last tuesday club

"She believed the world had begun last Tuesday. January the twelfth, to be precise. When I asked her how she came up with the idea, she just shrugged, before looking at me as though it were obvious." – Charlotte Amelia Poe.

Category: Writing

how to be autistic

you will be told you are a troublemaker, that the thing you can’t put into words yet that divorces you from everyone else, is responsible for the way the other kids pick on you and you really must try harder to fit in. you will realise quickly that you cannot trust anybody, not really, because they will ask you to do things that break you, that will haunt you for years. you will meet people who you will revisit in nightmares and go to places that will hide behind your closed eyelids as you toss and turn at night. you will learn to be afraid. you will learn how to be afraid and still breathe. you will learn fear as survival.

nobody will ever tell you what is wrong with you, just that you are wrong, and that what you do and say is wrong. you will look at the world and you will see everybody else and find yourself lacking, and not know why. you will cling to the edges of tables and shift in your seat as you try not to pass out as another wave of panic crashes through you. you will vomit on your shoes.

you will not be allowed to go home.

you will learn that retreat is safer than attack. that home is safer than outside. that people are cruel for the sake of being cruel and the scars of their words will etch into your brain. you will scratch at your skin and pick at the scabs and mark yourself in the most base animal way of blood and torn flesh. you will make deals with the devil.

you will cry hot tears and smudge your eyeliner. you will wash the streaks off with cold water and be sent back to class. your legs will fold and you will forget how to stand. you will believe them when they tell you that you are doing this on purpose. you will learn to hate yourself the same way they hate you.

you will take tablets designed to sedate and you will still not BE sedate. you will fondle the silver of the blister packs and thank every god you can think of for these small blue marvels that allow you a space to think and be without the constant gnaw of anxiety. you will leave the house and the world won’t end. you will learn that these tablets are the only thing that can save you.

you will learn that the people designed to help you don’t care whether you live or die. you will learn that being suicidal means a four week wait for an appointment. you will learn about forged care plans and missing medical records. you will listen as medical health professionals lie through their teeth about you. you will wonder why nobody ever took a step back and actually looked at you.

you will stop looking in the mirror. you will feed the hatred and disgust and loathing that grows black and malignant inside of you. you will line up for the firing line and stand back straight facing the muzzles of guns because you believe you deserve it. you will think you are a burden. you will be told over and over by charities that say they want to help that you are better off dead. you will hear about the murders of other people like you and hear the sympathy poured out to the murderers. you will learn that your life has less value than normal people.

but –

you will live in spite of it all. you will read and write and draw and paint and create and sing and dance and laugh and love. you will be magnificent. you will feel the catch in your breathing as you walk towards the best day of your life and you will keep walking. you will hold close to you the people who didn’t abandon you. you will never, ever be able to give enough thanks to the heroes who ran up the phone bill, who made appointments, who begged and pleaded on your behalf. you will look into your mother’s eyes and know that she loves you without conditions. you will live to see your sister’s children grow from helpless to incredible. you will sleep with your cat’s fur brushing the end of your nose and smile to yourself as she purrs. you will push yourself further than you thought you could survive and you will survive.

you will survive.

you will survive.

see, here’s the secret. to break concrete with your bare hands, you have to train for years, breaking your fingers and healing those fractures until your bones are stronger than your obstacle. every time you’ve cried, every time someone else’s words have broken you, every time you’ve wished you were dead but survived the night, you have broken and healed the microfractures of your soul. you are carbon, turning slowly to diamond. and every single time you were knocked down, you stood back up.

carl sagan once said that we are all made of star stuff. that when the universe first exploded out on itself it created the atoms that eventually became us. so when your breathing hitches, remember that you are swallowing ancient planets, that every single second since the birth of our reality has been leading up to this moment. so, you’re allowed to be afraid.

there’s no bravery without fear, no courage without that awful lump at the back of your throat and the turning of your stomach.

you will survive.

because it’s been thirteen point seven seven two billion years since you were created, and you are fucking cosmic. you have shone in night skies before day and night existed. you are a fluke, a chance, something so utterly unlikely that the odds are incalculable. and yet there you stand. a miracle.

they’ll never understand, the ordinary folk. because they take what they see for granted, and it’s not their fault, it’s just all they’ve ever known. you have had to fight for your existence every step of the way. so you know, you know the cost of survival.

and i know, and you can trust me on this, that you are going to claw your way through this life and one day, a long time from now, greet death with a smirk and a firm handshake, utterly unafraid, because fear is something you know, but, like a wolf showing its fangs, your fear makes you powerful.

and i think, maybe, that’s why they were afraid of you. because they knew your potential. they knew that you were more. that in the light of the moon you were beautiful. so they tried to hide it from you. tried to beat it out of you.

they failed.

you will survive.

girls like wolves

You are a wolf
Men have tried to shape you
To decide what is acceptable and what is not
Men will hold competitions to judge the most beautiful of you
Sometimes for their entertainment you will be pitted against your sisters
Men will call you ‘man’s best friend’,
Until you make too much noise
And then you will be silenced
Some of you will learn to fear the sound of a raised voice
Or to flinch at the sight of a raised hand
Men will give you names you did not choose
Men will see your wild beauty and call it savage
Men will try to tame you

You are a wolf
And wolves cannot abide by the laws of men
You are a primal power encased by the centuries
But your teeth are still sharp

You are a wolf
And in the moonlight,
You are nature borne flesh
And you bow to no man

when they ask

how do you explain anxiety to someone?
is it the hitch in your breathing and then
the tightness in your chest
as you try to catch yourself
and remind yourself that you’re still standing
but your legs want to fold
and your brain is telling you that it’s not safe
and you haven’t been safe for a long time now
you can’t remember what it felt like not to feel the gnaw
and you can’t remember when it switched from
wanting not to cause a scene
to wanting to cause a scene
because if you collapse you get to leave
people will notice and care and treat you like spun sugar
but when you make your legs stride and your lungs burn
nobody is going to help you
and you’d cry if you had the air to do so
but instead you keep walking
and in that moment
you’d face a firing squad
because a bullet to the brain
is easier than meeting the eyes of a stranger

the bridge

last chance to save a life

take a deep breath

what do you say?

cinéma-vérité

the older we get,

the more movies we loved as children,

will become graveyards,

and the actors mere ghosts,

haunting screens,

as we outlive our heroes.

thirteen steps past the funeral pyre

in salem’s graveyards
there walk the ghosts
of those you tried to burn
as bones became charred
and tears streaked soot
now
if you breathe in
feel the catch of your heart
the flush of your cheeks
as the air feels a little warmer
for a hundred years and a hundred more
and all the centuries that followed
and will follow
they count your steps
and mark your path
and i hope to your gods you don’t cross them
with word or thought or deed
because magic is magic whether it is old or new
and even long since dead
the witches’ screams
will swallow you

Dead Pixels

The simulation

Is degrading

At a faster rate

Than anticipated

We apologise

For any inconvenience

We will not

Survive the winter

A Review of Happy by Derren Brown

If life is about the stories we build, then one of my most cohesive narratives is reading.  It’s fair to say most everyone spends their entire life reading, so I suppose I am no exception, but even so, I like to count it as a hobby, rather than a necessity of life. And part of that story is that I never give up on a book, no matter how poorly-written, boring or just plain baffling.

I gave up on Happy.

It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? Because knowing Derren Brown there’s probably a twist in the last third that would have made my gentle trudge through the first third worth it, and my world would have turned on its axis and suddenly I’d have got it. But I’m never going to get that far.

Happy and I have a somewhat difficult relationship.

I really want to like Happy, Happy seems to actively despise me and every life choice I’ve ever made. It’s complicated.

I feel I should mention that I feel this book is one for the psychologically sound, at worst the psychologically wobbly; and not the psychologically oh-dear-god-what-is-happening. There was one line that stood out to me which really made me think: oh, we might have some disagreements here:

We might, worse, choose how to live based almost entirely on a reaction against the way we have been treated by people and thus hand over control of our life force to the transgressors of our past.”

This may seem like a throwaway line to get stuck on, but I think for a lot of people, myself obviously included, this could give pause for thought.

Living with PTSD is like living in the past and the present concurrently. The two are blended almost seamlessly into a ball of anxiety, doubt and every protective measure you have learnt over the years to make sure what happened never happens again. Your dreams turn easily into nightmares. You drift off and end up thinking about something that happened over ten years ago. You look at the photographs of your old school mates and wonder how they got away scot free and you didn’t. You are constantly living the story of your past, as your brain tries to construct and reconstruct it into something you can digest. Your every action is dictated by a hedgehog bristled protective instinct to stay safe, and whilst Brown may suggest that the stories of our past are largely irrelevant to our current wellbeing, it is damn near impossible to objectively take that on board when you live your past every day, from the moment you wake up to the moment you eventually fall asleep (and into your nightmares).

It is true that we construct narratives out of our lives, that we have wants, hopes, goals and dreams that may be entirely unrealistic. We seek happiness outside of ourselves, in friendship, acceptance and relationships, platonic or otherwise (oddly the platonic was weirdly disparaged, which I found difficult to comprehend as my only meaningful relationships have been platonic, after all, it is very difficult to date when you cannot leave the house without functionally sedating yourself).

In deciding a few years ago that theory of mind was in fact a very real thing, and that other people had exceedingly, marvellously, miraculously complex internal lives all of their very own, I came to the conclusion that if I cannot be happy, then at least other people can be slightly less miserable. To that end, I treated every smile I could get from my nephew as golden, every giggle from my niece as a reward, every ALL CAPS response from my best friend as a job well done. I wrote at once both selfishly and selflessly, a desire to be seen and remembered, for my work to somehow one day end up on charity shop shelves, sandwiched between dog-earred copes of Fifty Shades of Grey or some other nonsense. The selfless was in spreading stories of love, hope and okay, admittedly, sometimes cannibalism. Using Amazon’s promotional tools to give my writing away for free, flinging my stories into unexpecting people’s faces and hoping that maybe the words I had strung together somehow resonated and remained long past the final page. The mantra I found that best fit was simply: create beautiful things. Less simply: leave the world in a better place than you found it in. In two words, ultimately though, it was: be kind.

In accepting a narrative, things were bad, things will in all likelihood continue to be bad, but maybe I can make things slightly less bad for other people, I found more purpose than in striving for a happiness of my own. Maybe it is selfish, to want with such fierceness, for my niblings to live a life where the bad cannot touch them, cannot in any way impede their lives. For my mother to find a sense of peace, though I have yet to figure this one out, she’s tricky. For my cat to live a life where his rotund and fluffy self can make happy sleeping noises all day every day and never have to worry about, well, anything.

Glancing at the book now, I keep re-reading the subtitle, ‘Why more or less everything is absolutely fine’. Maybe I just never reached the point of the book where the glass in my mouth is revealed to be sugar glass and largely harmless, but life within four walls, the same cast of characters day in, day out, and a boredom that cannot be quantified, does not feel like everything is ‘more or less absolutely fine’. Everything feels more or less decidedly less than fine. No amount of complicated philosophy (as someone who took Philosophy at AS Level and failed it in a rather spectacular fashion, the sheer amount of, to me, dense philosophical discussion within the chapters I read made me feel intensely stupid, like maybe I was too stupid to be deserving of happiness) could simplify matters. It was in parts bewildering, indecipherable and finally, genuinely upsetting. As someone whose anagram skills were not revived by the Rumyodin example (I stared and stared at it, trying to find the word, and in the end only discovered it was in fact two words: ‘your mind’, upon watching the documentary, Fear and Faith, mentioned in the book) I was starting the stairs on the wrong foot and off balance from there on really.

The problem is, I tried, I really did. The paragraphs of philosophy wandered into my brain, turned over a few objects, ran a finger across a dusty surface, and decided this was not a place they wanted to stay, and in fact, they were frankly insulted at the idea. In other words: it did not stick. Grand ideas are all well and good, but when phrased and collected and presented as an opportunity for, if not happiness, than a lack of desire to seek happiness, and then being too dense for my immensely simple brain to comprehend, well, didn’t I feel a tad bit stupid. I do understand, that objectively I am stupid, that my IQ is slightly above average, but that fundamentally I am not the sharpest cookie in the cookie jar. I feel this is why I get on so well with my cat, who, when not being threatened with a swift rehoming, is looked upon fondly and told ‘you’re lucky you’re pretty’. A better natured cat you will not find, but there is little going on upstairs. Lacking his ginger locks and distinguished features, I find myself without even that comfort.

So: happiness. Is the truth out there? Is it just slightly too impenetrable for my traumatised brain to decipher? Is this book written, unavoidably from a place of privilege – be it wealth, mental stability or education? Or am I Dumbo, falling and creating an elephant sized crater in the pavement because I don’t quite trust the magic feather, or my own capabilities? I know enough to know the magic is not in any magical trinket or external controlling force. I also know enough to know that the magic has not been inside myself all along. No amount of prodding my internal self is going to stamp down my ultimate unrealistic fantasy of being able to go to Tesco without popping a Diazepam and disassociating in the bread aisle.

I have filled my life, in lieu of genuine companions, with the fictional, and have indulged in their stories and the action = consequence narrative. Whilst I agree that the universe does not give a shit about me, I cling still to the brutal hope that someday this will all reveal itself as worth it. That one day I will stand in the bread aisle and not be overwhelmed by the utterly arbitrary amount of very similar breads.

So, my narrative is not as simple as: I was born two weeks early and as a result crave punctuality and hate waiting around (though this is true). Nor is it as twee as: I set up my position in my mother’s uterus as breech, and with a stubbornness I display to this day, I refused to budge, causing rather more trouble than I’m worth to be frank.

The past shapes us, we are not separate from it, it informs our every decision, conscious or unconscious. When the past is present in your every thought, tangled utterly within your thought processes, it becomes impossible to write off as just something that happened.

We might, worse, choose how to live based almost entirely on a reaction against the way we have been treated by people and thus hand over control of our life force to the transgressors of our past.”

My transgressors may have taught me to fear, to seek control and to doubt authority in all its many varied forms, but they also taught me this: spite. Not as an active position, but as a passive decision to hope for better in spite of what they may have wished for me.

Turning twenty eight in January, I realise I have rather missed the boat when it comes to every traditional life hurdle. Facebook serves as a rather caustic reminder of this. And yet, at the same time, there is a heady relief in not fitting into the Stepford model of marriage, kids, mortgage, rinse and repeat until death. I may not be happy, and everything is not more or less absolutely fine, and on my death bed I will undoubtedly be itemising the regrets of a life half lived, between shouts for more morphine. But in still being alive, I have managed to cause an awful lot of trouble for those who hurt me, and hopefully, through words I wrote using this rather substandard brain of mine, have made people laugh and cry and consider however briefly, a narrative other than their own. My characters may be paper thin avatars of myself, living out better lives, and maybe that is my flaw: I am ultimately tied to stories and beginnings, middles and endings. And so, to dismiss narrative as a way of comprehending life seems completely alien to me, and also sort of sad. I don’t want to wake up every day like I’ve received a bang to the head and everything is shiny and new. I carry the weight of my experiences and live despite them, and to spite them.

As I write these words, I am aware that Brown would be finding hiccups in every argument, shaking his head at the very basic misunderstanding of his words. That’s okay, and I don’t blame him. Ultimately though, Disappointing a National Treasure makes for quite a good chapter title in the book of my life, don’t you think?

eulogy

i died, and nobody noticed
i picked out a tombstone
and a small patch of earth
a rectangle of dirt
ready to reclaim me

i died, and nobody noticed
i picked out a funeral suit
and made up invitations
embossed on recycled card
the last poem i would write

i died, and nobody noticed
i rested beside the roots of a tree
feeling the soil calling to me
the autumn leaves crisp against bare feet
they buried me with dirty fingernails

i died, and nobody noticed
a small jukebox skipped its way through ‘hallelujah’
and i sung along even though they didn’t hear
and i thought of all the chords i knew
and wondered which one david played

i died, and nobody noticed
i was the ash on your tongue
the dust in your eyes
your face contorted
and you did not cry

i died, and nobody noticed
which is why, i think
it makes it so easy
to push through the oak of the lid
and step into the moonlight,
a small whisper of a ghost

it has rained since i was gone.

battle borne

you can’t ask me
to apologise
for empathy –
i refuse to.
whilst i
lost
the battle
the war rages on
and i know that
someday
it will be
the most valuable
of weapons.