Addicted to melons

I know ‘Blue Monday’ was last week but that’s fine because it DOESN’T EXIST.

There is no day when everyone’s more sad, by whatever measurement is supposed to determine that. Last Monday, babies were born, people fell in love and smiles spread across faces. It was a beautiful day for many millions of individuals.

That isn’t supposed to make everything okay for those going through hardship, tragedy and frustration. But it is a fact. Happiness and sadness; success and failure; hope and despair: each dichotomy is subjectively specific and context-determined. So to say you’re more likely to sad on any one day on account of a post-festivity comedown or return to routine is invalid.

Now before I get to the thrust of this blog, I must distinguish and make clear: my case for sadness does not extend to serious manifestations such as clinical depression or acute anxiety. If you think you’re struggling to a serious degree, proper and professional help should be sought as soon as possible. At the very least, please, please tell someone – anyone, expressing to them in the best way you can what you feel.

I do not under any circumstance pretend to be qualified to deal with such things in the correct way.

I refer to sadness most common and ordinary. I refer to a head hung an inch lower than it was yesterday. I refer to mild loneliness and the sense of distance induced by nothing in particular. I refer to boredom and disinterest and indifference. And I embrace it like an old friend I’ve not seen in a while, drunk on cheap beer and nostalgia.

I was once reliably informed by one of my elder siblings: “You’re a melancholic, Peter. Just like me.”

I told one of my friends this. I said: “I’m a melancholic.”

My friend asked if that meant I had a melon addiction. It still makes me smile, and reminds me directly that streaks of melancholia can be offset by something else – something wild and unpredictable and ill-advised but somehow magical and glorious at the same time. I recently became (at first subconsciously) fixated on a few lines from the first series of the FX X-Men spin-off show Legion.

– “I used to all the time think about the mirage, or how this feeling, clarity, how maybe that’s just, you know, a symptom of the other side of the disease kicking in.”
– “You’re talking about mania.”
– “Yes. ‘Cause people always talk about the depression side, but it’s the… the other side, that invulnerable feeling that’s… that’s dangerous.”

The danger referred to there comes from taking my point too far. It remains potentially invaluable as a consideration, though. There come, as an individual more ‘susceptible’ to feelings of sadness, instances of unshackled joy – highs, if you were – that become more amplified as you are used to the lows.

Because your emotional base is perhaps lower than perceived to be average, the feelings of elation you get have the capacity to surpass those you would feel were you not a melancholic – but only have the capacity to, I must stress. The only thing certain in this dark game is uncertainty.

If you learn to embrace and control those heightened moments, at their best becoming that invulnerability, then you can find a drink that doesn’t lead to a hangover; a drug not followed by a comedown. But you must be careful – because every great height risks a very great fall.

And sometimes the welcoming of sadness takes on a much simpler guise. More often than not, there’s nothing doing but to sink into it – to cry, but cry properly, feeling the tracks of every tear and squeezing your eyes tightly if that’s what’s required; sobbing and letting the sound out – finding a place to be alone and let a perfectly normal bodily reaction take its course. There’s a reason every bout of crying stops and doesn’t go on forever, even if it feel like it – it is a purge, and it is progress.

Or to be alone and savour it – to develop an awareness of the beauty of losing every last inhibition that comes with being in company, and be proud of that rare version of yourself – the one that, some would argue, is your true self and the one that no-one but you will ever see. Notice the difference in the way you take your steps, carry out your business, process your thoughts. Revel in the sobriety of it all and the tranquillity. No person was designed to be alone forever, but neither were they meant to never be alone.

And talk to yourself. Let a stream of consciousness flow – its basically what I do writing this blog. But talking’s easier and you can’t feel bad when no one read your blog. I kid. But really – pace up and down and spill out your heart to yourself, again revelling in the unique experience of acting alone and being a pure representation of self. A reminder of identity and integrity.

Sadness has become part of my identity. I’m actually proud of it. I have an attraction to the subtleties of it, and even more so the flipside, when I come out the other end of a bad spell through a good night’s sleep or seeing a brilliant film or listening to my favourite music or seeing my team win. There are no highs without lows.

Everything is relative. Through melancholia I’ve learned to appreciate more of the lesser things.

Everyone will have their own way of handling it. Personally, I’d never go up to sadness and introduce myself. It might give you a dirty look or snidely comment on your hair. But after a while of spending a bit of time together, you might just get to know it better. Get on with it. Like a colleague you wouldn’t get a drink with. But when you find yourself in their company at a party, it’s not so bad.

I started writing this a week after ‘Blue Monday’. It’s now Wednesday, both killing the relevance of the blog and reinforcing my point that blue Mondays don’t matter.

Every bad day will end.

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Where the heart is

I’ve realised something. I get homesick easily. And that’s just in my own country.

I usually consider jobs and money to be what eats at me when I worry about the future. Lately I’ve been thinking about the value of home in all of this, through the prism of times I was somewhere else and feeling lost.

WEST LINTON, SCOTTISH BORDERS: In the bunk across from me and above me was a boy who is now one of my best friends. Back then I didn’t know his name. I’m not sure what he was saying, but he sounded as lonely as I am. There was another boy in the bunk above me, one who I knew from primary school, but that provided little comfort. When the lonely boy stopped talking the other started, and he was much more confident. Good at football, I remembered. I think he was third best in our class. He gave us advice on girls, something to do with the Will Smith film ‘Hitch’. I wasn’t listening. I couldn’t sleep. I was alone and I wanted to go home. I didn’t know which dormitory my few friends were in. I remembered thinking that this week was supposed to help us settle in to high school, but I just wanted to cry and to see my dog.

NEWBRIDGE, EDINBURGH: When you work on your feet, you don’t go for a walk on your break. I did. It was my third or fourth shift. I’d all but decided it wasn’t for me: the strict managers telling me I was doing things wrong. The fellow staff I knew but didn’t know from school; somehow they seemed to be having fun and a laugh, while being good at the work. The meat clacking off the grill, getting burned on the wrist and hands by meat dripping down from the top platen. The being made to wear a hairnet, the ultimate embarrassment for a teenage boy married to their hair. There’s an old bridge in the village. I don’t know if it was once indeed the ‘new bridge’. That day I walked along it, dragging my burnt hand through snow. Right then I thought I’d made a mistake. I nearly called my dad to come and get me. I stayed 4 miles away but I felt in a foreign land, among strangers. But I turned round and walked back along the bridge, vowing to not give up, not yet. I wanted some money, as my friends were getting jobs. Years and promotions later, I can see that little Saturday job has let me achieve a great deal. It’s became a kind of home. I told myself that when the day came for me to leave, I’d go back to the bridge. I’ve never yet returned.

ABERDEEN: I’d looked forward to this trip north for months, but on the day my head was still two nights behind. Alone in a nightclub side room were me and a police officer. He searched me. The regret washed over me like a waterfall. Nothing had been worth it. I thought of my parents and of my girlfriend; how I’d failed. I stepped into the cold Edinburgh street. I walked miles. My head repeated one thing: ‘I’m free.’ I wasn’t really. Mistakes find you one day. I called a friend and told him I loved him. I paid £40 to get a taxi home. Two days later, I stepped off a train into the cold, windy Granite City. I hugged a dear friend tightly by the station doors. She told me about her final year of university. I slept in a hoodie on the floor of her flat with a mysterious pain in my abdomen. I felt so alone and insignificant – when I’d been to this city once before, I was with others who were new to it too. I had fun. When you’re alone in a strange place, a place familiar to others, you feel like you don’t belong. I was so sad on that journey home. But back in the train, I made a decision. I got back and I began the climb from rock bottom.

BROXBURN, WEST LOTHIAN: The flat’s so cold. The high ceilings and ageing piping don’t make a great team. The cat wakes me up at 6am every day without fail, and I stumble through the gloom to let him out. Loads of things are broken that I don’t know how to fix. The TV I bought is small as anything. Every other week, someone on the street pinches one of our bins. If there’s work going on next door, you don’t just hear it – you know when someone drops a screw. You need a lie down after prising open the front door. Sometimes I wonder which will pack in first, the washing machine or the fridge. I’m smiling as I write this, though. It’s all part of where I belong now. I’d rather be there than somewhere that’s not mine, somewhere that lets my mind wander down gloomy paths. I’ve made it because I have a home. I don’t know where I’m going, but part of me knows I’m already there.

Rocks

I remember watching this illustrative training video at a work course a couple of years ago.

It showed rocks of various sizes being put into glass containers. If the smaller rocks were all put in first, then the bigger ones would not all fit. The other way round, and all the smallest rocks would fit into the gaps, finding ways to trickle between the large ones, filling the holes and corners.

The point was that in prioritising the most important tasks and goals, everything else will fall into place without having to force it. Don’t worry about the small things; they’ll take care of themselves if we do the big things right.

Maybe that’s a good rule to follow in workplace situations. I get the logic behind it, but for me it’s too general. I’ve certainly come to believe the opposite in a broader sense, when considering happiness, personal wellbeing, relationships and day-to-day activity. I’ve become conscious that it’s really about winning the smallest battles so you can be prepared for when war comes.

Life is at its most harrowing when you struggle for the motivation to take a shower, or become irate over uncooperative shoelaces or suffer downturns in mood over your hair. When you are unable to greet a neighbour or reply to a text promptly or to learn a new recipe. When you find your favourite top has an irremovable stain, then it becomes a stain on your consciousness for the rest of that day. It is least bearable when you know what’s good for you but don’t do it – remembering how positive you feel after exercising, but not doing it anyway and moping. Most insufferable when your self-control with money or going to bed at the right time or diet gets to you and convinces you that there’s no point ever trying to change if you can’t do it now. True misery comes from stubbing toes and forgotten direct debits and dead lightbulbs.

But the true victory is not always in preventing these things happening. It’s sometimes about processing them when they do.

Laughing when you stub your toe. Ordering that top again. Remembering your neighbour’s weird anyway and uses your blue bin. Tucking your laces in because it looks better. Taking a photo of your hair from the back, getting a new perspective on it. Following a four-hour sleep with a venti coffee and an afternoon nap.

It’s using the little struggles to prepare yourself for when life’s most daunting challenges find you. All this is training for the main event. Once you’ve done it a thousand times, you can do it once more. You can, to paraphrase the great saying, take disaster and treat it as you would triumph.

I’m supposed to bring it back to the rocks somehow now. The problem is, you’re not putting rocks into anything. They’re getting thrown at you, all sizes and extremely hard and fast. You can’t dodge them all. But you can catch them and throw them back even harder.

Numbers

£50,000.

£35,000.

£20,000.

£15,000.

There comes a point where you gain an awareness of salaries, what’s a good salary and a perverse, pointless imagining of the salaries of people in your life: what your parents earn, what your brothers or sisters earn, what your friends earn, what you earn and startlingly quickly, what you see yourself one day earning.

You make surprising observations; the kind that don’t appear logical. People that seem ‘happy’ and yet don’t – in your estimation at least – make as much money as others who may seem less ‘happy’. People that wear clothes or drive cars or live in houses that don’t quite align with the number in your head, and yet their life appears the way it should be, an air of appropriateness surrounding them like the way certain fashion inexplicably suits some more than others. Their character is constant. Their wealth or lack thereof is invisible.

I also think it is irrelevant.

This topic is difficult to approach without going down the dreary ‘money can’t buy happiness’ or ‘no money, no problems’ routes, but, like most people, it is a permanent blemish on my consciousness, abetting and informing all the concerns I have about my future. It’s just too big an issue to overlook.

At the end of the day, if you offered me a job for life that I was getting a healthy figure for, I’d bite your hand off. The job’s relevance to my abilities and passions would not matter. And that reality is a compromise of my character that I am intensely uncomfortable with. I’m studying something that is never likely to earn me upwards of maybe £25,000. On the level of principle, I believe most of us would place self-fulfilment above wealth, but most of us also find our priorities shift dramatically during our twenties and even our idea of self-fulfilment changes. But it’s different. It becomes a suffocating pressure of societal norms and perpetual dissatisfaction, stifling our soul and our dreams. It is the manifestation of childhood perceptions of adults as boring, something most of us shared growing up, only to dismiss it as soon as the existence of Santa Claus. But it was a real feeling and a sense, not just based upon age difference but to do with polarised priorities of playgrounds and games against houses and cars.

There is a need, created by modern society, to pursue numbers and jettison the things that make us the individuals we are.

I’m not a professor of sociopolitics so I won’t attempt to expand, other than by saying that it is a pressure that causes good, honest and brilliant people to feel cast out; feel helpless; feel useless; feel like they will never be good enough. Hooray for the education system and hooray for capitalism. I’m sure all the young adults out there who are lost – lost as they try to find happiness in a world that demands conformity – really appreciate modern society. Some of them, driven to depression and worse, will never know why it is they feel of felt that way. I’m not tarring everyone with the same brush, of course. These struggles are much too fluid for that. But I know how I feel now, how I feel pushed to attain something that is not me, just so I can live a good and proper life. And I know I’m not alone.

And what are those numbers – less palpable than ever in the imminent paperless world – worth with nothing to show for them? Again, yes it’s clichéd, but what’s the point in a higher figure in your bank account if it is just that: a figure? I constantly worry that I don’t have enough savings, or that I’ll never be able to amass those savings for a rainy day. But (cliché overload) it’s the love of life, love of people, joy in passions and laughing in the face of adversity that makes bad weather better. Money doesn’t make the sun come out.

Recently, that amount that I see myself earning has dropped a little. And I might be imagining it, but I now feel a little less pressure.

I’ll get a job and I’ll get by. I’ll probably never be rich, and I’ll die. I’ll strive with everything in my soul to be happy and make people around me happy, indulging in the things I love and trying really hard to smile.

When I put it like that, numbers suddenly don’t matter any more.

 

This is the one about sex

“Everything in the world is about sex. Except sex – sex is about power.”

(It was too difficult to say much more without being cringey or clichéd, so this is a short one – a bit like your first time.)

It feels right, that the act that brought us into being be the thing that defines all and us. We would not be here without it. Those particular two people, probably the two you are least likely to wish to imagine in that particular situation, most certainly, undoubtedly, emphatically did it. Twenty-something years plus nine months ago.

Do you remember the first time you realised you fancied someone? Do you remember the way their face just made sense to you? Do you remember the convoluted ways you would formulate to touch their skin for half a second?

Something becomes clear to you through that process. But what becomes clear is but a new mystery – one not solved until the first hand-hold, which introduces the mystery of the first kiss, which introduces the mystery of sex.

There is a fairly simple concept at the heart of many a horror film. The suspense, the dread, the build is all about the unseen – the sense that the monster will jump out at any moment. Once it does, you may jump or scream, but only for an instant. You lower your splayed fingers from your eyes. You return from behind the sofa. ‘Oh, that?

But is that moment a relief? Or is it the end of the fun? After all, no one watches a horror film for light laughs. They go to be scared. And fear is in the unknown and the as-yet-unexperienced.

The desire for the unseen, the thirst for something new is present in many areas of life, such as education. But as time has passed I have sex to be the best illustration, and example of, the thrill of the chase that informs and defines just about every area of our endeavours.

To have a partner is to foster curiosity over the reality of other partners and couples. Not necessarily borne of lust, but simply a curiosity as natural as imagining the interior of someone’s house or what it’s like to live in Africa.

Something falls into place as the years pass and you mature, but it’s not like the flick of a switch when you lose your virginity. It begins long before that, and carries on long after. I suppose you might argue that it is never resolved. It is understanding of why people drink alcohol. It is the understanding of why people wear flattering clothes. It is the understanding of why priorities change. It is the understanding of the subtleties of money and humour and dreams and friendships and marriage and everything.

At once the world becomes clearer and yet so much cloudier, shrouded in new questions about why your unobtainables remain that way, and why they must remain so in order for the world to keep turning.

I feel like I now understand many things now I am in my mid-twenties, but sex is not one of them.

After all, sex may be about power, but knowledge is power.

Sun, sea and shapes at the end of your bed

The following is an account of something that happened to me – or something I felt – on a holiday three summers ago. It is bleak, as it is the perhaps the bleakest I have felt in my life.

It was the consequence of specific poor choices, which I will not identify or expand upon, although you might correctly guess their nature. The exact cause is not important; what is important is the touchstone the experience now gives me. Or rather, not so much a stone as a rock – rock bottom.

There’s this thing about thinking you can see someone standing in the dark at the end of your bed. It’s not like a horror film or a nightmare. If you genuinely believe it, your rational mind kicks in and swiftly goes about trying to deduce who it could be, and why they are there.

So as I lay on that flimsily firm mattress on the top floor of the Ibiza Rocks Hotel and peered through the darkness, I was so sure it had to be one of my two friends I was sharing a room with – who were snoring in their beds. Not once did I consider devils and demons and ghouls.

(I know now that they are real, of course – but lurk in a different place.)

No – I wasn’t scared. In that moment, that part was fine. Looking back it was freakish. The only other reference point I have is thinking the same thing as a very young chronic insomniac, convinced one night that my sister watched me from the end of my bed. Creepy too, in hindsight. At no other time have I experienced something akin to an hallucination.

The scary part was when I finally did sleep, that sticky night in San Antonio. Closing my eyes was followed by nightmares alright. Horrible ones – the kind with better constructed jump-scares than an Insidious film and disturbing, hellish imaginings of death and darkness. So I woke again, tip-toed to the fridge to chug some Don Simon then slipped back into bed, the dark shape at the end of my bed materialising again.

Snap out of it. I shook my head violently. Ouch. I was getting sharp zaps that coursed through my head every time I turned it sharply, the kind you sometimes get if you’ve contracted an annoying head cold. That, I did not have.

The shape was still there. I drifted off, jolted awake, chugged juice, painfully shook my head. Repeat.

I had two or three nights like that.

The morning brought comparable sanity, but it was still dark. Black, at its worst. The shape and the nightmares were not confined to my bed but rather the deepest inner-reaches of my head, suffocating and swallowing everything I did, or tried to do in the latter two-thirds of our stay. Truly, I believe this was my experience of what it feels like to be intensely depressed.

We spent most afternoons in the hotel pool. It was glorious weather. The cocktails were flowing, and the water was perfect. I was smiling, but the Primark sunglasses hid the fact that it never reached my eyes. Everywhere I looked I felt hopelessness. I nodded along to the house music that drifted across the courtyard, but my head felt like a dead weight.

Food tasted like cardboard. I made myself eat, but I wasn’t hungry. It was actually difficult to chew and swallow the Subway I had somewhere near the strip. And I fucking love Subway.

Most of the drunk guys in Ibiza only think with one thing, and it ain’t behind the eyes staring at the bikinis. I showered at the hotel, and confirmed my suspicions that that part of me wasn’t working as it should either. What did I say? Rock bottom. It was hard to piss, too.

I don’t think I’d enjoy a ‘booze cruise’ in a stable frame of mind, let alone the dark space occupied by my head when I had my first and likely last experience of such a voyage. That said, I necked a couple of beers and was actually having a decent time for the first hour or so. The genuinely dangerous combo of boat, alcohol and dancing is a novelty that wore off quickly for me however, and I retreated to a lone seat on the top deck.

It was then that I cried. The tears were the most inexplicable I have ever shed; there was no identifiable cause or trigger. I looked across the sun setting behind a blood-red Balearic sea and was overwhelmed by the most intense sadness I had – have – ever felt. I watched every bad decision I’d made for the past few years replayed on the rear of my eyelids as I tried to stay silent. I despaired over the thought of my parents, having brought me up so admirably and lovingly only for me to become something unrecognisable – in my own all-too-knowing eyes. They would weep too, if they knew some of the states I’d been in, physically and mentally. I longed for Taylor, to be held by her, to laugh with her, to tell her about my holiday, that it had been fun. I wanted to pet my dog. I sobbed uncontrollably, but I don’t think anyone noticed. It probably looked like sweat on my face. Through all of this, I somehow managed to appreciate the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen, the kind that makes postcards and forms the backdrop to life-changing moments. I took a photo of it, which is below.

IMG_6687

That’s the last thing I remember of that day. I wasn’t drunk or anything, but the next morning, I couldn’t recall stepping off the boat, going back up the strip or returning to the hotel. All I know is I slept through the night. And looking back I know that meant I was slowly, agonisingly, painfully on my way back. It was still dark, but it was getting brighter. Grey, not black. I didn’t know what it was, but I’d rode it out. Nearly.

Appetite slowly returned, and I could almost feel my serotonin levels rising. The most pleasant memories I have of the second half of the trip were the meals on the last two nights. The craving and enjoyment of nourishment, that most basic human need. I didn’t drink those days. We saw a Scottish band called Prides play in a bar on the last night. I watched as the singer drunkenly ran out the door, across the San Antonio bay and into the sea at their set’s climax. It was joyful, and I laughed, wholehearted and genuine for the first time in days.

I still wasn’t quite right, and the knowledge of that fact kept my mental state subdued; fragile. By some coincidence the band from the night before were on our flight home, and I craned my neck to get a glimpse of the singer. Zap. Sharp turn across the isle. “Look! It’s Prides. That’s funny.” Zap.

What I remember about getting home was a return to normality that manifested itself in small things that I now remember well. The feel of my bedroom carpet on my feet. A certain song that had just come out. Going to see the Pixar film ‘Inside Out’ at the cinema the next day. My friend’s shed.

I felt warmth, but not like the 30 degree heat I’d left behind. It was home like it always was, but it felt like home.

The zaps disappeared and the shape at the end of my bed was gone, but dreams were still strange and at worst terrifying. I’d be on the verge of drifting off before BANG, I’d imagine something highly startling that would jolt me conscious. I also experienced bouts of sleep paralysis for perhaps 18 months, something I never had before and never want to again. Horrible. Thankfully they were devoid of hallucinations. I’d wake with a racing heart.

That didn’t behave for a while, either. I’d experience a troubling, stuttering heart beat for a while that may have been something like palpitations, though I don’t know what that feels like. I kept telling myself I was imagining it, but still went to the doctor, who took my bloods. Normal. My heart too, felt normal eventually.

If I learned something from the experience it was to avoid putting all you eggs in one basket. Don’t place too much faith in a feeling. Feelings are like anything – too much, and it’s harmful. I took one extreme, heightened feeling and unwittingly traded it for an equal and exact opposite. Consequence will find you.

I’m not trying to sit high and mighty, wise and warning over the perils of partying holidays. There’s a reason I’m only recounting the after rather than the before. That’s a different story, for a different day. I’m not saying don’t do this; don’t do that.

Just be careful.

Think about who you love, and who loves you.

There’s one other thing I learned. When I think I see something, or someone, standing at the end of my bed – or a door creaking, a whisper in the dark, a flickering light, someone staring through the window and right at me – I remember this.

If it was real, it wouldn’t be as scary as the things I now know already exist in my head, dormant for now, waiting to find me one day like they did in Ibiza.

It’s like I stared into an abyss, tore my eyes away, yet never forgot what I saw.

The fallen

Listen.

Can you hear that?

You can, and I know you can, because it fills your ears as it does mine with deafening totality. You can hear it over your Spotify playlist, the morning traffic or the pub jukebox. It is inescapable.

It is silence.

I hear it now, while I also hear my keys typing and the living-room clock tick. I heard it this morning, even as my alarm broke my heart. I hear it when I play guitar, when I’m cheering at the football and when I catch up with friends. It doesn’t follow me; it is part of me.

It is the end of a film — not the credits or the post-credit sequence, but the actual end. The lights have came up. The projector is off, and you’re the only one in the cinema.

It is the end of your favourite album when you have repeat turned off, and it is the moment you wave goodbye to someone as they board a flight alone for the first time. In that example I am both parties.

Think of everything and everyone that helped you on your way, but are no longer present. Not necessarily absent, you see, but no longer fulfilling that role. Redundant, perhaps. They might have directly impacted your life and where you are now; they may have tried. They may have succeeded and you don’t know it. More often than not you likely tried to push them away, took them for granted or wasn’t even aware of them until later.

My parents helping me with my maths homework. I used to get genuinely upset about maths. My brain doesn’t function quite the right way; I am creative and delinear by nature. God, I hated the textbooks. I’m sure my mum did too. But she sat with me at that kitchen table and made me try.

I failed Higher maths.

My first coach when I played for an under-14s football team. As a teenager I loved football more than anything, but I left Tuesday night training feeling empty. He was the first truly honest mentor I had; not just to me but all of us. He swore at us. Told us blatantly if we weren’t good enough. 13-year-olds or not, he would put us as a substitute every single Saturday if it would help the team. I feared him and felt intimidated by him.

It’s for this reason that the day he took me aside and told me I was one of the most naturally skilful players on the team has always stayed with me.

The one close friend I had at Edinburgh University. I’d given up on forced exchanges, the kind of which are amplified when you stay at home as a student. One morning, before a philosophy lecture, he sat next to me. Just sat next to me. Introduced himself and, I think, actually shook my hand. I don’t think I’ve since witnessed such audacity. We became close, we had pints together, we tried to form a band.

When I dropped out of my degree, I knew I’d miss him. And miss him I do.

Why they enter our lives and why they leave, is not for me to speculate. I’d rather stay ignorant. I’d rather not get to the point, in every instance anyway, where you uncover a person’s flaws, intricacies or acute motivations. There’s a certain beauty in that ignorance, like new love.

I try to appreciate every moment I spend with everyone who is close to me now, because they may not always be.

But when they are gone, they will always be to you what they were back then, their faces frozen in just the way you wanted and needed them to be, forever a part of your existence although you were fated to travel different, yet perhaps parallel paths.

 

 

♂♀

I woke one day recently and stumbled through the flat, not quite aware of myself yet.

It was very early and it was dark, in the throes of winter that shorten days and dampen the spirit. The first light I put on in the morning is in the spare room, home of many things that I fail to find in illumination or otherwise.

But when I flicked the switch on the wall, nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. I flicked it back and forth manically, as if that would make a difference.

I stood in my baggy Next pyjamas, shrouded in darkness and shivering.

I tried to remember the last time I changed a light bulb. I still can’t, actually. My mind immediately rummaged for things it didn’t know, any way it could undermine my botched sense of adulthood once again. Which size do you get? Which kind do you get? What is a watt? Which aisle are they in?

Of course, I managed it in the end without trouble, strife, or self-capitulation.

What does it mean to be a man?

Is it fixing everything that goes wrong? Well, for me, it kind of is. That’s what my dad does. He always managed to fix things that were broken, be it my childhood toys, my wardrobe, stuck zips, knots tied too tight, watches, bikes, TV aerials, the cooker.

He still does. If I don’t know how to do something, I call him. It’s usually about the car, of which my expertise extends to three pedals and a steering wheel.

Why don’t I know these things? Who taught him? I must have missed the toilet cistern class in high school. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s what dads are there for.

I like to think I don’t care much for masculinity tag, but maybe I’m just a shit man.

I worry that I won’t be able to fix things for my children like he did. I worry that I won’t be able to provide for them, or be anything that I or anyone else expects in a father. I see a future where I’m painting a fucking wall as I watch a YouTube tutorial.

I like football and beer, but that’s about it.

I also like puppies and cats, and listen to what your 15-year-old sister does. I straighten my hair every day out of vanity. I don’t like having stubble. I make friends with girls easier than I do guys. I liked Twilight. I occasionally go for a sunbed to help my skin. I’m very conscious of my skinny legs.

Christ, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I wasn’t more in touch with my emotional side than I am with being a man.

I’ll never change any of it.

It’s 2018, and hopefully most of us know that concepts of masculinity and femininity are nothing but imagined.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the weight of expectation brought upon by adulthood and those who will one day depend upon us, whether or not they walk the Earth yet. It doesn’t mean we’re not scared of not living up to those expectations.

Someone will need my help one day, and that’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever considered.

As we try to fulfil whatever role we think we need to, we don’t need to sacrifice who we naturally are. Masculinity, femininity, normality, stability, authority — fuck it all.

Be what you are; the step up to whatever role, when you need it, will come.

The problem is the worrying. Don’t worry.

(I stole one of the living room bulbs, but shh).

 

Chances

I consider one of my most vivid memories to be of doing my school work experience at the Five Sisters Zoo in 2008.

I have long remembered it as one of my coming-of-age moments, and it has always baffled me why. Although then blissfully ignorant of the world of work and independence, I don’t feel that its intended introduction to to the workplace is what sticks with me.

Perhaps it was to do with my intense fondness for animals, which extended to positive associations of chopping bananas for bats to eat or shovelling Kune Kune pig faeces. Perhaps it was the week off from school. Maybe it was because I found the obscenities of the parrot in the break-room exactly as amusing as you would expect a fifteen-year-old boy to. It certainly had nothing to do with spending hours outside in the middle of November.

The most vivid memory I have is of my first day spent there. Dad had just dropped me off; it was 8am, cold and wet. I met one of the zoo-keepers, who I instantly liked and found funny, and he took me into the reptile house. Now I can imagine how irritating that must be, having inept high school pupils to deal with besides your own work day.

I was given a small task to do before the zoo opened to visitors. I can’t remember what it was, but I think it involved a hose. The keeper, whose name escapes me (though I can easily recall his face, even voice and wry mannerisms – it’s strange how you can sometimes remember someone you only knew briefly like that), had gone off into another part of the building. I was on my own, doing a mind-numbing cleaning job, but I felt that weird semi-euphoria you get when acutely nervous and suddenly left alone.

Before he left, the keeper had turned on a small CD player that was plugged into the wall. The song that started playing was a soft, quiet number. It began with simple piano chords, and the singer had that default mid-2000s indie rock voice, with a distinct English accent.

“Take all your chances while you can / you never know when they’ll pass you by.”

I got that thing you can only get when your first experience of a piece of music is without knowledge of its identity. Like when you instantly fall in love with something on a film soundtrack, but if your friend had told you to listen to it because they liked it you would have met it with predisposed indifference. It’s the reason I won’t bother telling you the name of the song or the artist.

In fact, I felt like I was in a film. It was such a poignant moment for me personally. Here I was, my first taste of work, at an age where I was coming into contact with the things that would shape the adult I would soon become. I could almost see my entire life stretching ahead of me, how things would play out once I left school.

I’ve since learned that any such feeling must be immediately dismissed.

I stood there with hose in hand, surrounded by pythons and boa constrictors and chameleons, that gorgeous track finding me from the old Sony stereo sat on the cold ground.

It’s difficult to express just how vivid that memory remains to me.

I’m sure I’m not alone in the habit of dividing of my life into sections, chapters, phases. Periods definable by your then primary occupation, relationships or social groups. They sometimes have clear beginnings and/or ends marked by specific events. Very memorable events.

One of my most regular and powerful sources of depression comes from remembering another period of my life and how things are not that way any more. Or equally, if some aspects have remained that way when I thought they would have changed, progressed. Feelings inaccessible but still relevant. People I no longer have common ground with. Places that have changed beyond recognition, yet remain familiar.

The viewing of the past as consistently superior particularly troubles me. I get anxious when I think about it too much, in a variety of settings. My resistance to change is a blessing and a curse, nurturing loyalty but suppressing growth and progression. If I’m sleep-deprived or stressed, I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and think about all the things in my life that I have or haven’t moved on from.

What marks the reptile house as strange to me is that it wasn’t connected to a particular period in my life starting or ending, yet it has that same sense. It’s monumental in my mind; I feel like I was never the same after it. I remember in the weeks and months following that moment, even then I looked back on it in wonder. An epiphany of sorts.

To combat the depression I feel in regard to the past, I’m trying to blend all the past chapters of life together. Make them one with who I am now, and try to see all this as a whole. The simultaneous significance and insignificance of this seemingly inconsequential memory is helping. If this event had no weight, then perhaps none of them did. Importance placed on specific periods and happenings help us rationalise and explain life, but they elevate certain things above others.

They can certainly diminish the present, as in this moment, it feels insignificant. Later in life, you could remember this day as something else.

Maybe something else happened on that work experience placement. Maybe there was no reptile house, no music, no hose. Maybe I have romanticised and embellished past the point of recognition.

See time as a whole.

In 2013, it was reported that the Five Sisters Zoo had been devastated by a fire. The worst affected building? The reptile house. Many animals died in the blaze.

When I heard, I was overwhelmed by sadness. I remember going up to my bedroom, going to my collection of CDs, and selecting one.

I felt my face crumple as the piano began.

All aboard the express train

It’s easy to dismiss social media’s influence as wholly negative. Casual promotion of narcissism; constant force-feeding of others’ lives slowly depleting our self-esteem; peering at our 4.7-inch LED screens yearning for another notification. Few, even the most ardent of Facebook addicts among us, would argue that any of this is actually good for us.

Let’s face it, though – all that’s a bit old hat now. It’s 2018, and the internet, just as cinema, TV and video games once did to varying extents, has defied all doubt and indeed the odds to become a rampant, raging, undeniably indispensable force in our lives. Social media may lay claim to only one little corner of the expanse that it is – but it is the one we inhabit now, whether anyone likes it or not.

You know fine well you couldn’t function without Facebook Messenger.

I write this blog partly as an exercise, to keep my writing muscle working. However, my primary reason for writing is to express myself. I’ll refer back to last week’s blog in saying I don’t have as many creative outlets as I’d like now. In fact, I scarcely have any. God forbid the day comes that I have none.

But alongside this thought process it occurred to me that I – and everyone reading this, or not reading it, as is more likely – have never been so expressively wealthy. We just don’t know it, taking for granted the tools we have. This is because it has been a slow, yet rapid process, starting around 2005 for many of us.

MSN Messenger. The screen-names. The friends you’d give mentions to. The hours spent on the formatting. The illegally downloaded song you were listening to, appearing via iTunes by your now-colourful, near-illegible name. It felt great; this was something new and empowering.

Not many of my friends used MySpace but it’s synonymity with the rise and rise of mid-noughties emo isn’t by chance. The level of personalisation the pioneering, music-orientated platform offered was attractive to angsty teens, who plastered My Chemical Romance lyrics over their profiles. It was highly influential on other sites, and while it may be easy to now dismiss MySpace as a dinosaur of the digital age, don’t doubt the positive effect the then-pioneering outlet of expression had on those kids’ youth.

I reflect that the creativity and individuality afforded by a site like MySpace or Bebo far surpasses the nature of today’s giants. A simple Facebook status was never particularly expressive; the site’s move toward visual content is dominated by viral videos and selfies. Not a ‘RAWR XD’ in sight. Twitter is similar. Instagram and Snapchat, now centred around 24-hour ‘stories’, perhaps provide the greatest level of customisation, but there remains something depersonalised about the monotonous cycle. What do these people like? What do they listen to? What’s their favourite quote, or colour? Who inspires them?

There’s nothing quite like a Bebo bio anymore.

My argument’s become a bit skewed as I get nostalgic. The fact is, we should think ourselves lucky that we can pick up our phone, and within seconds the world will see something we conceived and created.

I hope to never lose sight of the past I didn’t experience. Sending letters, postcards. Printing photos, and keeping them in a drawer. Putting up a poster of my favourite band above my bed as that’s the only way I could see them.

Perhaps if we all had to work a bit harder to express ourselves, the world would be a more wholesome and rich place. Perhaps it’s too easy.

But I try to remember that being born when I was meant I did have Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Twitter. Pinterest. Tumblr. Flickr. WhatsApp. MySpace. Bebo.

Tools that a creatively-starved, individuality-sapped 1980s version of myself would have given anything for.

I try to remember it’s nice to be able to say who you are.