Friday, 25 October 2013

Before We Disappear

Alertness seizing control; heart pounding, eyes wide, mouth dry; darkness all around the room peeling away from the shadows, encroaching steadily and yet, remaining a sideshow. The darkness is ever a pernicious existence, unknown and unknowable, and yet, adrenaline’s monopoly keeps it away; adrenaline keeps us cocooned within our thoughts. Thoughts that ride a bullet train from Station Past to Present Junction to Unknown Destination Future. And despite all of this grey familiarity, we don’t have a clue where we’re going.
            Ovular, circular, heart-shaped; brown, green, blue — these elements, manifestations of what we encounter in our bullet train, follow us through every cabin, carriage, and crossing; over every hump, bump and jarring halt, we see them again. Not all of them, no. There is shifting, relocation, and alternation. There exists that ever-expanding horizon which, outside of this existence, bears many other trains shooting along it. Not all of them are bullet trains; there remain the grinding axels, pumping pistons and hoary steam of times when, in ways the subjective mind cannot perceive (will not perceive), the world moved at a slower, more controlled, pace.
            Have you ever woken up, and found yourself sweating, mind cool as ice and yet running on maximum RPMs in order to discern what your subconscious was baiting you with? What memories had been plucked from differing scenarios and meshed together, giving your life an aspect that only you could ever see? It is a film viewed by you alone, the reel burning away with a celerity seeking to catch the film before you see it all. Old friends, relatives, school, work. How many dreams have you had where two people you associate with, each belonging to a different circle, have stumbled into the same scene — strange, is it not? I’m no Freud, so I could sit here and list a thousand reasons, each as wrong as the next or as potentially fabulous as the last, and no weight could be attributed to any suggestion. However, in these instances, what is going on?  A friend of ten years and a friend of only 4 months find themselves in a location you wouldn’t attribute to either of those friendships; in your mind, you see the scenario through a pair of eyes. Are these eyes your own? Unless these friends interact with you, how can you be sure? How and why have they been brought together, in this location, in this jumbled reorganization of memories?
            There are colours. Perhaps these will the location into existence. In my head, at this instant, the colours are swaths of dark green. There is russet brown in lines both horizontal and vertical but these lines seem inferior to the greens. The faces are pale, sharp and heart-shaped versus round and soft. Drained of all will, it seems. There is no glorious azure sky, no burning copper sun. Around the edges (edges that feel, in my mind, fuzzy), there is music. Music I recognize. Music I have played on my bass guitar. There are riffs I feel at home with, interludes I’ve played with a grin on my face, and trickier sections where my concentration has been indubitable (which isn’t always the case in my non-dream world).
            The bullet train stops at Station Past, but it never really stops. It moves on, inexorably. Passengers — memories, feelings and emotions all hop aboard, and there is a community between them all. There is antagonism, of course, for how can happiness and sorrow share the same berth without a quarrel or two? However, what can be offered if not forgiveness?
This is a train with no power to halt, no ability to wait around. There is impatience, insidiously creeping through the whole train. Impatience and doubt combine, and suddenly there is complete confusion and then hysteria, and before you know it, sparks jump out, igniting, and the flames of all we have been thus far are writ large in words of rejection. The rules change. There can be no abrogation here. Station Past, no matter how often visited, is past. No rule-bending allowed. Everything that has been is gone. As such, everything we have had shall never be had again. Never had, never seen, never felt.
Junction Present jumps and dances around. The screeching speed of the train twists and turns, yet Present looms large on all sides. A tourist attraction seen but never felt. Of course, there is feeling, but is an intemerate feeling. Untouched, undefiled. We never truly know what it is to feel, and that is the present, is it not? There, then gone.
Those pale faces, they communicate. I cannot hear them. There is laughter, there is gesticulation. The eyes I gaze through seem to be closing slightly, in a diffident manner. Fingers are pointed and the laughter hardens. The music quickens, still recognizable…until finally, it is beyond the faculties of my talents to interpret, let alone play it. The greens begin to darken around the edges, blackening like ink. The scene is a shrinking atramentous cloud, closing in upon the faces and the eyes I look through, until all I know is the darkness of the real world, where my own eyes reactivate within a murky zone of fuliginous shadows.
The music is playing now on my computer as I write this. Fifteen tracks. There is emotion, there is ambition, and there is camaraderie. The tightness of practice, the conjuration of something magical — it is there. We all feel it. Track twelve now. Formerly known as Shaun’s Song in A. My feet are drumming, separate from my body. Automatons to their own will and satisfaction. The song ends, and yet, before it disappears there is that feeling of success. Of having started with nothing, and created, well, fuck, at the very least, created something. Something created to grab attention; to hold up a waving hand when a hoarse voice cannot be heard.
Unknown Destination Future is what it is. But Station Past is what it will eventually be. All of us are guilty of letting every second pass us by, at some point of another. Procrastination — the favourite word of this generation — really isn’t as great as it holds itself up to be. Pull yourself out of bed. Take my dream and reread it if you have to. An old friend and a new one, with music I used to play. They are in a forest. If that isn’t my subconscious crying out for some sort of comfort within familiarity, from the past of my existence, then I don’t know what is. Many of us will go to that dark green place at some point, because before we know it, the present is behind us, and all we are left with is the ashen taste of regret.
Time is sempiternal, but we are not. It is easy as a being with a time frame mapped out at perhaps, eighty years, to think that an extra hour in bed won’t hurt, or that an essay or a work presentation can wait until tomorrow. Easy, until tomorrow comes and, devoid of inspiration, we wish we could gather up the sands once more and spin time around and use it with a greater sense of wisdom. Yet, in the predictable selfishness of humanity, we’d probably use a second chance to sleep that hour away again.
Don’t let your own bullet train get away. 


Friday, 18 October 2013

Looking Back With the New Order

This age of social networking has allowed many people to keep in touch, or be kept in touch, with people with whom, a decade ago, they might have all but forgotten. If a member of any of the bigger networks, I'm sure you could testify that being tracked down by old friends, or vice versa, is more of a potentiality now than when you had to spend hours looking through phone directories or discovering when somebody had changed this job for that one.
            However, social networking is far from flawless, and that's hardly a shocking statement. Cyber bullying, for example, punctuates the news with tragic stories of teenagers whose self-esteem was destroyed by people online or via text or email until, finally, the only way out they could see was a dark and final one.
            Everything has sped up. We don't need to write letters and wait a week for correspondence anymore; we can just "message" one another. Yet what this might have done is imposed a pressure on many people - particularly younger people who have become surrounded by the technology at their disposal - to feel, and believe, that they absolutely must be up to date with the whole malarkey. When my friends and I were in our mid-teens, things were different to how I see them now, and that schism in my views will grow wider and wider as I age, I suspect. Five years ago, it seemed natural to reply to texts instantaneously, almost as if summoned; to expect the same was almost a natural feeling, annealed in, and by, the culture, because wherever you looked at fifteen, everybody was texting.
            One thing I've given some thought to regarding my past with the eye, now, of a third year English & Creative Writing student, is the way language has changed. Changed, perhaps, in an incorrigible way. Language has been desensitised in order to be continuous. When two teenagers are texting one another for five hours on a Saturday afternoon, and then decide to meet in a park to sit on swings and engage in that unavoidable passage of what being a teenager is, they are going to talk in person, aren't they? The boy is swinging back and forth in a bid to fill the gaps in silence with his talented launching up and down of himself. When, through sheer nervousness, he doesn't know what to say next for fear of sounding stupid, he doesn't look at her, he just goes as high as he can. Why? Because we're males! Everything is a competition at some point. Our culture dictates that we prove our virility, even from an early age. And if that means being brave and swinging so high your bladder is close to exploding, then fine. So long as it amazes the girl, right? Is she impressed? Probably not. She doesn't text you for five hours a day because you can make yourself look fearless and stupid at the same time. What worth a man who will be killed by stupid acts of feigned bravery within a week? She cares about what you have to say; she's a human being like you.
            After hours of texting about musical tastes, books, school rumours and how Teacher X is the worst teacher ever, what can still be said in person?
            Desensitised superlatives. Awesome; amazing; unbelievable. Have a think, you can probably name some more. They get thrown around like tennis balls these days. Nigh on everything has something awesome about it in modern culture, because if it is awesome, it is cool, and that means we should be discussing it. However, the more it is spoken about, the less of a revelation this awe is. You buy a new pair of trainers; are they awesome? In 2013, probably. You agree where you're meeting your friend in an hour; is the discovery that two human beings have reached an agreement awesome? In 2013, most likely; however, when compared with, say the first aeroplane, or the creation of the light bulb, is a new pair of trainers equal ballast in terms of its "awe factor"?
            I made it clear when I began writing on Fractured Paths that these posts were not my attempt at writing anything you must believe and take as law; your opinion is your own. I'm just trying to feel my way through society, and putting my own discoveries, and maybe the occasional opinion, onto the page. What do large quantities of awe and amazement and indubitable factuality do to modern conversation? It seems possible that, with the ever-shifting social hierarchies we go through during childhood and high school, where the megalomaniacs wrestle control of friendship groups and the pupils with flesh and blood leadership skills slowly feel their way through, harnessing an empathy with those around them – with all of this, there needs to be the impressive factor. If something is awesome or amazing, no matter how often the word is regurgitated, it acts as a signifier; signifying a topic of discussion, perhaps. A signifier to the person who spoke the superlative, that they are the one speaking right now, give them your utmost attention...and respect. Self-esteem is a big part of who we are in life. When we are teenagers, desperately searching for ourselves, making fists in order to wade through the everyday shit happens element of life to discover who we are, and what we believe in, it matters. An insult can be a hammer blow to the chest if a teenager isn't in a sparring mood. They can be sent reeling backwards through voids of ridicule and social hilarity. Spinning slowly, tested by everybody's derision, until, when they pick themselves up, they are nothing but threads.
            One element of social networking that can create instances of tension is the frequent interaction that people can have with the life of an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. When the relationship ends, has it now become more difficult to walk away, with social networks holding onto the last, shattered pieces of whatever remains between you and they? People, because of the internet and networking, probably know more about the little nuances of the everyday lives of others now. If you have an argument on a recorded network or via text, instead of in person, instead of using your voice, be prepared for it to jump up and bite you a day or a week later. Not necessarily because of what you said, but because everybody can see it.
            In a time and culture where males and females mingle and bond, interaction is different. Especially in teenage years. At fourteen or fifteen, when you discover your girlfriend or boyfriend talking to a potential challenger across some technological format, what can you do? The conversation is recorded, but it is not yours. You cannot just wander over and stamp your mark, you are helpless. So many people talk now, and can this breed within us a fear? A fear that, in our partner's mind, our views, our opinions, fail to satisfy their social needs? Are we in a growing age of social paranoia and distrust?
            Cue then, the adverbs. Forever, always, never. "We'll be together forever."; "I'll never leave you." Hefty statements when promulgated by a fifteen year old, no? These are words that, when gazing into the eyes of your loved one, or even staring at the open conversation window on a screen, reinforce intentions. They state your readiness for commitment. But why? Why, two weeks into a relationship in high school, is there this need? Might somebody feel pressured to throw around these superlatives, these irrefutable declarations of love in order to regain the attention of a partner who is already beginning to address others more and more than two weeks ago, when everything was perfect? When it was just you and they; when the world could have exploded around you both and you would have hardly noticed, so cocooned in love you both were. The bond you had forged in that first kiss, when dry lips touched but the sensation didn't matter, it was still wonderful. What matters is the closeness - when this happens, nothing else matters. Why then, so young, still, have we found the orator and the rhetorician within us? For what do we make these speeches, standing on a mount with thunder at our backs, affirming that Never! will we allow the bond to be broken? Is it fear? Do we use these words (forever, always) to bait partners into a cage, where only we will share this wonderful set of feelings with them?
            Could this prove counterproductive? For some people, always and never might be powerful hardenings of the chains of love (until that period of sadness before the words are spoken to the next lover, and the next); for other people, could these words be like wildfire to animals? Too sudden, too harsh, too present and palpable to be dealt with at that moment.
            Language is powerful. Words can build us up, and they can break us down.


Friday, 11 October 2013

Rise Up, Be Counted

Apologies to anybody who came over to Fractured Paths last week. For those of you who did, and saw no new content, no new verbosity of ideas about what and why we each do and when we do it (much of which, I can't quite get my own head around); well, for those of you who invested time in me, and who were dissatisfied, I am truly sorry.
            As I write this, I'm listening to progressive metal in a soundproof booth-like alcove in the National Library of Wales (thank you, Aberystwyth, for something), sniffling.
            My third and final year of my Undergraduate degree is now in swing (I can't really say full swing, because, as a student of Creative Writing, I only have four hours of seminars/workshops each week...). What this vast block of weekly liberty should be is the opportunity for me to find myself sitting in front of this very screen, typing ideas for my Writing Project (the Creative Writer's Dissertation at Aberystwyth), and focusing on ideas for blogs now and far into the future. I should be reading and reading and consuming the techniques of the craft until my head aches.
            Soon, I promise.
            The flu is a harsh mistress. Especially when I have spent all summer being excited about my next academic year. I've got so much going on – my W.P. as mentioned, a module on writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, a module entitled Textual Interventions, which is all about writers experimenting with our writing ideas; decentring, re-centring, minimal-izing, and whatever else is in store. Therefore, sitting here, in the National Library, with a bottle of cough syrup, two packets of cough sweets and a box of tissues, why has my immune system decided that now! is the best time for me to have the energy of a corpse?
            The last four, maybe five mornings I've woken up with sinuses less willing to unblock than the most obdurate, stubborn child would be to turn the television off when they're watching their favourite cartoon. I'm certain (I promise, I am) that the moment when my body begins to revitalize, and instauration hits me and suddenly I'm a swath of irrigable land in springtime, is only a day or two away. As such, I've roused myself to come and do some work, because from last Friday, all the way through to yesterday morning, I was in stasis. Not writer's block, rest assured. I've been making little notes here and there about my Writing Project all week, trying to cast a parochial and more insular eye on a project that in its earliest planning stages might have been looking at accumulating a much, much bigger word count than the one we are restricted to. No, what I've had over the last few days, is a complete lack of motivation.
            Shortly before I returned to Wales, three weeks ago, 130 miles north of here in murky Manchester, I made an Aberystwyth Work Plan to get up between 8-9am each morning, and work until maybe lunchtime, do some reading later on, and after some more work, go to bed around midnight (during this time, I might even eat some food). How naive! It was as if I'd forgotten what being a student is. Not just being a student, but being myself. I'm the sort of person who can be sitting at my desk one minute with no plans for the day, and then suddenly, three hours later, be drunk in a bar with a friend who sent me an off-the-cuff text saying "Lunch?"; I'll walk three miles to buy something, and if it turns out the shop does not have it, I'll smile and walk back home, and the experience will have been helpful. I won't complain, because what I did was unplanned. I was in complete control of my own decisions, I took the risk knowing it was a risk. There was little point to the objective, no doubt, since all I really buy these days are books and bottles of gin (neither of which preclude the other; no, in fact, they complement one another!), but for me, even when I plan, I try to bear in mind a need to adapt to the oft-forgotten small print of life, the unwritten rule of one's day: random stuff happens. It will. Have you ever read a thriller or a crime novel where an ordinary guy's day suddenly becomes the most accelerated life-or-death-everything's-on-the-line scenario? If not, I highly recommend Simon Kernick.
            This week, throwing up two fingers to my schedule, I have been waking up at around 10am. My father sighs when he hears of such obscenities, but only because he was in the bar by that time when he was a student. My Productivity Zenith is usually mid-afternoon or in the evening; however, even this has to be a bit unplanned, and never at the same time as the day before. The muse works differently for everybody and, for me, harnessing the puissance of my imagination isn't something I can do in a regimented fashion. At least, not right now. For me, it's about finding that right moment as much as it is about letting the moment hit me. It happens every day, to be sure. There have been times in lectures where, while not really listening to the litany of tragic happenings to some ye olde writer, I've ripped out a page from a notepad and started scribbling the plot of a short story. The ideas come to me quickly, so I have to group words in my head that I can store and come back to. Themes such as faith or guilt that, with any character in any story, you can come back to, exploring and exploring and each time, you'll learn something new about the theme, the character, and yourself.
            Usually when I finish a piece of fiction or poetry, I'm immediately dissatisfied with it and ready to reread and edit; what I often find when I finish, though, is that I've not written a skeleton. I've written something that has touched me emotionally, and that's good, I suppose?

Last Thursday was National Poetry Day. I have decided, therefore, to add this small little poem of mine to this post. 

Liquid Paths

The ink fades from the page,
Corrupt droplet stains mark
The poison that lingers,
As deep as your breath, as
Vivid as your touch, as
Cruel as your smile.

The memories waver,
A life shared, fractured,
Carved into nervures anew;
We each take a new path.
Yours, you have chosen;
Mine, mine is in shadow.

I wrote this poem nearly two years ago, and I've read it perhaps ten times in total. I like it. It is a poem that drips emotion as is clear in its very first metaphor of ink fading from a page. Droplets and stains, marks; lingering. These words are not describing a huge blotch on a white canvas, at least, not in my head. They are small. A droplet is not a splash. Stains are usually small and irritating and occur most in my life when I forget that I'm eating a curry with a white linen shirt on (dumbass...). Yet, we take these words, and we spin them around, give them a new focus. This poem, alas, is not about curry.
            When something lingers, it adopts a sort of background presence. You know it remains. A smell, a feeling, a shade of something. The lingering of something almost seems to embody the idea of a mid-presence. Something that is not there, and yet is. The ghost of something now gone. The remnants. The caried teeth and desiccated corpse of a once boisterous, vivacious person; the thin, greying mist of an October rain. Breath, touch, smile. Think of a lover, a friend, a relative. Now, respectively, imagine their breath on your neck, their reassuring touch that everything will be OK, and that smile when you say goodbye until next Christmas. They become memories. Fond memories, and they linger positively. Until something fractures the link. Breakup, betrayal, bereavement. The links change. To remember is to remember the good times, and yet invite your conscience to revile and chastise you for looking back. To go back is to linger in a physical, dwelling style. To go back is to see the differences, and create comparisons.
            We cannot. Life changes every day.
            This poem is powerful to me, because the first stanza allows you to think and interpret what is happening, what might have happened, and what will come next; the second stanza speeds up psychologically, and everything is unravelling, contrary to how the narrator wants it to be, and when the poem ends, the narrator is in a state of unknowing. Mine, mine is in shadow.
            In many ways, ink fading is not a metaphor. The narrator hasn't been talking about ink though, has he/she?

Account for the occasional lack of motivation. Be prepared for the odd day or two when you won't achieve as much as the day before. It happens. Random stuff happens and gets in the way. It took me nearly two hours this morning to prove my identity to the National Library. I hadn't expected it, and so I've missed lunch. Yet I've shared something I hadn't expected to share, with you, dear reader. We are a little closer now, you and I.
            Be yourself. If you're ritualistic, then accept it, but check you didn't drop anything, twice; if you're spontaneous, then I challenge you to do five star jumps in a public place in the next five minutes. But would a spontaneous person listen, or only do five, even?
            Don't let the ink fade too much.