The cardboard sky effect

FICTION

Like most writers, I don’t do it for the money (there isn’t much). For me, it’s therapeutic, allowing me to get my thoughts and frustrations, hopes and visions out in the world. If it’s not me on my mind, it’ll be someone I can empathise with, or aspects of me turned into a fictional character. Cardboard sky was one such story, and if others enjoy what I do, then I’ve done my job.

The story below is in my anthology, but I gave it away as a stand-alone story, to someone who said she’d like to read it. This was what she said:

This story just whacked me in the chest. I can see elements of myself and many other people in there, and the way it’s written puts me right inside the story, because I know what that [the story’s content] feels like. It’s sad, but it’s funny, showing a coping mechanism. It’s both weird and wonderful. I love it!

This is what she loved:

Cardboard sky4

CARDBOARD SKY

The story of how I became a ghost is surprisingly ordinary: I died. My actual passing was like that moment when you fall asleep every night: You don’t remember it. The next day, you’ll remember being awake before you slept; you know you’ve been sleeping and you may recall dreams. But you won’t remember the transit from wakefulness to slumber. So dying was just like that, for me at least.

It didn’t take long to realise I was dead because people just stopped talking to me. I could still walk around but no-one could see or hear me. A couple of times, people just walked straight through me, as though I wasn’t there. I wasn’t but I was.

When someone walks through you when you’re a ghost, you get to know a lot more about them on the inside. I don’t mean how their internal organs look (just like in a hospital documentary or horror film) but a feeling of their inner self. It’s surprising how many people you thought you knew turn out to be complete twunts.

Even though I was invisible and inaudible, I felt vulnerable in this brave new world. I’m used to being looked at. I like it. I do dress quite provocatively. But here, no-one was looking at me and that made me feel anxious. I felt invisible. I was invisible. That’s how I ended up sleeping under George’s bed.

So kids: It’s not a monster under the bed, it’s a ghost.

It was while I was under there that I decided to write this story.

I’d suddenly found myself homeless. I had no personal belongings, nowhere to go and nothing to do. But like any child’s bed, George’s had cardboard boxes underneath it. I wouldn’t pry into something which might be private but like most children’s beds, George’s sat above a wasteland of discarded ephemera: a little-used word but for the purposes of this story, it was the right one. It’s a collective noun, for things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. Or collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. Ephemera also has a certain supernatural aura about it (Ephemeral, an adjective meaning lasting for a very short time), so to a ghost and a writer, it suits the story very well.

As a ghostwriter, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could do that in cardboard city but I had less to worry about under the bed.

It wasn’t me writing the story; I was employing someone else. When a man writes something, he is judged on his words. When a woman writes, it is she who is judged. Being a ghost was perfect. Because if a ghost writes the story, then they control it. If a ghost tells this story, it doesn’t hurt as much.

Among the discarded stationery, I found a note: ”If you don’t finish that story, I will personally punch you in the face. Cool?” I had no idea who’d written it, nor the circumstances surrounding it. I assumed it was a note given to George. Or it might have been one he’d planned to give to someone else and thought better of it. It could just as easily have been addressed to me. Whatever and if nothing else, it was a kick start. Sometimes that’s what we need.

It wasn’t a physical kick (There was no room under the bed) but it was a mental jolt, like the friend who places an arm around your shoulder and tells you they believe in you. That’s a very brave thing for them to do, because the kind of person who says that kind of thing is going to end up stuck with you.

I needed something to sustain me while I wrote. But I was under George’s bed. I had no idea how the rest of the house was laid out, so I wouldn’t know where to find the food. It occurred to me that even if I found any food, I was ill-equipped to cook it. One revelation leads to another: Ghosts don’t eat. Do they?

Eventually, I’d gathered enough odd sheets of paper to make a useful pad. All I could find to write with was a crayon. A fucking green crayon. So then I began to write, in green crayon.

Should I really have been denied drugs, when it was that which drove me, once I learned to control it? Should those who thought they knew better have removed my lifeline? If I’d allowed them to do so, I’d surely have died from the withdrawal. At least that’s what I was afraid of. So I kept going. I kept shooting up. Then I ran away. I was 16.

Once you’re 18, the law says you can leave home without your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Strictly speaking, if you’re 16 or 17 and you want to leave home, you need your parents’ official consent. However, if you leave home without it, you’re unlikely to be made to go back home unless you are in danger. You are extremely unlikely to be obliged to return home if that’s where the danger lies.

It didn’t matter to me that I had nothing. Just as long as I could get a fix, I had all I needed. Even personal safety and well being become passengers when the heroin is driving.

There’s a dark magic within you. A frightful thing I cling to.

But as a ghost I couldn’t score, just as I couldn’t eat.

So I had nothing to do besides write. It would be romantic to write that the flow of ink from my pen replaced the alchemy running through my veins. But I was writing with a green crayon.

The writing was a distraction but it couldn’t mask the withdrawal symptoms. It turns out that even being dead can’t do that. So I was faced with the prospect of cold turkey, a cruel joke as I was hungry and couldn’t eat.

So how could I write but not be able to eat? Actually I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure if it was delirium tremens brought on by my withdrawal, or the limitations of my new body, but I had no fine motor skills. I could rummage through things and pick them up but I couldn’t do something like thread a needle if anyone had asked. I probably wouldn’t have been able to put a needle in a vein if I was alive and I certainly couldn’t make my hands write. My fine motor skills were like those of a toddler. So I simply did what many authors do: They have an idea, some thoughts, a plot, and they’ll employ someone else to write their story for them: A ghostwriter. I was both a writer and a ghost. So I just thought my story; I willed it, in the hope that someone else might write it one day, now that I couldn’t.

I needed to haunt George.

I read a lot and I’ve learned through this self-teaching. I could have been so many things if it wasn’t for chasing the dragon. But that dragon must be chased, just as a puppy must be played with. So I’d read up on ghosts and the various types of haunting.

The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mum outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. In my case, a fallen one with broken wings.

“The reluctant dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In films, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home.

Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they might fear leaving what’s familiar to them.

There are ghosts with “unfinished business” broadly split into two categories: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. But there’s also the “vengeful ghost”; perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer.

“Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time.

Finally, the “intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George. In fact, to lesser and greater extents, I fitted parts of the descriptions of all types of ghosts. I’d not long been dead and already I had a multiple personality disorder.

All I could see of George when he first came into the room was his feet: Black elasticated plimsolls and white socks, like I used to wear for PE. I couldn’t say what size his feet were but I imagined them having a boy of about ten years old attached to them. I guessed George was quite a hefty lad by the way the sky fell slightly as he climbed onto the bed above me.

I laid still, because even though I myself was inaudible, my developing motor skills would betray me if I dropped the crayon or kicked anything. I could hear pages being turned and I was aware of movement above me. It could be that George was writing; doing homework perhaps. I didn’t want to entertain an alternative. I hoped he was writing.

No matter what we do in this life, we may eventually be forgotten. It’s a comfort I gain from writing, knowing that whatever is published is recorded and will be out there long after I’ve gone. The democratisation of publishing and reporting has meant many good and bad things but for as long as the conversation is global, we need to keep it going. There may be voices with whom we disagree but through writing, we can posit an alternative opinion and seed a debate. Beyond all that is happening in our constantly evolving universe is a simple fact: What is right will win. What is right can emerge from the anarchic democracy which is the internet, but only if there are enough voices. There will always be sides and factions but with everyone involved, those who engage the most because they are passionate enough will prevail. We don’t need to shout louder than the other side; we simply need to educate the ignorant. Evolution will tell the story of whether we became a liberal race and prospered, or if we destroyed ourselves because we were unable to evolve. Either way, history will record it. If we destroy ourselves, eventually our history will be lost in the vastness of space and time, and it may be as though we never existed.

There is only one race on this planet and that’s the one we all belong to: The human race. Where death may scare most people, it doesn’t trouble me. I’m seeing evidence that the human consciousness exists independently from the body and continues to live after our bodies give up or we destroy them. What does scare me is even more existential: Being forgotten, as though I never existed. The human race faces an existential threat: That of ignorance. Simply by talking, we can make a difference. Listen to the previous generations, for they are our history. Talk to the next generation and don’t patronise them: They’re intelligent beings. They are the human race and the future.

After a while, the sky fell further and the lights went out. George had retired for the night.

Ghosts can see in the dark. As soon as George had been quiet long enough for me to be sure he was asleep, I was getting restless. I moved around and stretched a bit. I’d managed to keep the shakes under control but now that George was asleep, the withdrawal was becoming quite uncomfortable. Despite my anxiety and a developing agoraphobia, I was tempted to just get out and run around; to do something to distract myself. I decided against it. I’d be like a child who’d just learned to walk. I would bump into things and knock things over. I didn’t want George to have a poltergeist: They’re bad. I’m not bad and I didn’t want to be the victim of an exorcism, made homeless all over again.

I thought I’d try my night vision out and have another go at writing. I managed to draw a crude stick man, a house with a smoking chimney and a space rocket with flames coming out of the bottom. He was a green man, who lived in a green house (so shouldn’t throw stones) and he had a green rocket which burned copper sulphate fuel (copper sulphate produces a green flame). I wasn’t evolved enough to write.

I fought an internal flame: One which was a danger I wanted to flee but at the same time, a beckoning warmth. I didn’t know what time of day it was and I had no idea how long George slept for. He might be one of those kids who was in and out of the bathroom all night, or he might be near enough to adolescence that he hibernated. Either way, or anywhere in between, I couldn’t keep still for even a minute.

The shakes were more like tremors now: Delirium tremens: a psychotic condition typical of withdrawal in chronic alcoholics, involving tremors, hallucinations, anxiety, and disorientation. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens. The DTs were the manifestation of my other addiction, which I’d used heroin to cover up. It was somehow less shameful to be an addict of an illegal substance and hence a victim, than it was a legal drug which most people can consume with no ill effects. As an alcoholic, I was less of a victim. I was a sadomasochist.

As soon as you tell people you’re an alcoholic, if they don’t recoil, they just assume that you’re always drunk. Or they assume that you must never touch a drop. Both are true in some alcoholics but there’s the “functioning alcoholic”, who still drinks far more than anyone should but who doesn’t get drunk. They can get drunk but most functioning alcoholics simply drink throughout the day (a kind of grazing) to keep the delirium tremens and other dangerous side effects of alcohol cessation at bay. It’s called Alcohol Dependence Syndrome but most people saw it as a cop out. I couldn’t educate the ignorant, or I couldn’t get them to listen long enough for me to explain. So I started taking drugs. I got so tired of trying to explain alcoholism to people, educating their ignorance, that I gave up. You get much more sympathy as a drug addict. Yeah, right!

So as in life, this once functioning alcoholic is now a ghost.

For the brief period that I was on the road in the last life, one saying; one sentiment, was always to be heard in the homeless community: “Be safe”. Those two words convey much more than their brevity would suggest. But when you’re homeless, relationships and lives are fragile. It’s quicker and less sentimental to say “Be safe” to someone you may never see again than “I love you”.

Even if I was restless, I felt safe under George’s bed. To keep busy, I broke a promise and looked in the cardboard boxes. I placed the green crayon in my mouth, like a green cigarette. I sucked on it like a cigarette and the taste of wax was actually quite pleasant. It helped just a little as a distraction from the shakes.

The first box was a complete mixture: Sheets of paper, smaller boxes and random other stuff; like a model car, some Lego and, well, just all sorts. I gathered the papers first.

Some of George’s notes were seemingly to himself: They were in a handwriting different to the first note I saw, so I couldn’t be entirely sure but one such note read, “You came close a few times but you backed off. You didn’t want to be one of those boys who made her cry. That’s the only reason you did it.” If they were intended for someone else, he’d not delivered them.

There were unopened presents and gifts addressed to others which George hadn’t given to them. Some things were wrapped while others weren’t, but they were clearly intended for someone else as they had notes attached. A packet of 20 Marlborough Lights: “Should really have got two tens, then I could have given mum and dad one each. Like that’s going to stop them arguing.”

I’d not seen or heard the parents. Without knowing even what day of the week it was, there could be many scenarios. In one, George’s parents argued a lot but they were very much in love. Perhaps they were frustrated and united against a common foe. With my parents, that was me. Whatever it was, I imagined something bonding them and keeping them together. That could have been George I suppose.

I wondered at what point in human evolution it might have been that we started analysing things and where it might have been that we started to over-analyse. Marriage guidance, or relationship management; fucking couselling, from professionals and the plastic police alike: We all have someone. We all love someone. They care about us and vice versa. But over time, something’s not right, so we take the lid off and start poking around in that jar. We keep chipping away, feeling more free to say things in an environment which we might not in another. And eventually we say something irreversible. Something that’s niggling us deep inside and which doesn’t affect us until it’s dug up. And from there, the relationship breaks down further and ever more of the undead join the feast.

Rather than encourage engagement, that kind of situation can invoke the fight or flight reflex in the previous life; the past. And whether fleed or not, the past is history.

So we arrive in the next life with so much unsaid. We want to say it but we have to learn all over again, how to speak. And I suppose that’s why we want to haunt people.

George woke up. A light was switched on and the sky above me moved. I waited for the feet from above but there were none. There was movement like before, and the sound of paper. George must have been writing. Or drawing. After what I guessed to be around 20 minutes, he stopped, the light went out and the sky moved again. I was trembling quite violently by then, so I bit down on the crayon between my teeth and returned my attention to the boxes.

I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.

Do the first one: Get to know yourself and be happy with what you are. Then do the second: Those who loved you first time around will be the ones who are still there. So you’re not lonely.

Life, packaged.

The human body is merely a temporary host.

Put like that, we simply inhabit a body for a period of time, like a possession; In “life” we are already ghosts possessing bodies which give us physical form. That organic structure will age and eventually die but our consciousness is separate from what we look at as a living body and it goes on living, long after the host gives up. Life, as we know it, is merely one part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we don’t yet understand. Knowledge comes with death’s release. You may well have lived in another body in a previous life: Deja vu tells us that; that feeling that you’ve been somewhere before.

The trembling had reached my head. There was more than one person in there and the dialogue was two-way. I wasn’t talking to myself; I was talking to another person.

I began to realise that perhaps George and I were somehow connected. I always subscribed to predeterminism in principle. A part of me knew that the Big Bang carried an imprint equal to its original noise; that everything was mapped out in that pre-spacetime manifestation of knowledge and understanding. I was drawn to believe that our futures were mapped out long ago, but that they were as inaccessible as our pasts: We had no control over either. Great swathes of George were alien to me. But why wouldn’t I explore, if George was my destiny? Or it could be the withdrawal, and I may have been withdrawing to a comfort zone. I couldn’t do that to George. What had this kid done to deserve me, inside him?

Life had been very much a game of give and take: If George had taken something, then he was indebted to someone else. If he received something and it wasn’t in recognition of anything he’d done, he was in someone else’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back. It was simply an accepted fact that life gave back far less than was put in. No-one understood him, least of all himself. Did I? Could I?

If what life gave was indirectly proportionate to what he put in, then the more George worked, the better the life would be which he eventually made.

His life revolved around visits to toy fairs with his father. They couldn’t afford the mint-and-boxed or the ready-made, so dad would just look around and George would use pocket money to buy spacecraft parts.

Broken and incomplete model kits were fuel for George’s shipyard in a cardboard box under the bed. When weekends were over, the shipyard had to remain where it was. The direct upshot of this was that, when George was at his dad’s to build his craft, he didn’t. Because time was too valuable. So we were at George’s father’s house and it was the weekend.

When he wasn’t constructing, he was thinking. And he made more notes. He made the normal in my life fantastical, by explaining how science fiction writers were just one small step ahead of the real world. George knew I was there, or at least that it was possible for me to physically be there.

There were clippings from newspapers and magazines in the next box, including an obituary: Jemma Redmond was a biotechnologist who died aged 38 in 2016, like so many others in that awful year. The passing of her life was overshadowed by many more well-known figures in the public eye. But like George, she worked quietly, tirelessly and passionately. And she achieved some incredible things. She developed a means of using human tissue cells as “ink” in a 3D printer. She also helped in the design of 3D printers which reduced the cost of their manufacture. Jemma Redmond made it possible to “print” human organs for transplant into patients, and she reduced the cost so that the technique could be applied in the developing world. This is not science fiction. This is science fact, just a few years from now. Most people wouldn’t have known, unless it was brought to their attention and they then had the attention span to listen. But if anyone were to Google her name, her work is recorded in modern history.

There was a printout of a scientific paper about NASA’s EMdrive. The Electro Magnetic drive is a fuel-free means of propulsion which could replace rocket fuel and all its limitations of bulk and speed. The EMdrive could take a spacecraft to Mars in 70 days. At present, it’s a two year trip, with a lot of psychological and physiological risks to any humans making the journey. Many of those problems would be overcome with the EMdrive. It’s due for testing soon and with development and improvement, could make other stars in the galaxy viable destinations for exploration and research. This is not science fiction. This could be possible within George’s lifetime.

But very few people know about these things because all of the bad news in the world shouts louder. If more people knew about the technological and scientific thresholds we’re at, they might talk about them. Others would then learn and eventually there might be a chorus of voices so loud that mankind has to listen and consider another way forward for the species.

George thought what a wonderful world ours could be if we concentrated on this stuff, rather than religion, conflict and capitalism. Of course, George was young and naïve in the eyes of most. He’d never be taken seriously if he proposed an alternative plan for humankind. So he kept and curated records, and he wrote about them. Like so many other people, he was recording his thoughts in the hope that someone might discover them later, or when he was older and might be taken more seriously. He was aware that he was documenting the present and the contemporary, and that it could become either history or the future.

My trembling had almost taken control of my limbs by now. Where previously it was first shaky fingers, then hands, now my arms and legs ached as though they needed to spasm.

The light went on again and the sky moved. There was more rustling of papers and scribbling with a pen or pencil. I started singing a song in my head, as I wondered something: I knew I didn’t need to eat, but would I need to get my hair cut out here? It was a song by the Crash Test Dummies: God shuffled his feet. If crash test dummies were to have nervous systems, I knew how one might feel by now. The light went off and the little big man upstairs settled back down. I needed coffee: lots of cream, lots of sugar.

My coffee used to come from a jug on a hotplate. George was planning a replicator. He explained in his notes how a replicator was just one step further on from a 3D printer. Scientists could already print human body parts after all. To print a cup, then some coffee to fill it, was actually quite simple. George was keen to point out in his notes that one should always print the cup before the coffee.

Like the quiet voices of mankind, George could only imagine. He could only wonder at the sky, or lie in bed and dream of what was beyond the ceiling. Humans travelling to other stars was one lifetime away. It was only a matter of generations before the dream could be anyone’s reality. George wanted to be anyone.

George escaped in his sleep. And he explained in his notes how it was possible to travel all over the universe. Not only was it possible but everyone does it, every night. Everyone has dreams and George wrote his down. The spacecraft and all of its missions were in the same cardboard box; a microcosm universe beneath George’s bed. He explained how time travel could be possible:

It’s essentially a simple matter of thinking of space and time as the same thing: Spacetime. Once you do that, it’s easier to visualise the fourth dimension: I am lying beneath a bed and I’m occupying a space in three dimensions (X,Y and Z); my height (or length), width and depth. Trembling limbs aside, I will occupy the same space five minutes from now. So the first three dimensions have remained constant, but the fourth (time) has changed. But also, I did occupy that same space five minutes previously. That, and every moment in between is recorded in the fabric of space time: I am still there, five minutes ago. I know the past. I don’t know if I’ll still be here five minutes hence: I can’t predict the future, even though it may be pre-planned from the start of all time as we understand it.

Of course, there is what’s known as The Grandfather Paradox: This states that if I were to travel back in time and kill my granddad, I would cease to exist. But if we assume that in George’s new world order, various ethics committees exist in the future, then time travel to the past could be undertaken in a governed, regulated and ethical manor. It might be a little like the First Directive imagined in many science fiction works, where it is forbidden to interfere in any way in a species’ development, even if that means remaining invisible whilst watching them destroy themselves. This in itself is a paradox because no-one is qualified to say that it hasn’t already happened, conspiracy theorists aside.

When you’re despairing late at night and you just wish someone was there, but you don’t really want anyone around. When you’re confused, perhaps by internal conflict. That’s when you need a guardian angel. If someone would just phone you at that time, that would be perfect, because you’re not bothering them. You’ve not caused them any trouble. Gaurdian angels need a sixth sense and the ability to travel back in time.

George estimated his brave new world to be around 200-250 years from now; perhaps ten generations. There was a long way to go and a lot to do, and George would most likely not see any of it. Or so he thought. He was young and he had much to learn, then he needed to learn how to deal with it. The things which George wanted to do were the things I regretted not doing.

All things considered, I thought it might be better to not let George know that one of his prophesies does come true. It was too soon. He wasn’t ready. I couldn’t let him know that it was possible to send letters from the future, or that people from the past could be visited. It was a one-way street, a bit like going to see grandma because she can’t get to you. The departed are still around, we just can’t normally see them. Often they’re just watching over us. Sometimes they might want to speak to us but we need to be receptive.

By now, my arms and legs were in full spasm and I could feel my torso waiting to convulse. I cleared everything from around me as quietly as I could, so as not to interrupt whatever dream was unfolding above me.

The human body has an internal mechanism which shuts it down when stimuli get too much. An inconsolable baby will cry itself to sleep, and if a pain becomes truly unbearable at any age, we will pass out. I hadn’t tried to sleep since I’d been dead but it looked like I was about to be shown how to.

I don’t know how far I travelled in the fourth dimension but I was woken by a voice:

“Georgie?” It was a man’s voice. Dad was home.

“In here dad.” George calling to his dad was the first time I’d heard him speak.

“I got you your magazines.” Dad was now in the room, quieter but closer. He had big feet.

“Thanks dad.” George’s voice had changed. Now that he was speaking at a lower volume, his voice was deeper: Young George’s voice was breaking.

“Card making, jewellery and papercraft. Is that right?”

“That’s the ones. Thanks.”

“What’s all this?”

“Notes. I’m writing a story. Here.”

There was a long period of quiet. George was shifting about on the bed and his dad was pacing around the room. There was that same distinct sound of pages being turned that I’d grown used to.

“Jemma Redmond. I read about her. Amazing woman. Deserves a posthumous Nobel.

“The EMdrive, eh? That’s exciting.

“There’s some pretty deep stuff in here Georgie. Did you do this all yourself?”

“Well, I kind of had some help.”

“From whom? I’d like to meet them.”

“You can’t dad.”

“Why not?”

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Can I smile?”

“You may smile”. There was a pause. “So, I had a dream.”

“We all have those. What about?”

“Nothing specific. Just a load of dreams mixed into one I suppose.”

“So you wrote about it. It’s good to write down your dreams.”

“But not all of that writing is mine. See, there was this girl.”

“A girl? In your dream?”

“Yes. A small girl, with blonde fizzy hair. And green teeth.”

“Green teeth? Was she a witch? Is she under the bed?”

Shit!

“No. Well, she was kind of a witch. A dark witch but a good one. She was just wandering around, like she was showing me things. She might have been lost. I want to see her again.”

“I imagine you do. Well, you pretty much hibernate anyway. At least your witch has somewhere to live now.”

***

George left at the end of that weekend but it wasn’t the end of the story. He visits every weekend and he continues to record things for historians of the future. Eventually, he may realise that he was part of the machinery which kept the conversation going. He didn’t know this yet but he was encouraged in his chosen vocations.

I was there, under the bed. If I’d been able to write, I’d have just added a note for George:

Do what you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll be good at it and people might notice you. If not now, then in the future. Don’t put off till tomorrow that which you can do today. Because if you do it today and you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.

Your life is not empty and meaningless, regardless of who is in it or absent from it. Your life is what you make it, for yourself and for future generations. Don’t give up. Hopefully George will continue this story, now history, but in the hope that it might be read in the future.

Dust to Funky. Be safe George.

To this day, Dad has never gone through George’s things under the bed. I’d have noticed.

© Steve Laker, 2016.


Cardboard sky and 24 other stories, are what made The Perpetuity of Memory.

Pondering evolution through regression (80s mix)

DEAR DIARY | THE WRITER’S LIFE

1980s Desk

It’s interesting (to me) how some of the greatest pleasures are the remembered ones: The things which definitely happened, because they’re recorded in the past. I’m a futurist and a sci-fi writer, but nostalgia still tugs at me.

Lately on my planet, I’ve been getting into radio, specifically BBC6 Music. I’ve got a hefty old bit of Cambridge Audio kit and I’ve always loved music, discovering new stuff and buying loads of old CDs in virtual record shops (because I don’t go out). The radio introduces me to more new music and I’m quite enjoying the company of some chat and documentaries on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra. Like Benjamin Button, I’m evolving in reverse. But as my mind expands, I’m finding the joy I never found before in low tech, like radio. My typewriter is a perfectly contemporary laptop, and I’m connected, but like a 21st century version of all those American geeks in the 80s, who’d now be on the dark net. But I’m frustrated, like those nerds, yet I’m finding my identity.

In another move back to the 1980s, I’ve started wearing a headband, while I decide what else to do with my hair (it’s getting long). It’s fascinating as a study of human psychology. To anyone who’s never seen me before, me wearing a head band isn’t a new thing; perhaps a little eccentric but unlikely to illicit a response. When anyone who’s not seen me for a while sees me, they may comment. Those who don’t know me but who see me regularly (local shop staff, for example), do give me a second glance. I have to remember my cognitive behaviour therapy to remind myself that they’re probably looking at me in a positive way. I shouldn’t care: I feel comfortable with the way I look at home, it’s practical and comfortable. But social anxiety breeds paranoia, so it’s still a personal challenge to go out. Now it will be an evolutionary process in microcosm, and probably a few weeks before the people who see me regularly think it normal for me to be wearing a head band. I predict it would take several months for it to become a trademark: “You know the guy: Wears a headband.” I’ll try to keep wearing it, because it feels right.

Often when I return home from my daily mission to Tesco Metro, there’ll be boxes and barrels of produce at the bottom of the iron staircase leading up to the studio. Where once I might have been jealous, bitter, or perhaps even inclined to steal, now that’s changed. For starters, I wouldn’t steal any more. I did that, got caught, realised you always will, and gave it up on the advice of the law. It would alienate me from my neighbours and it would be morally wrong. No, nowadays, I smile inside when I’m confronted with fresh goods below the flat. It’s beer barrels, boxes of bottles of wine, crates and cartons of fresh fruit and veg, mainly from independent organic suppliers. Those are destined for the restaurant / bar downstairs, next to the coffee shop on the village high street. In those establishments, people have a nice time and it improves them. It’s nice to see things from the liberal left wing and live in a studio perched on top of all that life.

My village is a personal nirvana anyway, but twenty years ago, when I used to go out a lot, it would also have been perfect: I’d have a light meal at the restaurant downstairs (there’s an Indian next to it), then off to one of the four or five pleasant pubs in the village. But that’s not me any more. The tranquillity which I’d have enjoyed after hectic nights out locally, is the one I have almost 24/7. And it’s peace and quiet which I most crave now, it’s fed to me in spades. What did I do to deserve this? But I still live every day with the other side: The permanent reminders as a life sentence. But how do you deliberately finish something you’ve learned to love dearly?

Personal heaven and hell is one of the underlying subtexts of a new sci-fi short story I’m writing: The afternaut, coming soon. It’s about a man who hibernates for four millennia between planetary evolutions, and other things. The difference engine will be on Schlock web zine this weekend, and on this blog.

Another recent evolution has been knocking off from scribbling at 2am instead of 3, then have the final hour before crashing, chilled with a joint. I favour the Blaze channel in the early hours: Ancient Aliens, Hangar 1, The Conspiracy files: Unsealed etc. Late night UK Freeview TV is like we used to see American teens watching on cable in the 80s.

But even while I’m trying to reboot, I have a notepad handy (there’s so much pulp fiction fodder on those geeky shows). I write longhand notes with my favourite pencil: The Staedtler Norris 122-HB. It’s the yellow and black striped one with an eraser on the end. It’s my favoured pencil, as explained in a story I wrote: Echo Beach. If someone were unfamiliar with my writing, I’d guide them to this. It’s one of 25 short stories in my anthology and the one I still sometimes hang my hat on.

Life’s good, apart from social anxiety preventing me from fully enjoying it. But indoors, in my studio and now as a writer in residence, I’m in a self-made mini utopia. Watching late night geek TV or listening to the radio, looking like Charlie Sheen with my head band, writing with a pencil. I’ve also had an original Rubik’s Cube for the last few months and I’m no better at it than I was 35 years ago.

Identity, mid-life, or existential crisis? I don’t know. It’s as though I’ve had to regress in order to evolve. As such, I’ll continue my battle with Ernő Rubik, without resorting to tearing his invention apart.

I suppose this was a letter to my present self, from my future and past selves.

The difference engine and the afternaut

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Afternaut4

Recently I wrote of The Unfinished Literary Agency, my fictional office, where the staff (me) write the stories of others. It’s really just a standard tool which many writers use, but which I’ve turned into a background story in itself.

Originally, The Unfinished Literary Agency existed to write the stories of those who were unable to tell them themselves, for various reasons. But it’s also a repository for people’s ideas, which I turn into stories for them: A mutually beneficial arrangement, where the idea donor gets to see their story idea published; and the writer (me) is given the germ of a story to develop. Recently, I wrote a short story about a translation device, The difference engine, and that will be published in a week or so. The latter story ideas which have come into the agency, are the difference engine being put to work.

Among the idea slips in my in-tray was this one:

Imagine if you fell into a lake during a freak cold spell, and were frozen in a cryogenic-like state, however the extreme cold across the globe (perhaps the sun burned out?) caused the entire human race to perish, or at least change drastically. You are then discovered by these future people, and thawed out because you are now the last of an “extinct” human species, and are stuck trying to escape from these intrusive and frighteningly intelligent beings trying to study you.

That’s actually a big brief. Taken to its full extent, there are at least three massive concepts to include in the final story: Human extinction; Extraterrestrials, time and space; Human psychology, morals and social ethics. All would require at least a degree of explanation in setting up the beginning of a story. Even individually, it’s a lot for readers to take on board. As it stood, it could easily be a brief for a novel, or at least a novella.

A novella is typically 17,500 – 40,000 words. A novelette is 7500 – 17,500, and 7500 words or fewer is a short story. Most publications only accept a maximum of 6000 words for short fiction, and even those are rare and mainly online. Print magazines typically specify 1500 words maximum. Then there’s flash fiction, at sometimes as few as 500 words. Back at the other end of the scale, there’s the novel, with 40,000 words and over: An actual feckin’ book, as far as I’m concerned. As a point of note, Cyrus Song comes in at 93,000 words and it’ll be a 412 page paperback when it’s published in a few months. More on that in a moment.

Returning to the brief above, I was only going to be able to turn it into a short story. Given submission guidelines, I’d need to keep it under 6000 words if the idea donor was ever going to see it published. So I thought of a way I could do it, and this is the synopsis:

The lake is planet Trappist-1e, and the last human is a man, floating in a tin can, above the planet. He is the last human, following an extinction event on earth c.2097. Using the EMDrive, humans sent the last of their kind on a journey to the Trappist system. After 4000 years, the tin can travels the 40 light years to Trappist-1e, where we find ourselves in the year 6070.

It’s going to be a sort of ancient aliens turned on its head: There will be Trappists on the alien planet, and they have ancient scripts which tell of a distant planet where their forefathers once lived, and who would one day send a sentinel. It’s 12,000 years of history repeated.

With a working title of The Afternaut, it should be published sometime in the next month. The rough first draft opening goes like this:

The last earth human was also the most distant that any had ever been from the home planet. In roughly 4000 years, he’d travelled 40 light years away from earth and was approaching Trappist-1e, an exoplanet orbiting the Trappist-1 star.

The Trappist 1 planetary system was discovered in 2016, and Trappist-1e identified as a habitable planet shortly thereafter. By the time of mankind’s extinction event in 2096, the most advanced propulsion method available was the electromagnetic drive, or EMDrive. At warp 0.01 speed, it had taken 4000 years to travel the distance to the Trappist system. Back on earth, it would have been the year 6070. Neither the Trappists below, nor the man in the tin can, knew who he was.

To answer a few of the many questions arising at this point, and to speed the telling of the fable, it’s important to take a few things on board. Accept as fact, that humans died out on earth in 2097. It was an AI: Extinction through technology. What mankind had strived for millennia to achieve, turned on its creator. The entire extinction event was complete in less than a year: A flash in space time, and they were gone…

(To be continued).

It might even be a Douglas Adams-esque, Life of Brian type of story. I’ll see how it evolves in the typewriter. The idea donor and anyone else, will be able to see it when it’s published.

Returning to Cyrus Song, I mused to some of my writing peers in a forum last night:

Am I rare (or perhaps alone) in suffering separation anxiety from my characters?

For the last six months, I’ve been writing Cyrus Song and now it’s out with test readers. I’m trying to spend some time away from the manuscript, so that I can go back to it in a month or so, with beta reader feedback and take a fresher look, if necessary. So for now, I’m in limbo, and I really miss all the characters I created. I even wonder what they might be up to in the world I made for them.

Am I insane, taking writing too seriously, or just a normal idiosyncratic writer?

Apparently, I’m normal. Or at least, that’s a normal thing for a writer to feel. I was genuinely slightly concerned though, that my daily living issues of paranoia and anxiety were somehow creeping into my fiction as well. I haven’t suffered separation anxiety from anyone in real life for some time, because there hasn’t been anyone to separate from, and one of the many reasons I’m resolutely single. In any case, writing has been therapy for me for some time now, so the best way to overcome fictional character separation anxiety is to bring those people back to life. But that’s the thing: Simon Fry, Hannah Jones et al are such strong and deep characters on the page that they do seem real to me. Maybe it’s because I’m a good writer, or maybe just because I’m a writer.

So there will more than likely be a Cyrus Song II, possibly about a year for now. In the meantime, Hannah, Simon and all the animals are with my beta readers: Three pairs of safe hands and one one who spends a lot of time with their foot in their mouth; a good cross section of the target audience.

While I’m waiting for my fictional friends to come back to me, before I write more for them to do, I have other therapy to work on, with the difference engine, The Unfinished Literary Agency, and the afternaut. And the Unfinished Literary Agency is still open for submissions.

Prime Minister disappears up own arse

POLITICS | THE WRITER’S LIFE

MayArms02
Image from B3ta

The supreme leader, Kim-Jong May and the Tories’ election campaign, was akin to watching a video of someone lighting their own fart, then ending up in hospital. Or a great day out at the seaside, marred by sand in the vagina. What was I saying about not politicising this blog?

I have never been so invigorated or involved with a general election as I was this one, and it’s reaffirmed my faith in humanity. After this election, I’m starting to feel I love my country again. One of my common chants when I was shouting from the left was, I voted Labour, because I’m proud to be British. A collective veil has been lifted and the British public have protested at having their intelligence insulted.

This was an election called by the Supreme Leader’s ego, so confident was she that the country needed her “strong and stable” leadership, a mantra which will be forever ridiculed and satirised. She panicked: She was shitting it about Brexit, her predecessor’s epic fail of a gamble. So she called a snap election in the arrogant misguided belief that she’d win a landslide majority, allowing her to bumble through her Brexit no-plan unchallenged. I still suspect that she planned to pursue a cowardly “hard Brexit”, almost completely severing ties with the EU, so that the UK became an annexe of Trump’s capitalist US. Then, with no minimum wage, those who sought to exploit a workforce would be given tax breaks by UK PLC.

And she might have got away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids. The figures are blurry but there is no doubt that the mobilisation of young voters played a big part in May’s implosion. But the other starring role was Corbyn’s man of the people. I said some time ago that (like many others), I couldn’t vote Labour because I couldn’t see Corbyn as Prime Minister. But then I realised I was working with my conditioning of what a politician was. So what I saw in Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a politician. Realising that was a good thing was the light bulb moment for me.

Now I predict that the Conservatives will completely collapse. The people have seen through a woman who won’t even dirty her eyes by looking at them. Her own party is in turmoil and there’ll be leadership challenges. Even if there are none, they are a battered and bruised after-party mess. She is weak and unstable, and she is unfit to lead a country into all that faces us over the coming years and months. The marriage of convenience to the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, climate-denying DUP will only cement the newly switched-on public’s opinion that this is a party in trouble, willing to do anything to cling on to power.

Corbyn is planning to scupper May’s Queen’s Speech: I wish him luck. He is becoming known as an unconventional politician and if that’s modernisation of our archaic system, he can only be a good thing. I predict the wicked witch being gone by Autumn and then another general election. Hopefully the voters will be sufficiently invigorated by the last one that they’ll get out and vote again in similar numbers. I can’t see the Conservatives’ campaigns team coming up with anything to slow the decline, and Labour already have a new momentum. I predict that we will see a Labour Prime minister in 10 Downing Street by October. And Corbyn is unassailable as leader within his own party now. Far better to have Obi-Wan Kenobi at No.10 than Emperor Palpatine.

The next prime minister is going to have their work cut out. I’m confident Jeremy Corbyn is the best man to give the most to the many, while still placating the remaining few. It’s too early to call Brexit and there are scenarios where a second referendum is called. Provided the public isn’t sick of voting, perhaps the national mood swing and the realisation that Brexit was sold on a lie, might alter the balance. But if Brexit does go ahead, Corbyn will ensure the best deal for all. And the other 27 states are itching to maul Darth Sidious. Everything can change, suddenly and forever. The coming weeks and months will be the next stage in the turmoil this country’s suffered for over a year now. The public are getting bored of it, but they’re up for it: Roughly translated, ‘Tories Out!’ I dread to think what Brenda from Bristol is thinking. But the UK’s shift to the left is a trend we’ve been seeing in Europe since Trump’s election. Recent politics has been some of the most explosive in history. The world still stands at a pivotal point, but it looks like it’s starting to lean to the left again.

Brexit_Bus_Election2_small_2
Image from B3ta

Funnily enough, a pivotal point for mankind is one of the many subjects touched upon in a book I’ve been writing. I may have mentioned it: It’s called Cyrus Song.

I am literally in the final few days of writing the first draft, before sending the manuscript out to test readers. It’s still looking good for October publication and a lot of people have said how much they’re looking forward to reading it. All I can add to everything I’ve already said, is that I’ve been banging on about it so much, it has to be bloody good or I’ll look like a twunt.

I met with two of my younger fans yesterday, when we spent one of our regular days together in Milton Keynes. Despite my levels of anxiety sometimes preventing me even from leaving home, Sundays with my kids are a well-rehearsed known quantity. Once I’ve smoked a joint to combat the anxiety, the day breaks down into manageable pleasant stages: I leave my box of a studio, perched on top of a coffee shop, walk to my local train station, past the workhouse where George Orwell lived for a while, and a fountain once sketched by Turner. A train via the Bowie lands of Bromley and Brixton, then past Battersea Power Station and into Victoria. Next, the old queen’s line (I associate it more with her namesake daughter: A proper feckin’ rebel) to Euston, and onto a Virgin Pendolino via Bletchley Park to Milton Keynes, with it’s herd of concrete cattle by Liz Leyh (Canadian artist). Why the fuck wouldn’t I want to put myself through all that? If it wasn’t to meet my kids at the other end, anxiety would stop me.

One side effect of constant paranoia (I find), is that you can get a mental vibe from a place. Although London and Milton Keynes have never been hostile, yesterday I felt a greater awareness of people to those around them. A ‘vibe’ is a difficult thing to enunciate, but it was a safe one yesterday.

The kids are really excited about Cyrus Song, mostly because I gave them roles as extras in the book. It’s a book for everyone, as people will start to find out when anyone reads it. I only need a few people to do that before I’m confident that word of mouth will kick-start the rest. For that reason, and for reasons of royalties, I will almost certainly self-publish the first edition. Thereafter, it depends who might pick it up, or who I send copies to. But like all of my writing, this book isn’t about making money, nice though that would be. This book in particular is the work of mine I’d like people to read, so that they can see what I can do. It’s a book with many messages and one which people could gain a lot from. I’ve almost written it, so it’s almost out there. Once it is, anyone and everyone can read it. That’s why I write: So that I’m out there.

If things go to schedule, I’ll have time to write a few short stories for the free-to-read markets to get myself out there too, while I edit the book. I have about half a dozen planned: Some more humorous sci-fi, a tale from The Unfinished Literary Agency, and a nasty, following on loosely from Helvetica Haus. The latter, and two of the former, are in The Perpetuity of Memory. There’s also a scene in another story in the anthology, where Bono disappears up his own arse at a concert, a bit like Theresa May just did on the international stage.

Strange days indeed (Most peculiar, honey)…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dark forest wide.png

This week, the UK has started to dismantle the achievements of 60 years: A period of unparalleled peace in Europe, security and prosperity. Brexit is an epic act of self-harm, under a Prime Minister who has further divided an already fractured nation. And this week, I’ve been suffering one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve had in a while.

As others will testify, depressive episodes are really good at what they do: They come without warning, for no apparent reason. Sometimes they last for hours and others, for weeks. Then you never know how long it’s going to be before the next one, how long that will last, or how severe it will be.

Panic attacks are like being mugged; anxiety, like being stalked; and an episode, like having all those assailants and stalkers in your head at the same time. Then they all sit there: They sit around in your brain, sipping tea and stealing your biscuits like there’s no tomorrow, chatting away about your life, and never knowing when to leave. It’s like a trip to a scary place; a mental place, far from home. Then you watch the departure boards, as trains and planes are announced, then cancelled. You’re lost and stuck. This one’s a youngster: Today is day three. Welcome to my brand of depression.

I don’t have the luxury of what some might call “triggers”, any more than I have an early warning mechanism. There are always things to maintain and entertain an episode though; things which might not normally bother me, if I knew what normal was: Things like failed Amazon deliveries of my books, when their system tells me I’ve signed for a package, then I have a burden of proof negative, trying to persuade them that I really didn’t receive my goods. And at the moment, I have an excruciating tooth ache, which is as varied in its severity and duration as any depressive episode; ergo, I’m constantly on edge about when the next attack might be launched. And my local Tesco Metro didn’t have any sea bass, which is what I’d planned for dinner tonight. First world problems I know, but ones which affect me more than they should. Because they are now in the “Unknown” or “Unaccounted for” pile in my mind: Lost, with me helpless to do anything, except expect a possible resolution sometime. But not knowing when that might be causes me further anxiety.

My depression, the tooth ache, the deliveries and the unavailability of fish, all conspire to take an already low mood and systematically hammer it further into the ground. Sometimes the only thing to do is sleep, which is difficult with chronic tooth pain. So I get over-tired; a condition I once thought the preserve of fantasist parents. So I suffer insomnia. Once, drinking would have been a solution but it’s a testament to my resolve that I don’t lapse.

This too shall pass. And it will, as they do. And although I’ll go back to simply hiding it and others will think I’m okay, I’m not. At the end of each depressive episode, you lose something; They take something out of you. Even though it’s barely perceptible, after each episode, you will never feel as good as you did before. The new happiness plateau is lowered, permanently.

Of course, there are valued sympathetic friends but many of them get the other problem: That being clinically depressed can often mean you don’t want to speak to anyone, because you don’t know what to say. Depression can be unfathomable. Then there are still the others, who feel I brought it all on myself. My depression is deep-seated, originally triggered by a robbery at knifepoint. Then I drank as a coping mechanism and the drinking took over. Then I lost everything. I suffered many things which induced PTSD out on the road. It was a rough ride. But it was my fault in the eyes of some. And it’s that which has resolved me to get rid of more of those people permanently from my life; to erase them and deny their existence. To paraphrase an old friend, who wrote recently on social media:

Because the most depressing thing of all, is Brexit: Sorry, but I’m going to find it hard to talk to or engage with those who voted for it. They’re fools. I’ll certainly find it hard to forgive them for what they’re doing to me and my family. What they’re doing to their own? Well, that’s their affair. Perhaps that will change and I don’t like the fact that I feel negative towards them for this. But I’ll absolutely never forget it. I don’t think any of them have or had any clue what they were doing, except those to whom chaos was the only desirable outcome (who are just evil – I don’t know anyone like that I hope, that’s the Dacres and Hopkins and Farages of this world – true scum that we don’t need on the planet, let alone in this nation). But they’ve associated with, and driven the agenda of, howling degenerates, racists and bigots like that with their vote.

For the record: I don’t stand behind it. I won’t stand for it. It’s the biggest act of civil stupidity I can think of in recent times, in a supposedly major world economy and state. Where once I was proud of the United Kingdom, it is no longer that: It’s broken, divided, and I’m ashamed. As soon as individual EU citizenships become available, I’ll be near the front of the queue. I wish Brexit hadn’t happened, as much as I wish my breakdown hadn’t happened. But it’s happening, and I can’t stop it, any more than I can end a depressive episode.

They are brilliant at metaphorically flooring you, and keeping you on edge otherwise, with paranoia and anxiety about the next attack. Previously, they’ve landed me in hospital when I’ve overdosed but this one has come with a psychosomatic condition, as they sometimes do: Uncontrollable vomiting this time, which kind of insures against keeping pills down. So I shouldn’t be bothering any doctors this time: Every cloud.

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.

It’s just because…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

blackdog07dm2905_468x381

I don’t know why. I don’t know why I’m sitting here now, listening to Suzanne Vega and drowning in my face. This doesn’t happen to me. I actually think it’s because so much that’s good has gone on recently in my universe. I don’t mean my own success in publishing books, but family things. Things which I wish I could write about, but then I’d be judged for being somehow sanctimonious. Truth is, everyone who’s still in my life agrees that my breakdown was somehow for the best. Freedom of information only goes so far and anyone who still doubts me would see I’m telling the truth. If they bothered to ask. Ask my family and friends. It’s paranoia. That’s all it is, and that’s one other little cunt I need to kick, punch or headbang into submission. I suppose I just want to kick some heads, or content myself with words.

Never mind that I donate any royalties to causes more worthy than me. Nor that I will never stop helping troubled teenagers while those who think too fucking wrongly think there’s something “wrong” going on (in your fucking head, cunt. Come and swap places). No matter that I’m supporting someone who’s got a bit lost and found themselves almost where I was three years ago. No, fuck all that. I’m a cunt. If I’m a cunt in your mind, then I’d like to remain as such. Because ignorance doesn’t recognise ability. As for my mind, you are gone: You are dead and you never even existed. Who? I forget.

And although I brush it all off, like so many other things, the constant feeling of being watched never leaves the paranoid android. I have plenty to say to those who abandoned me for dead three years ago, if only to say I don’t blame them. In any case, sometimes the quiet suffering prompts something. So I took to Facebook with a late night introspective:

Like many others, I’m okay. I don’t expect to be asked how I’m doing, because I know that most people fear the reply. Truth is, I’d rather I wasn’t asked. Same goes for many others.

We know we’re impossible to understand. I’ve got an IQ of 147 (I’ve had it measured at UCL) and I don’t understand it. I’m a writer, and yet I still can’t convey it truthfully, despite my many words.

We have good and bad days. We never know which will be next, or when one will turn from good to bad in what could be the last blink or beat.

If there’s one thing which can truly break a human heart, it is the human brain.

I don’t expect anything from this. I’m posting in the dark hours so that few will see it. I’m just like the rest who are governed by their minds’ inability to shut the fuck up.

We don’t know what we want. We don’t know how to tell others how to deal with us. We treat people like we don’t care, when we crave contact. But we don’t know what with. We only want contact on our own terms, when it suits us. We are fucking impossible. No-one can answer our questions and we know that we’re frightening.

Don’t pity me. I just hope that my ability with words has enabled some to read this far and think a little deeper. Those of us with depression do that all that time and we need a conversation. Why the fuck would anyone sane want to try to have a conversation with a mental? Why would you try to engage with someone who just kicks you away?

No, we don’t know either.

But this is how it feels, right now, and all the time, before we finally decide to break. The headline picture speaks many words: Not as many as I wish I could write, but it goes some way.

I don’t know why I decided to just cut and paste this, but I did. Like the rest of this blog, it was done for one reason I suppose: So that it’s indelible and so that I can tell people, “Just read my fucking blog.”

Just, because. I don’t know.