one would notice because few call or visit. But I made this situation, by not wanting anyone too close, so if I lapsed, I’d be the only one who noticed.

It wasn’t because I lapsed in anything other than myself, that this blog has been less dynamic than usual lately. Now that I have my greatest fear – that of losing my father – lessened, I can start to make plans again. Among those plans are to write more, so that I’m less alone now that my mind isn’t so tied up with myself.

Like my dad, it’s like I can hear myself again. I hope others can too.

Eating pizza by the roadside

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I rarely make resolutions at any time of year, because I’ve normally resolved to do something long before I actually do it, only then congratulating myself quietly. Some will be known, because I’ve said so (I’m going to publish a book), but others I don’t speak of, when they belong to someone else. I’m always picking up the pieces, but I’m dropping things all the time.

Pavement pizza

Sometimes the problem is knowing where to start with the eternal conflict in my mind, which is why it helps to be a writer, especially when one is depressed and anxious. The problem with both, is that those of us with the most to say take the longest to learn about. Sometimes I need to proverbially throw up.

If I made films or music, I might be easier to understand in a shorter form. But I’m a writer, mainly of books, which require a greater investment of time. I write short stories, of course, and I’ve even given poetry a kicking, but fewer people read than listen or watch.

I’ll deal as quickly with Christmas here as I did at the time: Quite simply, Christmas didn’t happen, despite my efforts to arrange something around family. A combination of displacement and disinterest conspired to allow everyone to have their own Christmas, whether or not that was what they wanted. Unless I misread something in a greetings card from my old sister, who uses a calligraphy pen for such occasions: It was like reading a page of ambigrams, which I daren’t hold to a mirror for fear of invoking a curse. I have a pen for every occasion, so it’s one to revisit.

The main festivities were politics (specifically other people’s), and my younger sister (Courtney), who became a mum just before Christmas. As a vulnerable young adult with a history of personal issues, she’s needed help with many things for as long as I’ve known her. And since not long after I met her, I’ve been one of those the authorities contact when things go awry, mainly her (once, in the middle of a pool tournament, two police officers walked in because she’d run away (again). We found her in the end). Long story short, with much effort over the festive period, she was given a place for herself and her daughter, and there is much still to do.

I can speak and write about it now, because it’s happened. But for six months, myself and others worked to make sure things went the way they did. We claimed no credit and sought no reward. The birth itself was marred only by a third party with a sense of entitlement, gatecrashing the delivery room and awarding itself accolades on social media. Such selfishness didn’t sit well with a new mum who was already stressed enough, nor her own mum, or her grandmother. Those of us who’d actually done something constructive (quietly, in the background) didn’t feel the need to displace Courtney’s closest relatives in what we’d effectively made possible, let alone claim false credit or reward for undoing all our doing. As a demonstration of self-discreditation, it was text book (or rather, Facebook, as the interloper’s self-flagellation was performed in public). More on that another time perhaps.

Facebook breeds guilt and paranoia, it’s full of personal agendas and selfishness, and I’m spending gradually less time there for those and other reasons. It’s a soap opera with a willing audience, when better coping mechanisms for life can be found in less judgemental spheres. It’s an existential crisis, and it’s recording.

I have many crises of my own, and other people’s to help them with, which I don’t publicise or seek recognition for. The reward is simply seeing a plan come together for the greater good. It only becomes public when others choose to tell their own story (or give me permission), and every story has two sides. Facebook doesn’t allow both or all to be presented equally. It’s a place of conditioning and formed opinions when debate and mutual understanding might be better aspirations.

Sadly, this is more a recent phenomenon, and not one born of my own anxiety and paranoia. A people fractured by the politics which govern them, has become divisive and divided at a personal and social level. Rather than be a part of it, I’m always looking for ways to change things, and Facebook lacks activists in its main infrastructure. Developing…

Most of the friends I have on Facebook, I know in real life, and some of the latter wouldn’t exist were it not for social media. Most of those pay little attention to anything outside the Facebook timeline (they don’t even see it skewed by algorithms), but they have different agendas, and they’re not writers.

Where I’ve found connection with kindred spirits – in the virtual and real worlds – is in the places of shared interest, in public and private groups, away from the main crowd. Stirring up someone else’s personal business is of little interest to me, when there’s a whole world out there to poke at.

97% of Facebook users make very little difference to the world, because most don’t look beyond themselves and that inner web of conditioning. Most time on social media is wasted.

By contrast, I look at life in the blogosphere, with its sheer scope and depth. Although my following is modest, and mainly made up of people I’ve never met, there’s more community here. It’s a borderless place, which permits greater liberty for citizens of the earth. It’s where I can write, lay down my heart and be heard. It’s a place I find much easier to make my own. There’s more debate than conflict, greater understanding and acceptance (and comment is free, should anyone decide to use the facilities provided here). This is where others write too, and I enjoy reading and learning about them.

I didn’t write much here over Christmas, instead using the solitude to work on other things. There’s still much on my mind, and there always will be. There’ll forever be few who understand me, because they don’t question or get to know me (myself included, before this latest internal dialogue). There’ll rarely be many who read what I write, but if I keep writing the words, more might (including me).

I know only 3% will read this blog, but they’re the ones who matter. If opinions differ, those are the enquiring people, who are more likely to seek common ground and co-operation than conflict, or at least agree to differ but with a mutual understanding. Such a thing requires a level of intellect sadly lacking in many, almost allowing themselves to be radicalised by social media, regurgitating little of substance and sharing their own pavement pizza.

Some of the best debates I’ve had as a science fiction writer, have been with actual scientists. As an atheist, I enjoy the odd theological sparring match with friends of various persuasions. We’re able to be friends despite fundamental differences, because we talk and we understand, rather than accept nothing outside that which we’ve been taught (I’d question, by whom?) I received a new year pleasantry from one such evangelical friend on Facebook messenger, and thought it a good time to pay him due respect in return:

It’s fair to say, I gave a lot of consideration to your book (the Bible, when I was homeless). I think we can agree that gods and aliens can be interchangeable and co-exist. Therein lies the left-wing way to consolidate science and religion. If we don’t talk and understand, that breeds conflict. We may agree to differ on some things, but the best way to learn is to keep talking. Have a good one x

It being Facebook, that got a thumbs up.

The thinkers play a long game, and that’s evolution. Life revolves and evolves around worlds, not individual people. But it’s not just physics which makes the world go round, it’s the people who make up that world, at large or in microcosm.

All we need to do is keep talking, and that’s a resolution for everyone. I need to be able to tell more people what I’m thinking, so I’ll just keep writing. This is where people come to find me, so I can talk to them.

For my own sake, I resolve to speak more personally, about that which I’m able to. The thing which connects all of this, is what I’ve always written about anyway: The life of a writer with depression. It’s only now that I’ve come to terms with the former that I can talk more openly and honestly about the latter.

There’s much I never wrote about life on the streets, and while an autobiography is some way off, I can face those things again, without using the medium of fiction and with the benefit of hindsight. Many of those experiences are, after all, the bases of my many PTSD diagnoses. I have a third anthology planned, completely separately, and I’m already finding that unlocking more internal doors can reveal other depths in a wider context, and not all dark.

It was a writer friend who told me not to be ashamed to be proud, and it was David Bowie who always said it was okay to be different. I just needed time to think about that. I kicked some new year poetry into the gutter while I sat there:

Monkey Black heart NY

Thank you for taking the time. When I’m so often the one picking up after others, it’s nice to have somewhere to spill my own heart.

Life in bifocal time frames

THE WRITER’S LIFE

There are simple ways to look at complex issues. For example, all human conflict is rooted in an inability to see others as alternative versions of ourselves. We are all human after all, and everyone is host to a ghost, shadow self, where thoughts are suppressed, because we know those thoughts are wrong. At my age, I’ve seen plenty, including my hateful drunken ex-self, and a rebellious teenager.

Stempunk cat

As I continue to work my brain out, with reading and writing (while sometimes smoking weed), I’m realising things, only now that I have the time to think in solitude. I can see how that’s sometimes a self-perpetuating mechanism to greater insanity, but I did hit a proverbial wall this week.

Writing my family history book, I was thinking about how I became a writer (via the catalyst of an alcoholic breakdown), but more wondering why I hadn’t found it earlier and not wasted all that time. Since my illness, I’ve been on a journey of discovery, very much like being a teenager again.

With a nearly-teen son of my own, and the shelter and counselling I gave those stray youngsters at the squat, I’m perhaps more in touch with those feelings than I was when I myself should have been learning about the world. And that’s where it seems to have gone wrong, through no-one’s fault but by a combination of me and the system.

Aged five, I’d sit in class and daydream, and many were the times I was summoned back to the room I was already sitting in by a teacher. A few teachers and subjects aside, and despite the efforts of my parents to get me into grammar school, neither primary nor secondary education engaged me. I excelled in maths, English and the sciences, but I neglected other subjects, including history, which now engages me a great deal. And the syllabus was so linear, there was little opportunity to explore beyond it and link things up, as I like to do, to better comprehend them in a larger context. Of course, we were sans internet then.

At primary school, I’d already earned the name, “Ponder: a small Laker that thinks a lot,” as that teacher put it. I was more into visual art at primary school, drawing and painting. And again, I showed promise.

I remember one class project, just after we’d returned from a day trip to London. We’d seen the changing of the guard and we’d been asked to draw a picture from our day. I drew a line of horses, with guards mounted on them, with their feather plumes and so on. And I drew the back view: a line of horses’ arses. Truth is, I couldn’t draw horses’ faces, but when I was asked why I’d chosen my particular angle, I explained that everyone else was drawing the fronts of the horses round the other side, and there was no room for me. That’s quite deep for someone who’s six. But then, to this day I won’t walk between a street artist and their subject, for fear I end up photobombing a drawing.

It’s far from acceptable for a teenage boy to be playing video games in a leisure centre, in full view of the rest of the class running around in the fields outside. But Tehkan’s Bomb Jack was far more my thing than football. My rebellious teenage self levelled this as concentrating on something I excelled at, rather than wasting time on something I hated. Although I was generally a bit of a twunt, I can’t help thinking I had a point.

To their credit, I had many fine teachers at both schools, but they were also bound into a system: one which conditioned children in preparation for entering the world of work, either in a factory or an office. And that, is where the system went wrong, with me (although granted, I helped) and many others, and it still goes on.

I spent 11 years with no aspirations greater than wearing a blue or white collar. I didn’t have pushy parents, and the honest, modest jobs they did allowed them time with us kids. So I worked in print for 25 years, a mostly enjoyable time and certainly with many fond memories. Becoming a writer was logical, making all those things which could be printed and shared. However it happened, I’m glad it did. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, I’m in a place I never realised I wanted to be, but I like it here.

My children and those around them are hopeful that the Tories will be consigned to history soon, so that my kids and many others might enjoy a free higher education. They get that human jobs are being made redundant by technology now, just as they were by machines in the industrial age. Young people need to be able to fill the remaining jobs, the ones AI can’t do (yet), but that’s a long-term vision, something right-wing politics seems blind to.

For whatever reason, my children admire their radical writer old man. On the one hand, anything’s better than what I was a few years ago. But on the other, although not everyone approves, I’m really proud that they’re interested in writing, especially because their dad can write so many things, from bedtime stories to surreal whimsy and horror.

As a many-hatted writer, I’m either doing nothing at all or everything at once. So despite my resolution to break from other genres, I’m finishing my second anthology alongside my family history book, with the latter a constant while I write the last few short stories for what will now be called ‘The Unfinished Literary Agency’. The fictional agency is a theme cropping up in a few of my stories, and although none of the 17 in the book will be incomplete, the title is perhaps a statement of intent: I will not stop writing, when it’s my life and that’s one I enjoy now for the most part (with anxiety, depression and their mates along for a chat while we ride life’s bus).

There are two more short stories published over the next couple of weekends, and the remainder may remain unpublished outside the new book. At least one is the kind of story which has no market or home, except in my own volume. The running list of stories is looking good, and part of the reason I place importance in the titles of my tales:

The office of lost things
Pink sunshine
Reflections of yesterday
The difference engine
Of mice and boys in 1984
A young captain plays it safe
Are ‘friends’ electric?
Diary of a teen in the woods
So long and thanks for all the animals
The long now clock
Quantum entanglement in hamsters
Zeigarnick’s kitchen
The girl with the snake scarf
A girl, Sheldon Cooper and Peter Cook

Plus three more, and possibly some bonus tracks. Some of the stories are retained on this blog and may be revised, while others have been previously published elsewhere. Like The Perpetuity of Memory though, I’ll curate the newer stories into a bigger whole, so that it’s a collection of short stories within a longer narrative.

There are simple ways to look at complex issues, and one piece of advice I’ve given all those young people I’ve met and still see: Be the best that you can be, at the thing you enjoy the most. Then you can give the most back. Some things can’t and shouldn’t be simplified, but by transcending them, you can make them easier to understand.

I’m on a permanent guilt trip anyway, but it’s a guilty pleasure while my former teenage self haunts the current one and they both realise what they’re supposed to be doing.

A discomfort I can barely explain

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Little man on top of the world

Despite having everything I could hope for, there’s still a tension to life which I can’t quite grasp. This is not a new thing. It’s one of the many products of depression and anxiety, PTSD, personality disorder…

I really do have everything which my modest needs require: Food and shelter are taken care of in a way which others might take for granted, and so may I have done once. But I know how fragile any situation can be, and I remember how easy it was to gradually slip off of life’s ride. When you’ve been a tramp, even basic human needs become gifts.

I’ve been at the studio for exactly a year, with all indications that I’m now on a rolling tenancy and likely to enjoy many more years here, as my two neighbours have. Private renting comes with its own inherent anxiety, when a tenant is at the mercy of a private landlord’s personal whim. My own landlady is a social one, in that she accepts housing benefit tenants for the properties at the more modest end of her portfolio. The studio is very comfortable, well decorated and maintained, and no more than I need. The reasonably low rent is one which my housing benefit covers.

The fridge, freezer and cupboards are full. So for that matter are the biscuit barrel, the crisps basket, and the Minecraft Darth Vader Paul Auster mini bar (another, long story). I’ve usually got weed to chill with too. Just lately I’ve had more days when I actually feed myself than not, which is some kind of progress. Sometimes it’s as though I just buy food to look at it, or for other people to eat. Now I’ve got back into an old habit of planning meals. So often in the past, my indecisiveness was such that I’d grow tired of thinking about food and just not bother: Irrational, but just another part of the cocktail which makes my brain what it is. If I plan meals in advance, that part of me saves the indecisive one having to make a decision. It’s part of the fun mix which is my borderline multiple personality disorder.

Even though the studio is small, it’s crammed with the things I love: Films, music and books. It’s not so crammed as to look like a mentally ill hoarder lives here; Through the keyhole would reveal a cool, cosy little place: That of someone who likes their own space and who is perhaps somewhat eccentric. It’s been likened to Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter’s apartment, albeit smaller: I’ll take that. And in the corner by the window is the desk, with the typewriter and all of a writer’s tools, on and around it.

I’m content with my writing at the moment. I’m pleased with the three books which are out. My children’s story at least is getting good reviews in the marketplace: It’s helping people. I only wish that some of the people who tell me in private that the other two are good, would post reviews online. I find it frustrating and unfair that I spent three years writing my anthology and it would take five minutes to post a review. That sense of entitlement is another part of my frustrated mind. It’s the part of many depressives which allows them to crave contact with others, only to then push those people away.

Now that I’m free of editing for a while, I can devote more time to actually writing, which is what I’m paid nothing to do. As such, I’m having fun with some new stories. I’m practising a way of working which my more successful and wealthy peers employ: Experiment, play, throw away. This will sometimes produce a daily output of a few thousand words, which will then be consigned to the slush pile, or become something else.

I’ve invented a new character: A kind of Lewisham Tank Girl. She’s involved in one short story I’m writing at the moment and could well be a recurring character (in no more than three, before I have to consider another novel). One day I might do a head count of all of my characters and perhaps write something fun which they can all be in. I fear some may harm or kill others: Experiment, play, throw away. I’d first need to re-read everything to see who’s still alive.

So I have relative security in my housing situation, and as much writing as I can fit in until I’m no longer able to do it. I have things to look forward to in the short term too: This weekend’s monthly visit to Milton Keynes, to gallivant with my children; and a lunch I’ve arranged for my parents on their Golden wedding anniversary a week after. This is something which makes me want to grab all those old friends who dropped me when I was drunk. I want to grab them by the necks and show them that everyone who was affected by my illness, is cool with me now. I worked hard to rebuild those relationships, so that now everyone gets to actually enjoy my company, rather than fear it. I will live with the guilt for the rest of my life: That’s the price I pay for sobering up. But I haven’t lapsed and neither will I. Those around me know how important they are to me and if I returned to drinking, I would lose all of that.

The lunch with my parents is just a traditional Sunday roast at my local: Not a place I frequent, but it’s been very pleasant on the half dozen or so occasions I’ve visited in the last year. So I’ve booked us a table, so that my parents can enjoy a the tradition of Sunday roast, as they do, and my company, which they now do: They’ve told me so. They’ve also both told me that they’re proud of me. Well, I’ve come a long way and it was fucking hard, but I did it because of them. But I can already hear the friends I no longer speak to: “He’s taking them to a pub. Oh, right…” Well, fuck off, those people. I am an alcoholic. I am a functioning alcoholic. This is not to say that I just about manage not to soil myself; It means that I can go to a pub and enjoy a social alcoholic drink in good company: Company which I do not crave with those who still judge. That’s part of the life sentence; a penance I must pay.

All those people I should be kissing.
Some are here, and some are missing.

There’s plenty on my mind, which I’d like to share, only to illustrate how frustrating my life can be. There are things I wish to say to people; Things which I would gladly air in public, but then I have to consider the other parties. So those are conversations to be had with other people, or more than likely, just with myself. Or in fiction. Because with words, I can destroy people. But I can also do a lot of good with my writing, not just for myself. This month’s royalties will just about cover the cost of the lunches with my children and my parents.

So everything is good for the most part. But still there’s that discomfort I can’t explain.

And that’s what clinical anxiety is: It’s irrational, it’s that niggling doubt, not a fear (that comes with the panic attacks), but an unease about something which may or may not be there, like a presence. The important thing is, it’s always there. And one of the reasons for that is those who still think ill of me: I’m sure they’re happy. But that’s paranoia and insecurity.

All of which is why, when I’m asked how I am, I’m just okay. It’s easier that way.

When you wish upon a binary star

FICTION

Artist’s impression of the hottest and most massive touching d

This is a story I wrote a couple of years ago, when some young friends were struggling with themselves. Now, it’s different ones having the same issues. Life will feed you some shit sandwiches kids, and you’ll probably do a good job of making your own. But remember, everything happens for a reason: It’s all mapped out. Just be careful what you wish for.

When you wish upon a binary star

A binary star is a star system consisting of two stars orbiting around their common centre of mass. Systems of two, three, four, or even more stars are called multiple star systems. These systems, especially when more distant, often appear to the unaided eye as a single point of light, and are then revealed as double (or more) by other means. Research over the last two centuries suggests that half or more of visible stars are part of multiple star systems. (Source: Wikipedia).

It’s at exactly the point when you decide there’s nothing left, when reasons to live evade you and the pull of oblivion is as strong as gravity, that you make an involuntary wish upon a star.

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. This is as much as the girl knows.

She looks at her hands and her arms. One tattoo, gained with the help of fake ID: a love of her life, permanently under her skin. A passing cat scratches them, seemingly un-fazed by the big black dog standing behind the girl. The dog makes no effort to move in any case. Instead it rests its chin on her shoulder. There is a mirror on the far wall, which the girl can see if she rolls her eyes up. She can’t look directly into it because her chin is sewn to her chest. As she looks down, she contemplates her feet: in designer trainers. The trainers are pristine white, but for a blue tick mark to indicate that her feet have been nailed to the floor. The are no windows in the room that she can make out but there is an opening, as she is aware of a draught. The air tastes and smells damp and heavy: an indicator of conditions outside.

Although she’s inside the room, she is able to visualize it from the outside: a grey Portacabin. She could be in any of a number of settings: a spare classroom at a school; a temporary library parked in a local church car park; a polling station; a foreman’s office on a construction site; an incident room set up at the scene of a crime. There is no teacher, librarian, clerk, site manager or detective in the room with her.

She doesn’t know how long she’s been there but she knows it’s been a long time. The words “long” and “time” don’t sit well with her. For long, see far and big: see that which cannot be contemplated, for it contains fear. Like life. An ever-present voice reminds her of the one certainty in life: that one day it will end. If that voice could be there every day for several years to come, she’d rather not listen.

Mere thoughts cause her distress. She doesn’t like to think too much about things but with her movement impeded, she finds her mind wandering. Normally there’d be something to hand to stop this. A review of the life lived so far doesn’t last long: sexual partners, foster care homes and nights spent in police custody, all too numerous to contemplate individually. What would the rest of life hold? Fuck knows; who gives a shit?

A door opens at the back of the room and people file in. The room on either side of the girl fills quickly. Those on the left of her hold pieces of paper in their hands, while those on her right do not. Very soon, a figure passes through the assembled people on the right and hands them each a piece of paper. The figure passes close by and the girl can see that it is a tall, young male, wearing a black track suit and white trainers. From her position with her head bowed, all that she can tell of the others in the room is that they are people. As the distributor finishes and leaves the room, all but a few of those on the right hand side follow.

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. There are quite a lot of people on her left and two or three more on her right. Her feet are nailed to the floor and her chin is stitched to her chest. This is as much as the girl knows.

The door at the back of the room opens periodically and the people to her left shuffle forward, as though they are being pushed by more people arriving behind. The boy in the tracksuit returns.

“What the fuck?”

“Exactly mate.” The girl’s response was reflex.

“No, I mean, what the fuck? It’s a rhetorical question.

“A what?”

“A question asked not for information but to produce an effect. What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I don’t fucking know. What am I doing here?”

“It was another rhetorical question but I’ll tell you how you got here: you wished upon a star.”

“Fuck off did I.”

“You did, without realising it. You’re actually capable of a lot of things you may not realise. Beautiful dreams but also, terrible nightmares.”

“Yeah, I know about them.”

“It was in one that you came here.”

“Yeah, where the fuck is this?”

“I’ll cut your ties, so that you can see. Before I do, I have to tell you that you may only look at me. You must not look at the other people in this room. You are also free to leave at any time but I suspect that you have questions. You may ask as many questions as you want but you must ask each one only once. I will answer your questions as honestly as I am able to and some of what I say may not make sense at first. You need to consider my answers and not dismiss them. You are free to leave.”

“But you ain’t done nothing.”

“You perceive me to have done nothing. Your bonds were metaphorical.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“I shan’t answer that.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you paused for thought, you’d realise you didn’t have to ask. Your bonds were never there in a physical sense. You can move now. You’re looking directly at me.” To her surprise, her head had naturally drifted up and she could now see the boy’s face. “You are free to go”, the boy repeated.

“Nah, it’s alright. You’re quite fit mate. You remind me of someone.”

“Proving that you are both deep and shallow.”

The girl felt lost but found, in limbo beween the two. Was this purgatory?

“Proving you don’t make sense mate.”

“Until you take the time to consider my words. Do you know who I am?”

“A pretentious cunt if you have to ask.”

“How did one like you come to be in a place like this?”

“I don’t know. Where the fuck is this?”

“It doesn’t matter so much where it is, as when it is. This is your funeral. Actually, it’s two versions of your funeral. On your right is the congregation at your funeral if it were to be taking place now. To your left are people gathering for your funeral in the future. I realise that could take a while to sink in, so I’ll try to explain. Bear with me and I’ll probably answer more of your questions as I go along.

“You arrived at a point in your life where you were despairing. You weren’t getting the answers you wanted to your questions but you didn’t stop to wonder if you were asking the right questions. You’d fallen asleep, wishing that you were dead, as you have in the past. Normally, that sort of wish would be passed to a star and it would be decided if your wish should be granted as you slept. It’s a lovely paradox if you think about it. The problem is, you had two wishes: you’re so egotistical that you wished you could see who turned up for your funeral. Insecurity and vanity. Two wishes, each needing a star. So yours came to a binary star.”

“Who are you?”

“I could ask you the same. You might even ask the same question of yourself. I shall tell you only what you need to know of me. I have no name, or at least nothing you would recognise as such. Neither would I be recognisable to you if I hadn’t taken on this appearance. We figured this would make things easier for you. You are asleep, or at least you’re at that stage between wakefulness and sleep which you never remember: that’s where we live, or that’s how we find you. You can think of us as certain things which you may believe exist but can’t prove: ghosts, spirits, aliens… We’re sentinels; messengers carrying knowledge. The knowledge which we possess is too much for many to comprehend. That’s when people pass away in their sleep. They are the weak. Once they pass, they cross over to us, where they may better gain knowledge. The knowledge is inescapable. Who am I to you? Someone you recognise. Someone who could be in the congregation to your left, because our paths have crossed.

“Who are you? To me, you are a soul: a troubled one, with many questions and one of many such souls. To yourself you are a relative stranger and it doesn’t matter what happens to strangers because it’s not your problem: you’re so contradictory. You’re not old enough to know yourself yet, as you’ve not known yourself for long enough. That’s why you’re unsure of your age: because things haven’t changed in so long that you may as well be anywhere within a certain range. Your range may even expand. Some of the more interesting people we meet don’t know in their twenties what they want to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting forty-year-olds we’ve met, still don’t.

“The funeral which will soon take place on your right – if you don’t wake up – is being attended by people you’ve met up until this point in your life. To be honest, I’m amazed some of them even made it here. As people arrived, I gave them an order of service for your funeral. Inside the orders of service were vouchers for once-only entrance to a club, called Sirens. For the boys, there’s the promise of girls so attractive that they have to be kept out of sight. For the girls it’s boys who have to be concealed from view. LGBT isn’t excluded of course but it’s academic when you think about it. The funeral on your left will take place at some point in the future. You may not look at the people congregated there because some of them may not exist yet: imagine that side of the room in fast-forward mode, whilst you are paused. We can control time and see the future as well as having knowledge of everything past. It’s likely that there are people to your left who you wouldn’t recognise. There may be some you do, who you hoped wouldn’t be there. Conversely, others may not be there who you thought might. Some may not make it as far in life as you do and it could be you attending their funerals instead. You must not know and you must take certain things on blind faith. Our paths have crossed and may do so again.

“Of course the future funeral scenario will require you to wake up. When you do, you may or may not remember this. If you do, it’s probably a good idea to keep it quiet. Others have remembered their encounters with us and bored still others with stories which they can’t prove: there’s the paradox again. One guy even wrote a book about us. Don’t get branded a nut. Questions?”

“Fuck knows. I’m fucking listening though, ain’t I?”

“Am I not.”

“Fuck off, cunt. So all this shit: it’s a bit fucking dramatic ain’t it?”

“It worked: you listened and you didn’t run away.”

“Yeah, because you had me fucking stitched up and nailed down.”

“No, we didn’t. Think back. You’re still here because you want to find out more about this life which you’re questioning the validity of. And here’s another paradox: the only place where you can see ahead in time is here, yet here is where we take people from their sleep, that becoming easier the more curious they are and the longer their stay.”

“Can I go now then?”

“Any time you like. I was just going to give you a few things to think about. You are free to leave when you please, so I may as well keep talking for as long as you’re here.

“In the larger part of your life which you’re yet to lead, how can you say now that you may not finally one day find a real passion for a person or a thing? You’ll never know for sure and there’s every chance that the future holds something for you. So it’s a big leap to take without careful consideration. Is it okay to give up? That’s a very large responsibility to offload. It’s the biggest choice you’ll ever make and I can’t make it for you.

“As an atheist in the human form, I’d have extremely low expectations of the rest of eternity. That seems to me a very good reason not to rush into it. Life as you know it is at least a known quantity. It has ups and downs; textured, often surprising and scattered with some really quite sensational moments. Do you think you’ve had your allotted share?

“This too shall pass.”

“You speak in such riddles.”

“I choose my words in such a way as to encourage you to think. This too shall pass is an undeniable truth. Think about those four words alone:

“This: not that. Concentrate on the present and that which you have control of.

“Too: as well. Other things passed and so too shall this and more to come.

“Shall: it will. It did before and it will again.

“Pass: it will be gone, like so much else. More will come and then we repeat. That’s life. Four words.

“Ready?”

A girl is seated on a black chair in the centre of a white room. The girl is aged between 14 and 17. This is as much as the girl knows.

© Steve Laker, 2014