Posts Tagged ‘navel gazing


Born of the Blues

I sometimes feel as though I am built from sadness. I don’t mean that I am inherently sad, or that I’ve never known happiness. These things would be clearly untrue. Instead, there’s simply a nagging sensation I get when I’m feeling a bit down that I am the sum of so many unhappy events, a sculpture cast in a mould shaped by sadness.

I don’t mean to whine. My problems are my own, I try wherever possible to deal with them on my own. There are many worse off than me. I’m just introspecting, not moaning. I look at myself most often when I feel sad, perhaps it’s then I have the most keen insight to know myself.

And one thing I see most clearly is that I am the product of negativity. All the formative events in my life have been negative ones. These things which have defined who I have become, they have been things which have hurt me.

Perhaps it is because when I am happy I tend to coast. If I have some great success I will be pleased but it will not change me; even the greatest rewards will yield no lesson in life for me. If you want to affect a change in my personality, bruise me. It’s the only thing I’ll remember.

I don’t remember my first kiss. It’s not that I was drunk (though I was), it’s that it really hasn’t meant anything to me in the long term. I remember the first argument I had with a boyfriend. There are people I can’t remember entering a relationship with; there are no break-ups I have forgotten.

Memory is a net: one that finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook, but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.” For me, those things which have stuck have been the times I’ve been hurt, or done things wrong, or failed or not even tried. These are the fish my net is filled with. Such are the staple of my dinners and teas; the plates I set before myself.

I would like to think that I’ll have experiences, moments of joy or utter satisfaction, which will one day become part of the scaffolding which dictates my shape. I’d like to think that I’m not the negative result of an assortment of negative events. But life is what it is, I am what I am, and my tea is almost ready.

Bon appetit.


My Life in Hallelujahs

Three singers. Three versions. One song: Hallelujah. One life: mine. I am Tom, and this is my life in Hallelujahs.

Hallelujah One: The Fourth, the Fifth.

It was 2002 and I was fifteen when it started. I was an awkward kid; clever enough to succeed but lazy enough not to try, funny enough to get along with most everyone, shy enough to not get very close to anyone. If you asked me now how I looked then I’d be far kinder than if you’d have asked me at the time. That’s a battle I’ve since won; as the infamous warbler Gloria Gaynor once wrote, I am who I am.

The summer was unremarkable in reality, but I remember it being long and hot, a shimmering heat haze hanging over the days and nights of my school holidays. Year 10 was over, in September I would be in Year 11. The shit was going to get real: my GCSEs would be upon me, the culmination of those long years in schooling. What would I receive in GCSE Food Technology? This question and more bubbled in my febrile adolescent mind. Oh, and I was pretty sure I was gay.

I mean, I had resolved already that I must be bi. Boys were rather too attractive for me to pretend to myself that I was straight. A couple of childhood crushes on girls I’d known were the last bastion of what I thought would be a normal life, and I clung to them. The memories of the crushes that is, I didn’t cling to the girls — not least of all for legal reasons.

One morning during that summer, that last bastion was overwhelmed and swept away for ever. There was a boy in one of my classes, one of my friends, and I had a dream about him. I don’t even remember what the dream was — nothing sexy — but when I woke up on that humid summer’s morning I knew two things clearly. Firstly, I was gay. It was just that simple. The clarity was uplifting. The second was, I was in love with my friend. My straight friend. Ah, shit.

Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah was the soundtrack to my teenaged angst. And as the years passed, and I lost contact with the boy I had loved, it came to signify that pain that nobody forgets, ever — their first lost love.

She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah Two: The Minor Fall

I drifted. I dropped out of sixth form college, graduating with such impressive grades as an E in AS level psychology. I was unemployed for a long time, then I got a job I hated. And I was so, so unhappy.

I was a failure. That kid in those school photos, when did he die and what was this shell he’d left behind? Nothing mattered to me. I went to sleep at 7am and woke up at 4pm, I spent my time floating around on the internet in a state of perpetual angry boredom. I stopped seeing my friends, didn’t care about myself.

I resented everything I was missing out on, blamed myself for the lack of experiences and fed that back into even more introverted sadness and alienation. As my life went from bad to worse so any solution seemed to slide further beyond my grasp.

I felt bad, still feel bad, for the people I worked with. I wish I hadn’t been such an unpleasant person to be with back then. I was missing not just my love, but love itself. Was this what life was? I briefly tried a course of anti-depressants but they achieved nothing so I never got the prescription refilled. My life was broken and I hated not just living it but myself too, with a passion I’ve rarely felt for anything else since.

I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah Three: The Major Lift

I had to escape from the jaws of the steel trap which held me fast. I left my job, took better care of myself. It was… easy. Why did it take that long? I got back into my writing, found new ways to express myself, new things to do and see.

I’m not fixed. I never will be: I have bipolar disorder, I’ll always be prone to depression. And love, love is still my eternal tormentor. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt it truly. Was it real love, that tearing, soaring, terrible, beautiful thing I felt when I was young? Probably not, I’d say now, probably some adolescent approximation of an emotion which I feel continues to elude me. But that’s ok.

See, I haven’t overcome all my neuroses. I’ve just accepted them, accepted myself. I’m far from perfect, but really, what’s it to ya?

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah


What isn’t written down

I should be clear now and admit that this is a bit of a stream of consciousness and for that I apologise. I often get times where I feel as though I have something to express, but where it’s too nebulous a thing for me to put words to. As I write this I feel determined to write, in fact it’s almost a physical pressure in my chest. I am sure that sounds odd at first reading but I view it as being the same as any other creative urge. Some people have to grab their guitar, others throw paint against canvas, and I write.

It’s not art; I don’t think writing is art. I acknowledge my own minor ability to string a sentence together but rest assured I’m not under the illusion that I’m some tortured artiste who does or could produce works of outstanding quality. Nor am I being disrespectful to the most highly talented authors. It’s not disrespectful if I say that writing is not art. Things can be interesting, entertaining, moving, worthy or even profound without them necessarily being a work of art. There are so many books I have read which have changed my life.

I love books and I always have. When I was younger I would constantly seek out something (anything) to read. If deprived of an actual book I would resort to reading cereal packets, or bits of packaging. I don’t pretend that’s not a bit weird. Books though were mostly where I lived when I wasn’t playing outside. There were so many I remember from those days… The Wind in the Willows, A Toad for Tuesday, The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five… I grew up to these things.

Even now I can remember how some of them would make me feel. I would feel sad at a certain point in A Toad for Tuesday (I won’t be specific, so as to avoid spoilers). In The Wind in the Willows, when Ratty and Mole were in the Wild Woods looking to meet Badger I always felt that sense of danger and could practically feel the chill of the wind and the rain in the darkness. If you want to feel cozy on a dark winter’s evening with sheets of rain being driven against your window, read the chapter The Wild Wood.

As the years went by so the range of books I read expanded. I remember initially resisting Goosebumps because I felt (perhaps snobbishly) that they were a little simplistic, though I did cave in about a year after they first became meteorically popular. They weren’t scary even for me then, mostly because they were absurd. I’ve never been scared of the fantastic; describe to me the worst monster your imagination can create and I’ll still find scarier human beings.

When I was younger I used to have recurring nightmares about a man in the shed at the bottom of our garden. It would be the end of an autumnal afternoon. The hawthorn at the bottom of the garden would have shed its leaves and be standing in silhouette against the grey-white sky. The field which lay beyond the waist-high red brick wall at the garden’s boundary had always been ploughed, though in reality it was a playing field for my school. Thick sheets of dark black earth, sodden, perhaps frozen, were piled haphazardly around. I would walk towards the shed door, that door with flaking mint-green paint, standing sentry between the seven-year old me and whatever it was in that darkness I could see in the cracks in the door.

I always knew. I could always see the man’s eyes. I always knew what was behind the door. I didn’t have a choice though, that wasn’t the point of this. The point was to open the door. I passed the lilies and their leaves; those green leaves transmuted by autumn into a palette of sickly yellows, I remember them brushing against my leg. Now I stood in front of the door. I could hear breathing. What was that breathing I could hear? Who was making that noise? That rasping, sucking, wrenching breathing. What was it? I knew what it was. Who it was.

Ah, a little hole. I didn’t have to open the door to see inside, to see what was making that breathing noise in the shed at the bottom of my garden. If I stood on my tip toes I could probably reach that little hole and look through it. No, I didn’t want to look through it, but that wasn’t the point of the dream. And so I stretched up on my seven-year old legs and pushed my face against the mint-green paint of the door, embroidered as it was by tiny spider webs that clung to my cheeks as I made contact with the door. I peered in through that little hole, and I saw the eye.

Wide open, completely open, staring and wild. Desperate. Bloodshot. The eye looked at me and I looked at the eye in a moment which when I remember it lasted forever but which as I dreamed it was just an instant. I was so afraid of that eye, still am so afraid of that eye. My stomach lurched with terror. Run. Run!

Silly little boy should’ve ignored the shed at the bottom of the garden, silly little boy made a mistake. Silly little boy better run now. Seven year old me did run, he ran like the silly little boy he was. I vaulted over the little red-brick wall at the bottom of the garden and through a gap in the hawthorn trees between the garden and the field. Run. Run!

He’s coming now. As I run I look around and I see his face. He has yellow teeth, all smashed up like broken glass. And stubble. I remember his stubble, it’s thick and black. His face is dirty too, what has he been doing? He’s angry but he doesn’t say anything, he’s just chasing after me. Uh oh, silly little boy has stopped running.

Run. Run! RUN!

I would wake up in absolute terror. That was fear. Gribbly monsters with face prongs or hand mouths couldn’t touch that.

When literature began to be life changing rather than simply a constant in my life I couldn’t be entirely specific about, but I would say that it was approximately when I was twelve or thirteen. Things which then I couldn’t easily comprehend (like my sexuality) I was able to explore through fiction. That’s what’s so valuable about prose, and what means that it’s still valuable in spite of not being art. It is a loss which ought really be keenly felt by those young people who are growing up without books, but you cannot miss something you haven’t had and so I suppose they don’t miss it. I think they would if they only knew the places they could take themselves with a good novel.

I don’t know what my conclusion is, but that slightly breathless need to write has now receded and I have written at length and so normally here’s where I’d wrap things up. Having not had a specific point to make I can only hope that one emerged as I wrote. My feeling is that I ended up writing about the kind of experience which informs me as a writer.

Negativity is an easy thing for me to draw on when I put digital pen to digital paper. That’s not a bad thing, but it can be tiresome for anyone reading my work. I know I struggle when writing about happiness, joy and kittens; it’s something I need to work on. I’m not bad at it because I’m unhappy, quite the contrary. I think perhaps that writing about happy events is something I find a little bit embarrassing; it awakens that little voice in the back of my head that sometimes clears its throat pointedly when I’m being joyful. That tiny cough that asks “what do other people think? Tone it down a notch.”

Even if you respond by deciding (quite rightly) that you don’t really care, it still has an effect. When I can learn to ignore that little insidious cough in my writing as well as I now ignore it in my life, I’ll be better able to express the full range of things I want to write about. I don’t know how long it will take, maybe I’ll even master it tomorrow.

What’s that, little cough? I’m foolish to be so hopeful? Well sorry, but I am a bit of a dreamer.


The Boy & The Void

The boy felt it first; that empty thing, that unending malaise. It was there now, over his shoulder. He didn’t dare look. The void got angry if you looked at it. Besides, it wasn’t there – it was a nothing. That was the point. What comfort could you find in seeing nothing?

It had begun following him several months ago. He had started to feel its presence in short intevals, just as though it was passing him. Gradually the void had stayed longer, and visited more often and so now it was his constant companion.

The void was that hand on his shoulder which reminded him of his limitations at the peak of his joyful excesses, it was the cold pillow in the morning which should be hot; it was the sad song in the party playlist, it was dropping food you were looking forward to on the floor; it was smile not given and not received.

He didn’t know what to make of the nothing which now followed him at every step, which never let him forget about its presence. All he knew was that there’s only one way to destroy nothing, and that’s to make it something.

He set out to do so.


Starting over

Wouldn’t it be good to start over? I’ve spent the last few hours setting up my new laptop; ditching Internet Explorer in favour of Firefox, adding bookmarks for my favourite sites, scrabbling around trying to remember website passwords that I’ve not needed to type in manually for years. I like the smell of new computers, and on this laptop I like the way the keys sound.

What if you could do that in your life? What if you had the opportunity to start over completely? Imagine having the chance to begin again – setting up the bookmarks of your new life. Could you turn it down?

July 2018
« Apr