The vice-like grip, at ten a.m. is but a warning, a presage of what is to come. A small twinge, a twitching of muscles, a lightly furrowed brow, then silence. You count the seconds, watch the tumbleweed jump and dance, twisting in the wind as it skips across the hastily vacated brainscape, and you pray for solitude. Eleven o’clock comes and goes, bringing with it a mild headache and a growing sense of foreboding that has nothing to do with the glowering boss lurking behind the advised (and advisable) plate-glass partition. It starts. Twelve thirty sees you staggering toward the cafeteria for a polystyrene cup of boiling monosodiumglutomate and a hunk of stale foam, encased in concrete, and sadistically coated in sesame seeds to provide you with the government-recommended daily requirement of gum-disease. The clouds pass by the window as you pick at your teeth with a ragged fingernail. Your email states that it’s nearly three, but time has little meaning here in the land of artificial light. The phone rings, your ears pop, and suddenly it hits, blinding, terrifying, hideous. You clamber out of the pit and cradle the receiver. Hello? A list of pointless instructions issues forth without provocation. The knife slices vertically through your skull, leaving nothing.
Looking back with the benefit of nostalgia, it is easy to forget the homesickness, the loneliness of that year. I do not look upon it as a wasted opportunity, but rather one I chose to endure in my own fashion. Others partied, northern-style, staying out late, growing up disgracefully. I took a more sober approach. I enjoyed being an enigma to my fellows, and, in a way, I enjoyed wallowing in my own self-pity, overworking myself, setting challenges I would lose sleep needlessly to fulfil. I looked for the real, the genuine experience, rather than living in my own little Erasmus-island. I was there to embrace the local culture, warts and all, and so I did. Suppressing my instinctive withdrawal from any harsh reality I might encounter, I soldiered on, exploring in foreign territory. Craving a wholemeal cheddar-cheese and Dijon-mustard sandwich for nearly ten months. Learning instead to thrive on a diet of crackers, coffee, plain chocolate and oranges. I inserted myself into that world, that time-zone, that lifestyle. I even went to church.
Then, when my time was up, I was expelled from my brave new-found world. Released from the institution. And now I find myself aching to return there. A part of me is missing. I noticed it when I first returned. I craved pizza rather than toast. I pined for the colourful shop-window-displays, bursting with pride and elegance, and found no solace in the unfeeling, haphazard piles to be found gracing the grubby glass fronts of Regent Street.
What can have happened to provoke this shift in personal geography? I no longer belong here, or there, or, in fact, anywhere. I am a displaced person. Having abandoned what passed for ‘my own’ culture to embrace another for so long, I find on returning, that I have lost it. I no longer fit. The world around me jars each time I open my eyes to it, and yet I cannot exist in a bubble. My time there is fast fading, and yet the world here is hardly in focus, but fuzzy, as if viewed through a smudged lens.
Homecoming is never easy. It is in the nature of time, being of a linear persuasion, to march onward, letting those things one drops fall by the wayside. Somewhere along the road, I seem to have lost myself amid the dust and general confusion of growing up. My rock of ages slipped its moorings and drifted out to sea, taking the rest of the Armada along for the ride.
So what do I do now? Try to find out who I really am? Or just choose an identity to borrow? I could so easily become the perfect girlfriend, then wife, and daughter-in-law, even mother. Or do I continue to drift, hoping to bump into something or someone significant enough to run me aground and show me how I am no longer so out of my depth?
My mind is filled with problem-solving paraphernalia, yet no solution fits my puzzle. Logic is overthrown and I dawdle along the path of least resistance, dragging my feet in the mire and snaring my clothing and hair on brambles. I gaze longingly towards the past, using the eyes in the back of my head, ever fixed to the rear, but I refuse to turn. What good would it do to return there? To dwell, to swallow the pill I keep toying with – swirling my tongue around it, and capturing it securely in my teeth before spitting it out again for further inspection…
I am myself, and yet who I used to be is already long-gone. Old friends no longer know me, and I have little use for what new acquaintances I gather, as I now expect them to be transitory, changeable, fleeting.
I work because I must. Not to do so would outrage me, pushing my fragile sense of stability further toward ‘off-balance and out-of-kilter’. I long for time to think, time to sit and wallow, to pinpoint my position, work out how in hell I got here, and where to go next… No time is forthcoming, however, so my questions remain unanswered, although the answers must be within reach. Somewhere in this vast confusion, there is one with my name on it.
Treetops in the sunlight, rushing by the window, bearing their burdens proudly, majestically, regally. No meek shall inherit the earth, but long after we are but dust, the trees and plants will march ever onward, holding their standards high, gaily waving green-clad boughs in the cool of the evening, and rustling to give their best to the breeze and receive the whisper of news in return.
I raise my weary head and look about me in puzzlement. How did I get here? Shaking the vestiges of much-craved sleep from my fruitful, crowded brain, I try to rouse my intellect, only to be informed that she is still abed, curled up in her red satin pyjama bottoms and black t-shirt, dreaming a foreign landscape; exploring, sighing after long-lost loves, swimming in pools of deep ebony emotion, and leaping ever higher to escape the rising tide of wakefulness that threatens her peaceable drift.
I am an island, spinning in the pacific blue of my own unconscious, washing the sand from my shores with tides of ink. Self-exploration that uncovers freshwater pools, icy-cold and clearer than crystal, more sparkly than rose quartz and twice as gentle; these foray-expeditions within the psyche bring back pearls of wisdom, grey and severely serious, gems of longing, beautiful and dark, and a hidden persona who rarely reigns with a free hand.
Your arms no longer bind me, your feet do not find me, yet still I seek you in my dreams. What is it I am looking for? I fear I no longer know.
These were written separately, but I have decided to group them together due to content, so please excuse any repetition of imagery or metaphor.
Lying quietly, facing the ceiling, I contemplate the beauty of this sterile, stucco’d upside-down world. Perfection in uselessness, barren space, wasted tidiness. Grey serenity in the early-evening light, and I am cleansed of the day’s worries. The clutter of my brain seeping out and floating downward to pool around my ankles while I gaze in wonder at the splendour of light playing across a clean surface.
I could be happy up there, living on the ceiling. I’d bathe my hands in the cool basin of the light-shade and sigh at the barren beauty of my upside-down world. The bookshelves would give me ready access to all those hard-to-reach, top-shelf titles, now brought down to my level by happenstance and made accessible to me. I would stretch languorously, revelling in the space about my arms, then sprawl across the ceiling, shaking a dusty tome upwards towards the carpet. I could sigh, long and loud, then spend the day within my mind. Minus the distractions of chores – no hoovering, no dusting, no washing up, and I’d be free.
Dancing around the bedroom in my pyjamas I pause to pirouette, feeling the scrape of the carpet, crumb-covered, beneath the ball of my blister-blighted foot, and I am beautiful. Without makeup, without mirrors, with no one to look at me or to stroke my ever-hungry ego, I breathe in the stale, book-dusty air, hear the tinny music of the radio, spy your socks on the floor, and, tutting to myself, march proudly onward to face the morning.
Stolen from my chosen world. Reality arrives with a rush and a whimper. Staring blindly at the hand before me, all faces turned to chart my progress. Wagers placed, the unimaginative betting on the surety of a telling-off. The dreamer castigated for thinking outside the box, outside the hell of thirty sheep, all following one who refuses to lead by example. Do as I say, don’t do as I do. You have to pay attention. Stick with the mundanity of life, it will bring its own rewards. What rewards? What is my motivation not to fly the scene on a broomstick, long hair whipping in the wind and cackling in a self-congratulatory manner? I lack stimulation. I have rarely found the company of sheep to be adequate in this regard. But you must want to conform, fit in, be molded to the cast of social splendour. The government wants more scientists. Well pardon me, please, for having an opinion, but my talents lie elsewhere. I suspect the government really, deep down, desires something far more exciting – more dominatrices, more cheese and mustard sandwiches, more sex, but it’s pointless explaining such things to most adults while one is under the age of ten. They tend to be so shocked that one can think, that the content of any message is lost amid cries of ‘Sacrilege’, as the alarm bells sound and they call in the men in white coats to ask embarrassed questions about your relationship with the world around you in a crude attempt to discover your emotional handle. A label is most helpful to those members of the red-tape brigades who cannot cope without a filing system. It allows them to hide their fear of you in a little box. Somewhere between Arachnophobia and Necrophilia lies a little drawer with my name on it, encircled by a thick chain and multiple padlocks. It is time to break the locks and melt the chain, free the spirit and allow the daydreamers to solve the world’s problems. Protocol will only get us so far, as we keep edging ever-closer to the big red button that could end it all in a heartbeat. No daydreamers would press it for curiosity’s sake, as we have clearly imagined the consequences. Clearly and in technicolour!
Missing, like the cool breath of spring with the windows sealed and the heating on. I looked everywhere, but could not find what it was I sought. Eventually I was drawn outside, away from my safe haven, comfy cocoon, nest of nostalgia. Drawn outside to the vast emptiness of grey. The buildings, trees, sky, pavements, even the people, leached colourless with the daily grind. Scrabbling to inject a small painted eddy with each gossip magazine, buying the gospel according to St. Vogue, Cosmo, Heat, in a vain attempt to reignite a spark of something to warm the outer echelons of wasted grey matter in their meaningless, empty, automatic existence.
Chakras blaring, I slice through the crowd in a beam of light, airy red and green, pausing to gaze at the signs, tripping over my feet and smiling gaily at the blank, vacant stares of astonished and outraged indifference. I pass them by.
Still searching, still questing, thirsty for something more than the cold, consumer products that continue to be supplied without demand. Unnecessary. The limp sandwiches, curled in their cardboard, and the leaky coffee cups uncomprehending in their crassness. And I feel embarassed for them, these minor distractions. They clutter us up, steal spare time, waste our dreams, anchor our wanderlust and tie our shoelaces together, sending us tripping, tottering off balance until our world only appears normal when viewed from the appropriate angle.
Bent out of shape, the life collects at a corner, in little pockets, much like a zit, cheerfully growing bigger and more bountiful until some officious teen decides to squeeze it to death, and creativity is lost, scattered to the dusty ends of the earth like pus exploded on a mirror. Distasteful, too much life – suppress it, cover it up with beige face paint and pretend it’s not there. Censorship, by the people, for the people. And my itch only grows, it seems. In inverse proportion to all attempts to squash it, until it is so big it no longer needs a soapbox, or a rooftop, but is ready to take on the world even without us. I sigh, acknowledge the digression, give myself a little shake and return to my path.
Oh, for my own wooden wanderings. I choose freedom over falsehood, yet build upon the cold, hard, steely-eyed framework of society. The foundation garments of rebellion, are now to be worn outside the ashen trappings of civilization.
The glade of flowers must exist within the sharpened wolf-ridden forest and perhaps it is that this little red riding hood is looking for? Stab to the heart of a problem and find only dust and bones. Soothe your way in and discover a wealth of living warmth. Fondant moisture, unsuspected, lurking in the depths. Yes, depths. The world suddenly takes on a third and an other dimension, and I find myself satisfied, my thirst slaked, comfited at the glorious mystery of which I have partaken. Colour and light bursts forth around me and I am renewed. The world shifting and righting itself upside-down.
Things settle to a more comfortable location. Tesselations occur, interacting and teasing in their kaleidoscopic patterns. Turned on their ear, yet righted, I continue to turn in the world’s wake. A spinning top, all colours blurring to an all-feeling brown of newness.
Sitting, watching the silicon dribble through the cyber-glass, I ponder the meaning of life.
Parked at a desk while my mind wanders, I have done my homework… please, Sir, can’t I go out and play yet? And the hours tick by. I clean the office, sort things, file things, re-sort my cabinets, and wait for someone who doesn’t care about doing their job, a weak link in the corporate shackles, (but just strong enough that no one is willing to pull that particular plug and rattle his chain), to allow me to do mine.
I am drifting on a sea of useless information, all colours and numbers and artifice. The reality of the blister on my left heel is a far more tangible reminder that some things lead straight back down to earth.
My left sock is wet, inside and out.
Surrounded by the spoils of men, milling, swirling, competing for attention, wanting for nothing, yet craving every piece of trash that passes by. We live in a desolate age, where pile upon pile of fancy packaging coats our conscience, wraps our brains and seals the deal with a loving spritz of forget-me. How I long for simple rivalry, without the harsh clamour, wish the humdrum, mono-not-chrome existence to once again hold sway. I pray for need, I beg for demand, rather than the overabundance of what is supplied to those without such a borderline. Edgy, a fringe movement hanging on the silk of their own party dress and swaying gently in the consumptive breeze. I could live in a world of lithographic memories, brown and fuzzy, dog-eared and beautiful in its imperfection. Order amid the chaos of life without pixels. A stream of unconscious thought, growing to a river, and crashing down the butter-mountain, swallowing up all those in its path.