We pulled up in our rented vehicle, dwarfed quite comfortably by the incumbent coaches ferrying tourists from sight to sight, and prepared to disembark once again as travelers in a foreign land. In reality the location reminded us, perhaps more grandly than we remembered, of our own homes and the landscape therein, the coast battered by salt-fused waves whilst brash accents announced a population who had become ingrained into the very land they lived on. Our identities remained the same half the world away and we became a self contained unit, a family of friends.
The final flight to a familiar destination, my body sighs with relief. You are my final stranger, the person who sits one empty chair away from me of who I do not know one bit. I see your passport briefly, possibly from the Emirates judging from the silver cross of swords potent on the cover and the colourful shawl draped across your delicate face.
Your body is tiny in comparison to my towering torso and broad hulking shoulders. You curl up in your seat as soon as the plane starts to taxi, covering your head fully and aiming for a fitful fifty minute sleep. I am envious of this talent, I can only stare straight ahead, dipping into a satirical magazine to ease my boredom. This is the shortest flight that I have been on for some time now, but even here my eyes cannot rest. I reacquaint myself with the politics and humour of this land, smiling to myself as the plane carries on heading to the north.
I look across from time to time, partly to see the green grass of home but also to check that you are still resting. Your left hand is placed across your stomach, holding steady as your wrapped head lolls from time to time. The silent movements in sleep stand in great contrast to the roar of the engines situated just a few metres from where we are.
We smile at one another as I let you pass me by to get into the aisle, we have arrived at our destination and I am glad. I am finally home whilst you, I feel, may be very far from it but I hope you find a home here too and a loving family of friends.
I’m sitting at the table and I have an itch on my head, just above my right ear. I go to scratch it, gently pressing my fingers in against the hair and the skin. The fingers just keep digging in, drawing blood first and then they gently parse aside the fibres of the temporalis muscle.
Deeper still they go, through the border of the parietal and temporal bone, reaching into the bag that keeps the brain whole until finally the fingers penetrate the soft folds of the brain itself.
I look around and my family have not noticed anything different. My breakfast sits before me, untouched and uneaten.
I am slightly sickened by this point so I retract my fingers, hold them steady in front of my face and twist the right hand around, noticing as I do the soft droplets of blood hitting the bowl in front of me. They are red tears dropping onto my cereal biscuits, mixing with the milk to make it a pinkish dye.
I want to scream, to say that this is not normal.
But then I realize, slowly, that each of my family members also have one of their own hands extended deep into their own heads, exploring their own personality and their own individual ticks.
This is normal. This is what we do. We examine our own conscious, our feelings, for hints and tips on how to react to external stimuli as appropriate. We look deep into ourselves and, finally, we also look to each other for social clues, for the nous that we think is missing from the familiar.
This is a routine that we practice each and every morning, the examining of our physical selves to better re-enforce our emotional batteries. We are what we are, we are both flesh and blood; we are but thoughts and emotions also.
The milk tastes okay with the droplets of blood, there is the hint of the mercurial and the taste of the metallic as I crunch down on my breakfast feed.
It is the same every morning, it is the same every week. For better or for worse.
I am having trouble conveying the feelings that I am having, the fact that I want to write, to keep writing, but cannot quite formulate exactly what I want to say. At the moment I am finding a deep release through music, either through live gigs or listening to albums as I drive across the northern landscape of the country I inhabit. Often, on a morning when I wake, I play the album in the CD player and wash myself in the tones of whoever is playing. It is a sweet relief. There is an immediate sense of feeling, of a placement on a particular chord or orchestral swell, that rush of recognition that can only come with time when reading the words of others. Yet I feel there is a deep kindred between these two methods of communication, two of the most important for me. Yes, of course we talk, we can express our desires, worries, love and anger through talking, we gesture too, we can laugh or howl with derision, but there is something in the beauty of the written word, in the musical note, that is lacking from the babble that vocalizes forth from the mouths of both myself and of others. What does this say about me? I am not quite sure I want to know, that maybe I value the thoughts and beliefs of others, but worry about giving a voice to my own? Perhaps.
This isn’t the piece or the time to give voice to such ill thought out ideas or half formed theories. I want to keep writing, I want you to keep reading, I want us both to keep being creative, to tap into that font of magic that cannot be commercialized, crunched down to size for productivity measures or customer service satisfaction. I feel in limbo, between the world of what is expected of us all as individuals, in a market where we have to pull our weight to feed our commercial gain, compared to a more utopian paradise where the value of a person is not placed on their output, or their labor. It is ridiculous to think of such thoughts, ridiculous to think that I am free to think such thoughts, to moan about a life well lived. But I do, we all do, no matter our position, social standing or inherent bias built into us. We are all individuals and we are all a collective. Together we love, destroy and displace.
I am having trouble writing. I am staring at the computer screen each and every day. It is, I realize with a disgusted shudder, a proxy for human interaction, for skin on skin. Yet still I come back for more, in the vain and vapid belief that this is a life well lived, that this is life itself. Humans need the company of the animals and plants, of the soil itself, to know that we do not share this planet alone amongst our kind. We are but one of many and I feel that this is forgotten more and more. Ignorance is bliss until the world collapses around ourselves, and we are left choking on the markers of productivity.
Death has become a familiar friend as of late, in this last year of my life. This may be the last year of my life, I hope it is not but we never quite know what is around the corner. Surely we should grab it, if we believe it is so? Yet still, I lie in bed an extra hour, to soak in the sonic variations and textural tones of the current album spinning in my CD player. Content to know that, for the time being, this is where I belong. My limbs relax, my eyes flutter and close, finally my breathing shallows. It is a mere shadow of true sexual ecstasy, but it is close.
This blog was named partly after a 2012 album by the Canadian band Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Allelujah! Don’t Bend, Ascend) and, until last weekend, I had never had the chance to see this magnificent band live. Now that I have, I’m not too sure that listening to them on CD will ever be enough again (although it more than sates my appetite for the moment, as hauntingly beautiful as there music is). There can be no comparison for just how good they are live, how truly monumental. I’ve been lucky in the past few months to witness Sufjan Stevens and Godspeed live, amongst small local bands and friends bands (don’t ever forget to support your local bands and jam spaces!). I haven’t wrote much about music recently on this blog but, along with literature, photography and writing, it is one of the strongest bonds of my creative life. It is also a daily release from the grind of daily drudgery that is my current employment situation (something I am hoping to rectify shortly).
I also play the guitar and bass, albeit somewhat freely and only in semi-regular jams with friends where we all end up swapping instruments, but there is rarely a feeling like it when musicians lock together in a groove. It’s hard to define and it is even harder to describe for someone that has never played an instrument, or has never played one with other people. It isn’t like sex, where two bodies or more are locked in the carnal embrace, it is a feeling that is something different to that, knowing that you are locked in by the groove feels different – it feels exceptional. It is even better knowing that you are a part of a community (a silent shout out to The Joyful March!), part of a rehearsal rota where you are all friends and invited to each others gigs, or nights sat drinking watching each other play in your rehearsal room of choice. Even, like me, you play live exceptionally rarely (ok, almost never in the past few years) it is still a thrill to bang out some beats, some jams, and just to release. To know that you are not chained down to the desk, that you are not a machine, that your job isn’t your life, that there are more facets to your character that can be defined by your daily feedback. Anyhow, this is just a short note, a note I hope that makes you google the two artists above to discover their music and to entail your own meaning to theirs.
To grow as you hear, to hear as you grow.
“Just put the spade down please and come back inside, we can sort out the hole tomorrow.”
Her voice sounded tired, jaded even, as though she had seen this behaviour a thousand times before and just wanted this particular charade to be over with. Which, in truth, she did. She had her boyfriend to meet, holidays to ponder over.
“No, you know I want to do this, I want to bury myself, just for a bit! I have to know what physical death feels like, where we lie in the ground for eternity. Besides mam said you can’t interfere with me anymore ’cause of Dr Johnson’s orders!”
There was a faint hint of glee in the upswing of that last word.
It was true, the quack had said that James must ride out his emotions that, given the situation wasn’t life threatening, he should be able to act out what he said he wanted to do.
At this point I had given up and I could hear their continuing conversation drifting up from the back garden through the open window. I’d retired to my room to drink in the solace of it, the place where I had lived for nearly 25 years before finally moving myself on.
I had known for a while that I needed to leave, that James’s dramas could take care of themselves and that he was as alright as he was ever was going to be. It had struck mam and dad particularly hard that one, knowing that he’d need care, not constant but enough to keep them on their toes. I’d done my part of course, I’d helped around the house, kept him company as I searched for a job, but we had agreed that I needed to move cities to find chance of work in my area. This city wasn’t dying but it wasn’t exactly going through a boom cycle either. There was a comfortable constant turn over of both jobs and people, so that the faces and policies in the local administration changed enough but not too fast to upset the local citizens.
“I’m doing it! I’m pouring the soil over myself!”
I peeped over to the edge of the open window and saw that James was indeed lying supine in his homemade burial, carefully pushing the clumps of soil over his lower half. He seemed content, happy even. His body was slowly being reclaimed by the cold earth of home.
He wasn’t overly fond of the insects and arachnids that made the soils and grasses their homes, but he’d put up with them if they wriggled and scuttled away from his thrashing actions. Worms in particular fascinated him though, the flesh coloured tube of life dancing on his palm before he chucked them clean away, free to carry on their tunneling lifestyle.
It wouldn’t last long of course, he’d come to his senses and wriggle himself free of the pitifully small amount of soil that he’d managed to cover himself in and come screaming back into the house, tearing his body this way and that.
It is hard to articulate the freedom that I feel behind the wheel. As I join the flow of traffic I am you and you are I, only our cars distinguish us amongst the crowd and even then we are both the same. Yet driving is also death incarnate – the flurry of life in flux and of life taken at a moment’s notice. I fear gross trauma, the savaged limb and the non-beating heart.
Yet, even with this fear encapsulated within my bosom, I still love the freedom that the four wheels bring, even as we are constrained by the tarmac and by the signs. It is a chance to listen again to a favourite CD in its entirety, to revisit a band’s discography. It is the time to make me fall in love once more. It is the time to get to know my co-workers that much more, to have unfettered conversations not sanctioned by the workplace. It is the time to cruise the dark streets alone on my midnight journey home, heading back to the family dwelling. It is the time to think of the luxury of a life half-lived.
All photographs by the author, please credit if used elsewhere.
It is funny how people ebb and flow, from here to there, over the course of their lives and our life. How strong the pull and attraction of the home town can be, how daunting and listless a new land can seem. How making that initial journey into pastures can take years, but walking in the same old tired footsteps can seem vital and necessary.
Some things never change. Some things never stay the same. Some things never are. Some things will always be.
Clarity did not come from a hard day at the office, nor did it come from a bracing open air walk or from seeing his family locked in a loving embrace. Instead clarity came from the drained pint class. It came from the empty pint glass that clanked down onto the wooden bar as the bell rang ready for a lock-in. It came to him in the pub, rising above the roar of the regulars, above the awful impressions on the microphone, above the blare of a population letting of a weeks worth of pent-up steam. It was at this point that clarity put aside all thought and all distractions and came to him in the form of a clear mind. It blazed for a singular moment only to be lost in the haze of the alcohol a second later. He could only grasp at the tendrils of the thought the next day, but he knew that the ritual would be repeated the next week.
The world of work beckons. Although I had always considered employment a kind of personal anathema, I have, and continue to give, my time and effort willingly for various volunteer causes. Why is it then that the thought of paid work produces in me a nervous sweat of such mental magnitude that I fall and stumble in my own dreams, horrified at the thought of bonded labour? Of course it is a juvenile and overgrown thought, as we all need to work to produce capital to sustain life as we know it, for rent, for bills, for the ever increasing price of food. You may not like the system, of working during the best hours of sunlight and of living during the twilight minutes of a dying day, but it is a necessary state of life at this moment. I guess education has been the backbone for me then, even during the numerous surgical explorations of my body, and not paid employment as per most of my age group. So perhaps a shift of the paradigm to encompass the varied world of work will produce wonders for me, make me a tax paying fulfilled member of society. Perhaps… But it will not shake the jolt of freedom I feel when I think of running among the verdant grasses and lush green trees I spy as my contained car or train rushes past them. No, that for me is a dream yet still to come.
The only thing that cascaded through his mind as he heard his best friend disown him were the thoughts of how easy it was to let someone go. To break the bond that was forged in the distant past, and for it to become anew elsewhere.
It had been going on for days, maybe weeks or months, by now. But that did not matter, he had cast aside his own guilt, and believed that by becoming distant to his friend he could do him no more harm. Was this the right approach? He did not know, but he took its path regardless.
He had always thought of himself as being a good friend, always willing to help or to lend a hand where possible, always reachable no matter where he lived, and almost always willing to be a supportive person.
Yet deep down he knew that this was not entirely true; that, like others he had known, he had misused friends, had treated them as utilities to fill in the time, not fully appreciating their company or feelings.
It was entrenched this feeling that friends come and go throughout the course of life; that in all the valleys and flowing becks that the waterway of life takes, you sometimes lost a friend or two in the drift, but that the memories always remained. Somehow, somewhere, they remained anchored in the folds of the brain, and that memories drifted to the surface as and when they are recalled, consciously or subconsciously.
He knew, of course, that some people stayed in your life for as long as you, or they, lived no matter what, and stayed with you regardless of the chaotic scattershot direction that life takes.
Forever contacting but never being contacted, in this way he led his life.