How to Die

Some people are just born restless, I guess.

They’re the baby that never slept and the toddler that always got stuck trying to fit through unexplored spaces. They’re the five year old that flooded the bathroom trying to make a swimming pool and the nine year old that broke their arm climbing the fence to see what was on the other side. They’re the pre-teen that can’t sit still in the classroom or keep their mouth shut when they need to and they’re the teenager that experiments tirelessly with all those fantastic things like sex and drugs and alcohol whilst they’re still young and blind enough to see the high gloss these first precious follies into the land of adulthood wear for a time.

It’s rebellion, they say.

A phase.

They’ll grow out of it.

Most of us learn how to suppress every exciting instinct we have by the time adulthood kicks in proper. The vast majority of these restless children figure out a way, all be it and most often subconsciously, to remove the shrouds of mystery and wonder from the even the most common of common place things. The kids that started out with safety pins in their ears and green streaks in their hair grow up and grow tired of the extraordinary amount of effort it takes to be extraordinary. Their futures suddenly begin to stretch further than the weekend and the debauched revelry crammed so tightly into those two days that used to make them salivate now makes them nauseas. The idea of spunking their weeks wages up the wall instead of squirreling some of it away for the ominous “rainy day” that they always heard their parents speaking of when they were small, terribly behaved children, now fills them with dread.

Preparation.

The Prepared Generation.

They have learned from the financial fuck ups, crashes and collisions of their fathers and their grandfathers and now owning their own house and being able to keep up with the mortgage payments is a far more seductive midnight thought than playing to a crowd of a hundred thousands fans screaming the lyrics to their songs back at them or packing a bag and hitting the road Kerouac style. That instability that used to be so ethereal and enthralling is now a nightmare of monolithic proportions.

Stability.

Safety.

And, comfort.

They don’t want the world, these people.

No, they just want a little four bedroomed piece of it with a patio out back and room for two cars on the driveway out front. They want to marry nice people and have nice children that will then go on to populate the world with more nice children. They want to leave a legacy of niceness now, instead of neurosis. They want to go on holiday, all inclusive of course, because anywhere out of the resort is dangerous, especially in all those terribly trendy places like Cape Town and Dubai. They want to drink wine with their lunch on a week day and feel like buying the bottle is a daring feat of absolute insanity. They count every calorie and work off the red playing sports that they don’t really enjoy or fully understand, like badminton, or heaven’s forbid – squash.

And when they’re not on some court or another they pay a portion of their monthly wages for all inclusive membership to some shiny shit hole known as a Health Club (always capitalised, of course, ‘for these are the only places where one can purchase Health with a capital letter) where they run on treadmills like rats in cages never really getting anywhere or anything but heart palpitations and sweat in uncomfortable places.

They spend hours cooking elaborate meals for people that they have known for years and hardly know at all and they spend more money than they ever would have spent on a ten bag and few pints down the pub in their younger years, but it’s a worthwhile expense because it’s all so dreadfully sociable and lovely. They compare their children to other peoples children, but not in a candid or even remotely honest way. If Susan just graduated from Brunel with a BA in Mathematics then Benjamin better be working on his fucking doctorate in molecular biology from Oxbridge, quick sharp. Won’t have the likes of that bastard Benjamin showing me up to Terry and June from the Health Club.

It’s all about appearance, you see.

But then again, it always has been.

And your parents did it with you.

I know it’s hard to believe but when your parents first got together, they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. Even worse, still, your mother, beloved mummy has at one point or another had your fathers cock in her mouth. Shocking, but true. What’s even more shocking is that the dirty bitch fucking loved it. Your old man probably grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged on it when he shot his load at the back of her throat and depending on what kind of woman your old lady is, she may or may not have gobbled that goo right up.

We’re all interesting when we’re young because we’re dangerous.

And we’re dangerous because we’re stupid.

And we’re stupid because, for the first twenty five years of our lives or more – we have absolutely no fucking idea what we’re doing. And I’d love to tell you that we reach an age of enlightenment when some magical light bulb dings above our heads and we suddenly know exactly what to and where to go and who to be but for many, hell, for most, it’s a slow and arduous trudge to the finish line. Some of us, crippled by the weight of this hopeless disorientation, cash our own chips and punch a one way ticket to the end of the line long before our time, but the comfortable and contented masses wander aimlessly towards death, treating it with a weird breed of apathetic inevitability like taxes or hiccups.

Everyone dies.

It happens to the best of us.

And the worst.

It’s what ties us all together, isn’t it? We’ve all got a whole heap of shit in common with each other. We’ve all got a mother and a father out there somewhere, whether we were raised by them or by wolves, at some point in time, two people came together, figuratively and literally, and boom – there we were. A cluster of tiny cells brimming with infinite potential, cooked for nine months and heaved out screaming and naked and clueless. We were all taught how to do even the simplest of things like tie our shoe laces and write our names and fry an egg and open a window. These weren’t things we were born knowing and at a time in all our lives we were novice egg fryers and amateur shoe tiers.

Repetition, if not necessarily practise, made us into the beautifully broken people we are today. We were taught tact and how to read people’s emotions. We learned slowly and through this art of subconscious repetition, the difference between angry faces and sad faces and happy faces and later on we learned a tonne of new faces like stoned faces and drunk faces and come faces. We learned how to read people around us and how to interact with them like we once learned how to interact with the building blocks we had when we still got a round of applause for shitting in a bucket with feet in the living room.

And whether you were brought up or dragged up, we all learned how to make coffee and how to make out. Some of these things were learned by the art of education, by someone showing us how to do something or by teaching us about it had been done before and hoping that we would have the same successful outcomes were we to re-enact their battles. Others were learned by the brute force of experience, trying something once, realising that you ballsed it up, rewinding and going again until you got it right, or if you couldn’t get it right, you got it better than you did the first or third or fifth time.

Some things, though, even the most intelligent and interesting of people have absolutely no idea how to do. There are some things during the course of all of our lives that no matter how much we prepare or practice for them, when those things come around, we’re just as fucking clueless as we were when we were cutting our teeth.

How to feel.

How to forgive.

How to die.

That last one is probably the most important. I mean aside from being born, the second most significant day in our lives is when we are effectively unborn – when we die. Yet no one prepares you for it. You’re not taught about it at school and your mother never sits you down when you get to an impressionable age and explains that one day you’re going to close your eyes and you’re never going to open them again or that your heart’s going to stop beating and your lungs are going to stop breathing and more than likely you’re going to shit yourself.

They never prepare you for the fact that one day you might find yourself sitting in a little magnolia office somewhere with a doctor whose name you cannot remember and couldn’t pronounce even if you could remember it, being told that you’ve got something really fucking aggressive and nasty living in your breasts or bowels or bones that’s going to kill you pretty damned soon.

And when you’re a kid and you go to bolt across the road and your old lady yanks you back just in time to save you becoming road kill, she never says – “Look, Timmy, if that car had hit you it would have killed you and we would have had to scrape your skull off of that pavement and bury you in a black bag to keep all the leftover wet bits of you together.” And because your parents never tell you that, you’re not scared of a car slamming into your tiny body at fifty and rendering your once wonderful life pedestrian pate on the side of the road. So when you’re mums not about, you cross without waiting for the green man.

That’s universally a very early and very common act of defiance.

A sign of things to come.

But if, if, your old lady had said that to you the first time you did it and put the fear of endless darkness and death into you, you’d probably have grown up to be a much more cautious kid than you were. You wouldn’t have hung upside down off of the monkey bars or climbed loose limbed trees in the sunshine to survey the forest from the heavenly plinth usually reserved for birds and squirrels. You’d never have found the biggest hill you could have and rode your bike or scooter or board down it as fast as you could. And you’d never have jumped off of countless bridges and piers into the perilously shallow waters below to cool off when the air was still and the heat was fierce.

If you’d been warned about the inherent permanence of death as a child, you never would have taken that unknown pill at that party or a bummed a drag of that strange kids long, loosely rolled cigarette in the park when you were a teenager. You wouldn’t have known the bittersweet sorrow of that first, barbarous hangover or felt the pleasant shame of coming inside someone bareback or indeed having someone else’s come drip down your thighs and as a result, you’d never have found yourself alone in your bedroom trying to make your body do what it did with someone else’s hands on your body with your own hands.

And that’s why we don’t tell kids about death.

We don’t want to scare them.

Because it’s hard to live when you’re so preoccupied with dying.

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Your Fears – Defined.

When someone says the word “define” to me my stomach knots. When it is followed by the ever faithful “in your own words” a bile sets into my mouth. Yet today, I was asked to do just that – to “define” horror, as a genre or otherwise, “in my own words”.

Up until that moment I had never thought of the definition of what has become throughout the course of my life one of the most influential and poignant tools to not only my writing but in turn, to my view of the world and its inhabitants.

Horror is widely perceived to offer the consumer one thing – cheap thrills. Anything deeper, or darker, than superficial (and mostly superfluous) entertainment usually brings about a completely different genre definition – Dracula for example. I would not define Dracula as horror, for the intimidating elements of Bram Stoker’s classic are not the defining characteristics of what has made it so timeless. It is erotic, thought provoking and two steps away from absurd at times. It’s the ultimate anti-hero tale that just so happens to be set against a spooky canvas with some devilish undertones.

Those of you who know me (and have read some of my rants on here) will be expecting one name to drop now – Stephen King. How you ask, can I write anything about, well anything, without somehow bringing the King into it? Well my friends, you know me well, because I am going to drop his name right now.

I do not perceive what the King writes to be “horror” in any traditional sense of the word, and those of you who are learned enough to have read beyond “It” and “Misery” will know why I say this. I can think of more books that the King has given us that have no supernatural elements whatsoever, that scarred my mind and played with my heart for longer than even his most sickly tales of textbook gore.

Three words – The Bachman Books. A compilation of stories published between 1977 and 1982 all of which are void of the standard boundaries of horror writing as we know it. (*Disclaimer – I refer to the four short stories published in the compilation The Bachman Books and do not include “Thinner” (1984) in the next series of statements (PS. Brackets inside brackets rock! :P)).

“Rage” (1977), “The Long Walk” (1979), “Roadwork” (1981) and “The Running Man” (1982) – These are my examples and if you have not read them, then you have no earthly business here so please move along, long days and pleasant nights to you J

For those of you that remain these stories are in my mind offer some of the most notable and defining characteristics of horror and still to this day haunt my mind from time to time like no others. They have no supernatural beings, no demons in hoods or inbred super humans with chainsaws – all they have is real people, in real (and some would say unthinkable) circumstances. Because at the end of if it all, is that not what we are afraid of most as human beings? The REAL horror?

We are told from the time we can remember that the things that scare us as children are A) not real or B) not threatening – or sometimes both. Therefore we starve that fear within ourselves and no longer as adults find the vampires, ghosts and ghouls of time gone by intimidating anymore. This is a double edged blade in many ways. It allows us to grow up (reasonably) well adjusted as an adult afraid of such childish notions is frowned upon – but the sharper side of that blade is that it desensitizes us to the things we SHOULD live in fear of and paints our world an shade of magnolia.

We should fear the ordinary, the mundane and the dreary that sap at our souls and eat away at our subconscious. We should fear each and everyday being the same, repetition leading to passivity. To be passive, about anything, is a disease. To be passive is to be dead on the inside, if not on the outside too. So we starve the fear of childhood and replace it with the fears of adulthood.

If you were to ask a grown man in the street which do you fear more – a dinosaur coming through your bedroom window and eating you and your wife while you sleep in your overpriced linens, OR lets say life strangling monetary debt? I cannot make any guarantees in this life, for I am not Yoda, but I would bet my breeches on the latter being more scary to anyone “normal” in this day and age.

One simple fact makes this so – debt is real, dinosaurs are not (sad face). Therefore you must ask yourself, as our fears change due to social, political, economical and a whole lot of other -cal unrest in the world, does this not in turn, change the definition of horror?

As adults we fear our cars not starting more than psychopathic clowns lurking in the bushes with razors for teeth. We fear maxing out our credit cards and then dealing with grossly inflated repayments, more so than we fear faceless monsters under our beds at night. We guard our houses with alarms and flashing lights to ward off burglars, feeling no need to have a barrage of crosses and garlic hanging by our front doors to ward off vampires.

The fear of a child is a beautiful, endearing and natural being that should be starved for the sanity of said child. As a person whom read her first King novel at the tender age of eleven, I can vouch for this. We forget that those children, whom starve their fears until they have no strength to scare them anymore, never quite have the ability to kill them completely. They therefore carry these fears into adulthood – that’s when it gets interesting.

Authors are duty bound to make you feel what they are portraying in their prose. To make someone swoon at a love story, cringe at a war crime, or feel empathy towards a lonely old spinster in a wedding dress – these emotions are easy to capture, as love, guilt, hurt, empathy – they are all emotions we are allowed to express as adults. Mummy and Daddy are however, not so easily entitled to fear as their children are.

To make Mummy and Daddy look over their shoulder when they are walking home from work, for fear of what lurks in the sewer grates beneath their feet, to make Mummy and Daddy get into bed before turning off the light at night, for fear of what may grab their bare feet from under the bed in the process – to make Mummy and Daddy’s hearts beat in their throat until they feel as though the bastard were physically trying to climb out of their mouths – this is the power of horror, because when it comes down to it, the things we are afraid of never change, just our willingness to address them.

If as a writer you can force people to address the things inside themselves that they forget they were afraid of so long ago, to make them look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves what they would do if they actually did find themselves in palaver with a clown with razors for teeth, you are in turn forcing them to question their own psyches and again, as a result – their own humanity.

To make a credit card seem small, to make a deadline at work seem frivolous, to render Christmas with the in-laws worry free, by replacing these fears with those childish notions of fright – to make an adult face that child within them – opens so many doors, the draught alone may cause a complete overhaul of that persons life. It has the power to change them.

If you are capable of doing this, then my friends you will have marked the earth for eternity, for when human beings die, they leave behind headstones but when legends pass on – they leave behind legacies, that long outlive even the stone that upon which the mere mortals of this world will all inevitably carve their epitaphs.

The Heart of a Child.

When I look back at my life as a (hopefully) old woman, I want to know that I did all the wrong things for all the right reasons. There are things I wanted five years ago that seem to me now, better left as pipe dreams, the ramblings of an over imaginative teenage mind. However, the dreams I do still possess would seem that way to most of you reading this were I to tell you what those dreams were, but in all honesty, have you achieved your dreams?

When you were a kid did you say to your friends –

I want a job where I sit behind a desk all day in a polyester uniform and fluorescent tubing illuminating the depravity of the stale magnolia room that I call my workplace. I want a nondescript dog with an equally pallid human name, because after all animals are my “babies”. I want to sit in traffic all morning listening to Traffic FM, looking out at all the other tired faces stuck in the rush. I want to mix all my liquor with lemonade because it is not acceptable in polite company to drink anything stronger than a beer without a mixer. I want to complain about how busy my life is, when in actual fact I lay awake at night with stomach cramps and tears in my throat, at the thought of how bitterly boring my life really is. I want to read nice books, watch nice films and wear nice clothes. I want to donate my three pound a month to charity and sleep better at night knowing that I am helping “the less fortunate”. I want to raise three blonde haired, blue eyed children who all end up with a degree, a car, a spouse of the opposite sex and three more identical children each, replicating the uniform of perfection for the generations to come. I want to paint my nails in neutral translucent polishes because anything other than that is garish and offensive to taste. I want to vote for the same politicians year after year because partisanship is what made this country great. I want to make love once or twice a week, always in my bed and always for a certain amount of time. I want to live for my package holidays in Spain where I can let my hair down for a couple of weeks and drink wine with my lunch. I want to drive a car that has more buttons and knobs that I know what to do with, but will turn heads when I pull up in the car park. I want to do all my shopping at farm stores and local venues, because I support my community. I want to hold my chin up high and give the youths that pass me wearing torn jeans and lip rings, my best “I’m-not-afraid-of-you” look. I want to wake up at half past five in the morning on a Sunday and trawl round car boot sales, to fill my house with other people’s unwanted shit. I don’t want to get involved in people’s problems and a fight on the street is none of my business. I want to be able to wear a Winnie The Pooh watch as a forty year old woman because Winnie The Pooh is timeless. I want the highlight of my year to be a meal round the table with the relatives that could make it, while the real pine Christmas tree sparkles in the corner of the room and no one finishes what they put on their plate. I want to live a long and happy life, knowing that I made ripples in the waters of life.

I want to be normal.

Kids never aim to do any of these things and yet the adults they evolve into seem to fall neatly into many of the beige compartments of conformity and why? Because your parents and their parents before them, know the dangers of making waves instead of ripples. They train you to reach for the stars and ignore what lies beyond it. They tell you that you need a job, a spouse and three perfectly formed children to match you perfectly formed people carrier that sits in its cradle outside your perfectly formed house. They do not train you in this way because they want you to be normal, heavens no.

They would love you to be the astronaut that occupied your vocational mind between the ages of five and six, or to actually be able to make a living from playing your twanging guitar – they would love you to be able to accomplish it because they too, would have wanted to be able to live that life. They do however, know more than you ever will, and by the time you leave home they only want one thing for you and it is not the stars, the fast cars or the endless mountains of cash – its security.

At the end of it all that’s all any parent wants for their children and if it means falling into the land of the beige and living a good, clean and honest life to achieve a low blood pressure and a calming existence then why wouldn’t a parent wish this life upon their children? I don’t care for my daughters blood pressure. I don’t care for the colour of her life. I don’t care for the money she will one day have in the bank. I don’t care if my daughter remains a rolling stone her entire life – I care about her heart.

If my daughter wakes up in the morning with a smile on her face, goes to bed at night with the same expression and does exactly what she wants to do in between I can honestly say I would sleep content in my old age knowing that she never gave in. I want her to bleed, to cry, to push and to writhe with want. I want her to want something that bad that she never gives up, that she keeps pushing through the mind numbing boredom of the beige compartments until she gets it. I don’t want her to settle for anything less than her childish notions of happiness, because at the end of it all – isn’t that when we are at our best?

Being an adult is an amazing time of life and the responsibilities that come with being an adult do nothing but enrich our outlook on the world. But if you can maintain the childish qualities of dream keeping and balance it with the adult duty of book keeping, if you can still comfortably climb a tree without fearing what other parents in the playground may think of you, if you can still build a fort in the living room on a Saturday morning with Pokemon on the television, eating toast wrapped in blankets without pausing for a moment to worry about what might stain and what might crease – then you have achieved as close to nirvana as one would dare to find in this century.

When push comes to shove all we want is to be happy and in turn its all we want for our children, but happiness does not come from a catalogue or in a pay cheque. True, unadulterated, fiercely beautiful happiness comes from one overlooked and underrated place within ourselves. It is a place that most forget is even contained inside us. There are people in the world who would kill to have this place etched out in their histories and in their blood and bone beings. It is the place that so many people before us fought and died to preserve and it is the only place that will bring you any real joy.

There is a place inside you that holds your freedom. Your freedom to do what you please, when you please and how you want to do it. See the world through your adult eyes – assess risks, pay bills, go to work, remember birthdays – but feel the world with a child’s heart. In between these places you will find yourself truly free and in return inexplicably and fundamentally happy.

When my daughter asks me what I want her to be when she grows up I will smile and touch her soft, curly brown hair. She will look at me like I have officially lost the last of my marbles when I respond –

“You.” If I have done my job correctly, she will understand exactly what I mean. I may even get a hug.

Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

So it has come to my attention that I am not a very nice person and in my usual stubborn ways, I want to buck this definition as much as I can. Now the way I see it people are mean for three main reasons – persona, agenda and nature.

Sometimes people paint a picture of who they want to be in their head and if you were to ask them if they were happy with whom they are now, today, they would invariable say no. People don’t want to care, they don’t want to give a fuck what other people think about them but everyone does, in some way whether they hide it well and appear to have a chip on their shoulder, or if indeed they let everything get to them and publically break down to show that they are genuinely hurt.

I would have to say that yes, when it comes to persona I am more for the former than the latter definition of how people deal with judgement, but then again, if I didn’t care what people thought of me and more to the point, how people think I perceive them, I wouldn’t be writing this. The truth is that nobody is born mean, you are made mean and I for all intents and purposes have found that life is a little less jagged when you don’t take anything, including other people’s thoughts and feelings, too seriously.

Now I have come to this conclusion by trying to show people in the past how their actions have hurt me but then by way of dealing with the fact that they themselves didn’t seem to care, I seem to have mirrored the behaviour that tainted my outlook on life to begin with. I think we all take from each other what prevails most from someone’s persona. If someone is so abjectly nice to you, even a monster such as myself finds it very difficult to be horrible to them pointlessly or otherwise, because they are just far too nice to do that to. On the other hand if someone is really nasty to you, you find no fault nor cause for concern with your growing contempt and blatant dislike for said person.

Persona is the most difficult hand to shuffle because everyone has a different one, but suffice to say that what you project to the world is what you get back. If you are nice and calm, relaxed in tone and phrase then you are surely going to encounter less social friction in your life than if you are crude and abrasive or hostile in tone and phrase. The world likes nice people more, it has become what you are supposed to be, and that is why people who are a little less than nice, are people that you don’t particularly want to associate with.

Then comes agenda. Some people are mean because it suits them at the time but it isn’t really a reflection on the people they are, more so than the circumstances they find themselves in. If someone has hurt them, they will build up a shield around the soft, sensitive centre that they hold behind said shield, and will again, as in persona, mirror the way the world or that particular person has treated them.

This is when you see nice people turn nasty. It is mostly out of necessity and once they are removed from the situation that is causing them to harbour negative behaviours, they more often than not revert back to being the nice, calm collected people we all know and despise. Mean people have the same ability to change their persona’s according to what society demands from them at any given time. If this wasn’t the case mean people probably would never get a job, have any friends or indeed find romance in their lives – but they do. This is because however much we think it is true, mean people aren’t necessarily bad people.

And this brings us to the last thing that makes people mean – nature.  Some people are just naturally more cruel than others and the extremes of this can be seen in serial killers. One of the most remarkable character traits the appears again and again in the most deranged members of the human race, is that cruelness and charisma seem to go hand in hand.

This is why mean people can still function in society and even though they would probably have less enemies if they were nicer, they would most likely have no fewer friends. People who generally don’t indulge in the gooey side of life, who don’t make their way through the world with superfluous niceties and mindless etiquette, are refreshing sometimes because at the core of it, at least you know who they are from the beginning and you are not led on a rambling voyage of darkened discovery when you come to the realisation that every human being is both bad and good.

Some people choose to walk in the light and some choose to walk in the dark, and depending on your vantage point, the world is either a beautiful place or a harrowing hell hole. Nice people see the good things in the world, they see the joy, the majesty and the absolute awe of it all but mean people also have a lot to give the world. Mean people see the secrets, the corruption and the septic mess that boils underneath the surface of the nice peoples world.

Mean people see the world for what it really is because they also have the ability to see the world as nice people do. Mean people feel love, they experience joy and they are surrounded by beauty that if anything they appreciate more because unlike those blinded by the inherent social expectation of kindness, the comparison between light and dark in the world of the mean, is far more saturated.

So yes, I am not a very nice person and yes I accept that this is a result of my persona and what I choose to show the world, my agenda as in how I feel most comfortable showing my feelings in any given situation and indeed my nature. I have amazing friends, a wonderful family and an outlook on life that I treasure and it is the one reason I would never make myself nicer to bend to the will of anybody else.

I see the world for what it is, and with that view I can not only see when something is wondrous but I can also tell when it is withering. It makes the process of knowing what to live for much easier.

Just Like Everyone Else.

When I was a kid I used to get called weird a hell of a lot, as I am sure most of you mutants reading this surely did. Now, I’m talking about when I was a little kid, before I knew what a bong was and during the sadder stages of my life when I would not have been able to pick Bob Dylan out of a line of old men, let alone utter a single word of Klingon. The phrase was most definitely “weird” back then, when pop music still ruled the air waves and Harry Potter was not even a movie yet.

To ask me why I was called weird I probably couldn’t tell you, because I thought I was perfectly normal. I thought that all ten year old girls had posters of Meat Loaf on their walls. I thought that all ten year old girls were teaching themselves Latin. I thought that all ten year old girls wanted to be Sherlock Holmes when they grew up. I thought all ten year old girls attempted to read the Times before school in the morning. I thought all ten year old girls wore orange jeans and BCR’s in their ears instead of little gemmed studs. I thought that all ten year old girls sat on their window sill listening to the radio and wishing they were a million miles away from where they were, who they were and what they would inevitably become. I thought I was just like everyone else.

I was oblivious (as most ten year olds are) to what adolescence would not only bring, but what it would take away. It brought all the things the things I was warned about, as I knew it would – puberty, secondary school, stress, homework, hormones – but it took away a lot more than I thought it would. It took away the innocence of the word “weird” became something all together more negative, making the now freakishness everybody spoke about more and more apparent as my friends began to grow up without me, but still I thought I was normal.

I thought that every fifteen year old girl had posters of Bob Dylan all over their walls. I thought that all fifteen year old girls were teaching themselves Klingon. I thought that all fifteen year old girls wanted to be Allen Ginsberg when they grew up. I thought all fifteen year old girls attempted to read Rousseau’s Discourses before school in the morning. I thought all fifteen year old girls wore hot rocked band t-shirts and BCR’s in their lip. I thought that all fifteen year old girls sat on their window sill listening to the radio wishing they were a million miles away from where they were, who they were and what they would inevitably become. I thought I was just like everyone else.

Then something shifted and I was no longer adorably weird or standoffishly freaky. I became this new breed of strange that still to this day I don’t understand the connotations completely of. I became a “geek”. Now I always thought that geeks were typically people with a deep and unrelenting not only appreciation, but understanding of space, time and science but somewhere the wires of definition have been crossed and sparks have begun to fly. I have found myself tirelessly unpicking the meaning of this word, that so many people label me with and I have to the conclusion that “geek” actually means “enthusiast”.

There are millions of people who think that being a geek or a reject or an outsider, a freak or weird whatever way you want to spin the barrel – they think its cool to be on the outside of the social norm. But take, lets say, a long haired, Satan worshipping metal head and put him in a room with a your typical imaged obsessed teenage drama queen. Now neither one of them are conventionally “geek” material but when placed side by side they show a remarkable reality and that is that we are all enthusiasts and therefore geeks.

The girl will know more about clothing brands, make up techniques and reality television history than the metal head, but he will know how to stretch an ear lobe the right way, why Metallica and Megadeth are linked and just how Tony Iommi lost his fingers – because what they care about, what they are enthusiastic about, they are completely obsessed with. Isn’t that what makes a geek a geek? The unrivalled and slightly unnerving obsession with their chosen fields of expertise and interest?

Now the metal head will think the girl is shallow, superficial and self righteous. The girl will think that the metal head is arrogant, should shave and wear less black but the point is the same. The popular kids bully the geeky kids, we’ve seen it a million times, but what made having knowledge about the planets more socially unacceptable than having knowledge about the price of shoes?

I think as a species, humans have failed at even the most basic of tasks the main one being social identity. Surely the human beings with the insatiable appetite for knowledge based around the advancement of the race – science, medicine, literature, philosophy, politics, law – should be at the top of the social elite, as they have the most to bring to the table. Surely they should be made reality stars, fame should wash over them, they should make headline news and they should be adored as the genuinely interesting people that they are? Why do the people, the real rejects, the real freaks, who have little or no interesting characteristics or ascertainable incentives to live, make their way into our living rooms, our newspapers and our lives with their incessant and frankly boring idiosyncrasies?

We have ended up in a world where the geeks that used to get bullied for being weird as ten year olds and freaks as fifteen years olds writing the articles about the popular kids, stuffing their chests with silicone, reporting about them side by side with war and famine – the geeks end up enabling the popular kids to remain just as egotistical and obsessed with their own enthusiasms as they were as ten year olds and fifteen year olds.

I could now start rambling about how its cool to be a reject, an outsider, a freak – but it really isn’t and those who claim to be proud of being just so, are bullshitting themselves and you my friends. No one wants to be those things and no one wants to be told that they are different. There is no strength in being in a minority and no courage found in adversity. Cynical, maybe. True, debatable. But if you have ever felt what it truly is to be one of these people, you will know exactly what I mean.

The scars of being different never heal, instead what they do is create a mangled barrier of broken flesh around you, eventually shielding you from the constant over analysis of you compared to other people. People mistake this protective layer of damage for strength, some would even say pride, but it isn’t. My friends, my loves, my fellow geeks, freaks and weirdo’s it is only our enthusiasm that gets us through life in no less than a million pieces.

Geeks are the people who never realised that they were not like everyone else. Once you realise it and wear the badge of “I am not normal” proudly, you are no longer a freak, a geek or indeed weird – because you are simply pointing out what the rest of the world already did. You have accepted that you are not normal and by that standard you have made yourself a reject, an outsider and indeed a social oddity. So those of you who claim to be proud of being any of those things, who think that to be a social retard you cannot be popular, to love video games and comic books means you cannot like football or actually want to touch a member of the opposite sex, to wear Pokemon pyjamas to bed or find Anime foodstuffs alarming adorable – you are just as normal as the rest of the world.

Truly original people, freethinkers and disbelievers do not even recognise the word “normal”. I am completely normal. All women in their twenties have posters of Stephen King on their walls. All women in their twenties are teaching themselves Elvish. All women in their twenties want to be Iron Man when they grow up. All women in their twenties attempt to translate Spanish war time transcripts before work in the morning. All women in their twenties wear peace sign shoe laces and spikes in their face. All women in their twenties sit on their window sill listening to the radio and wish that they were a million miles away from where they are, who they are and who they will inevitably become.

I am just like everyone else. Difference is, I have the balls to admit it.

Her Song.

As a child, I had a lot of friends. Now looking back on it I don’t think that this was an accident. My parents made it impossible for me not to have friends. I started school a year early, when I was three as opposed to the accustomed four, as I was the fifth of the six children and the gap between my younger brother and I stands at just two years. So the head teacher, a man named Mr Jones whom I still hold in high regard, suggested starting little Veronika a year early to let my Ma have some time at home with my brother Phillip who would have been one at the time.

So I went to school before anyone else and watched at the end of that first year as the friends I had made went up into “big school” and I stayed behind in the nursery block waiting to see who I would get to make the journey with. I grew to have a close group of seven or eight friends, the majority male as I preferred wrestling to hair braiding. I also kept some friends in the year above me and therefore, aside from the teachers knowing me and my family well simply for the expanse of Harper children that they had educated, I had a pretty sociable start in life.

I went to Brownies every Monday and made my way through the ranks, even had my own special badge made for me as there was no badge for girls who attended Brownie camp three times (my birthday is in August, so I managed to squeeze that third time out before they booted me up to Guides!) and Brown Owl, a lovely lady by the name of Margot who used to spread brown sauce on her toast in the mornings at camp, cried when I eventually left. I had some really wonderful times there, and made plenty of friends.

Sunday school on a Sunday, Bible club on a Wednesday, swimming, camping, later art clubs and science clubs (and more Bible clubs!) even landing me with a Crest award at the age of eleven (they used to matter, now people don’t know what they are!). I was head of the debate team my first year of secondary school and I headed up many other bits and bobs through out my early adolescence, all safe in the knowledge that I was confident, reasonably popular in the more unpopular places, and that I had friends that had known me since I still had baby teeth.

Then something changed. My parents got divorced and I, along with my little brother now ten years old, was ripped from the bosom of my socially exalted little town in Hertfordshire and plonked rather randomly in a leafy suburb of Surrey, known as Weybridge. And I didn’t know a soul.

It didn’t take me long to realise that maybe, just maybe, this loneliness wasn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed having the time to myself with no clubs or concerts or choirs to participate in. I liked the fact that when I walked into my new school, no body needed to know that I was head of the Bible club or that my Ma had a rather fancy looking Crest award hanging in her hallway with my name on it. I could be whomever I liked, because unlike the little town I was socialised in, this town didn’t have a clue who I was, or who my family was. I was allowed then to either fade into the distance with a novel in my hand or set fire to the system with, er, well, a novel in my hand. Books are friends for life.

This anonymity and the power that came with it got me into a lot of hot water, that’s for sure. But at the end of it all when I look back with a daughter of my own, whom like her mother, hasn’t had the very best of anything in life and a few curve balls thrown for her tiny hands to catch even in her short life, I wonder whether or not I did the right thing by not sending to her nursery or forcing her into baby groups and the like. Because I didn’t. Oh no, Molly has been with me since the day she was born (barring work of course) and if I knew how to divide anything by anything, I would have home-schooled her for sure. But we need maths apparently. Numbers aren’t my strong point, so I couldn’t tell you why we need them exactly.

Anyway it was the idea of Molly becoming a member of society, a number and a name on a register, a child on the books so to speak, before she even knew where her nose was that sat unsteady with me. And like I’ve said, I was a very sociable child and I did all the things back in the early nineties that babies and toddlers and young children still do now – the clubs, the contests, the camaraderie – but I didn’t choose to do it. This is where I kept coming unstuck with my own child when it came to putting her out there, into the big, bad world.

The vast majority of friends in my life – I’ve never chosen. They have been lumped with me because they had the misfortune of being put next to me in a seating plan or deemed a suitable friend because I met them in a club that loosely grouped together a general plethora of freaks and geeks, all with vaguely similar interests. None of my friends liked Bryan Adams or Elvis Presley, and the amount of times I got asked who “the fat man” was on my walls still angers me today. (It was Meatloaf by the way.) Most of them didn’t read the books I read, if they read at all, and almost none of them knew what it was like to grow up in a tragically dysfunctional family that was full of love, and laughter, and anger (passion, as my Ma would say). None of them knew me.

I look back on it now as an adult who can and does choose her friends, wondering now whether or not I would have picked the friends I had as a kid, now that I am older and realise that friends are, for the most part, more work than they’re worth. Let’s just face it shall we? We’re all grown ups here and most of us usually end up with one real, solid friend that carries over from school into real adult life. One. Out of the thirty or so you amass by the end of your time in that bastard place. One.

And you know why that is? It’s because you didn’t choose them. The system gave you those friends, the years aligned and made sure that you would in the same class, year group, school as them. You weren’t friends in the sense of the word now that you pay taxes and buy your own cigarettes instead of pinching them form your parents. They were friends born out of necessity. The necessity not to be alone.

But where is it written that we can’t be alone? We’re born into a house full of people, we see them everywhere – in the street, on the television, in magazines and newspapers, our neighbours, our teachers, our parents, our siblings, our distant and immediate families, and the friends of those who already have them – we’re not (or at least I hope not) locked in boxes the second we dance ourselves out of the womb and only allowed out when there is a baby group about to socialise us in. There are peopleeverywhere and there always will be.

So why do we feel the need to build these social constructs for our children so early in life? How does it possibly make sense to expose children to opinion before they have learned fact? To show them how horrible people are before they can comprehend how good they can be? And how does it make sense to hand your baby, toddler, child over to a group of complete strangers (barring when you have to work of course) so you can saunter down to the café and complain about the world with similarly like minded “friends” that you have collected over cups of horrid coffee whilst your children wonder where the hell their mother has gone? To me, none of it makes a whole heap of sense. And I am speaking as a “socialised” child.

I wasn’t locked in a box, but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather have been at home with my Ma and my brothers and sisters when I was spending time at a friends house. I’d also be lying if I didn’t state now and in no uncertain terms, that I didn’t have a child to give her away at the first available opportunity. I had a child because God has a cruel sense of humour and decided to test me with the most impossible yet amazing little person I have ever met. She is not the worlds to teach. She is mine to teach. How can I raise her with any other view point of the world other than my own when in the end, I only have my eyes to see it with and my experience to draw from?

I don’t care if my daughter grows up socially awkward and introvert, and to be frank, I don’t care if I get blamed for not “socialising” her when she was smaller, because at the end of the it all, when you strip away all the shoulds and coulds of parenting you are left with one overwhelming fact of nature, that my Ma learned herself the hard way. And that is that it doesn’t matter what you do and how hard you try to make a child be a certain way, their personalities regardless of their upbringings, will end up winning in the end.

I have had hundreds of friends in my life due to these social activities and the like. And now, in my twenties and a mother myself, I can count on one hand the people who remember my birthday or know what my favourite colour is. And three of them are my Ma, my sister and my brother. I didn’t even need to leave the house for some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

And another of these best of friends is my daughter who is a living, breathing testament to how she’s been raised, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer. And however she turns out, angry and angst ridden, or calm and confident, I will know, as will she, that she is the person she was meant to be and I will be able to sleep well as an old lady knowing that my daughter knew exactly who she was long before she was told who she was.

And when she feels it just to make her stand, I know she will do it on her own two feet and not propped up by a world of fools that in hindsight will seem like bad dreams. And she’ll know her song well, before she starts singing.

And maybe, just maybe, she’ll skip the horror of hitting puberty and not knowing who the hell she is. Because she’ll already know. From the start.

Brick by Bloody Brick

When I was a kid I always wanted to be seventeen. This was when, in my mind, the world would open its gilded doors and allow me to float through into the chaos that growing up in a small left me craving by the time I reached ten years old. And what, you ask, did I hope to find on the other side of those magnificently elusive doors? Well, I hoped to find the world and within it – myself. So here’s what I was going to do when I was seventeen –

I was going to be tragically and impossibly intelligent by the time I was seventeen. I was going to know exactly where I was going and why I was going there at all times and the childish notions of confusion and fear would evaporate the moment those doors to seventeen closed behind me and enveloped me into their madness. I was going to read – a lot. And not just the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the Wind in the Willows that got me through much of my childhood – I was going to read foreign books by enigmatic heroes of the written word like Dochevsky and Alighieri. And I wasn’t only going to just understand them; I was going to understand them on a level so unfounded that my sheer ability to comprehend their nuances would be simultaneously enthralling and enraging. And I was going to write – a lot. Hell, I was going to write a library.

I was going to be cynical and alone and insufferably miserable. I was going to drink hard liquor and smoke cigarettes that didn’t have filters and I was going to look unimaginably awesome whilst I did this. I was going to see the world and travel from place to place with a few coins in my pocket and a crooked smile on my face. I was going to make friends and enemies in equal measure and learn as much from those who loathed me as I would learn from those who loved me. I was going to drink wine out of the bottle on top of the Eiffel tower and strike a pose next to Washington monument that bordered on phallic. I was going to eat food that wasn’t even considered food in much of the world and I was going drink my coffee black and bitter and I was going to draw deep and meaningful correlations between the nature of my favoured beverage and the inherent nature of my soul. Yes, I was going to be one deep motherfucker when I was seventeen.

I was going to change the world one burnt flag at a time and I was never going to wear a bra or shave my legs or give into what a society who idolised nothingness asked me to be. I was never going to wear make-up or take note of my appearance. I was going to be an independent entity, existing only to better humanity and for no personal gain. I was going to chain myself to fences and throw pretend blood over many a war mongering politician. I was going to be the next Abbie Hoffman and I was going to end the hypocrisy and injustice in a blaze of adolescent glory. I was going to establish world peace because when I turned seventeen I would suddenly know exactly where the rest of the planet had gone wrong in that respect. People would listen to me when I was seventeen. I was going to set the world on fire.

And then when my library had been written, my world discovered and eventually saved I was going to die alone in a cabin in the woods somewhere in Maine, New England surrounded by books and tokens of my indulgences. Empty whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays and vinyl – my God there would be so much vinyl. And I would leave nothing behind but my legacy. No children, no broken hearts or thankful ones and I would be remembered for what I did and not who I was. No one would know me enough to miss me and I would take comfort in this thought in my last days. People would remember the thousands of lives I lived but no one would ever be close enough to know the real life. The eating, shitting, snoring, crying life that we all try so desperately to hide from everyone but the people you love. I was never going to fall in love. This one was the most important. I was never going to fall in love.

So I am a few years on the wrong side of seventeen. And what, you ask, did I actually find on the other side of those magnificently elusive doors? Well I found the world and within it – everything but myself. So here’s what I did when I was seventeen –

I was tragically and impossibly suffocated by my intelligence and the constraints, as well as the expectations that came with it. I had no idea where I was going most of the time nor why I was going there or what I hoped to find at the end of many dead end roads. The childish notions of confusion and fear were replaced with the adolescence notions of confusion and fear that were in retrospect much more terrifying than their predecessors. And I read – a lot. And I read foreign books and I understood little to nothing hidden within their pages. But I pretended I did, as if just managing to finish “The Idiot” or “The Divine Comedy” and understand their basic premise was enough. And I wrote – a lot. Hell, I wrote a whole goddamn library.

I was cynical and insufferably miserable but never alone. I drank hard liquor and smoked cigarettes without filters but never looked any cooler than the other people doing it. I did indeed travel from place to place with a few coins in my pocket but there was very rarely a smile on my face. I made more enemies than I made friends, and in all likeliness probably learned more about myself from those whom loathed me than I did from those who loved me. I never did make it to the Eiffel tower or to the Washington monument to snap that fabled phallic photograph. I have eaten some crazy stuff, but nothing of note and yes, I do drink my coffee dark and bitter but never drew that comparison between its nature and that of my soul. Yes, I was one misanthropic motherfucker by the time I was seventeen.

I never burned a flag and have always worn a bra (well most of the time) and I shave my legs and pluck my eyebrows like every other woman. I wear makeup and care more as I grow older about what I wear. I realised that I was a person in the world too and that I could not save everybody without martyring myself. That idea lost a lot of weight by the time I was seventeen. I have berated many an MP but I have never chained myself to something or thrown any particular item, blood or otherwise, over a politician. Around the same time I discovered that I was a person, not independent of the world but part of it, I discovered that even the most parasitic politician has a mother and a father who love them as my own loved me. It made the process of being objectively outraged a lot easier once I began to see my enemy as a human being and not a sack of cells sucking up oxygen. I learned quickly that I didn’t know everything and that the establishment of world peace took more than just telling people to put down their guns. I didn’t become the next Abbie Hoffman and I didn’t really achieve any great political victory when I was seventeen. No one listened to me when I seventeen. But I did set the world on fire.

Sitting on the wrong side of seventeen looking back at all I had hoped to achieve does twist my stomach into a knot – mainly at the sheer vanity of many of the dreams. I was an egotistical, angst ridden fool who thought of nothing but herself and masked it as a deep and meaningful understanding of the world and the problems within it. I didn’t know what I was talking about then, and I don’t really know what I am talking about now. And in coming to that realisation I managed to set fire to the one part of the world that mattered – my future.

I will not die alone in a cabin somewhere in Maine, New England and I won’t be surrounded by empty whiskey bottles, overflowing ashtrays and vinyl. Okay, so there will be vinyl, and a lot of it. I will leave behind much more than my legacy and I know at least one person will miss me when I am gone. One heart will break and one person will never be the same. I know at least one person will remember me independent of the thousands of lives I pretended to live in the shadows of my own vanity and that one person will remember me for the eating, shitting, snoring, crying mess I am and you are and they are. I know this because I broke my own rules and I did what I said I would never do. I fell in love.

Yes, instead of doing all of that awesome stuff I had planned for seventeen when I was ten years old, I did the one thing I promised myself I would never do. Broken promises are always devastating to some degree, but none cut deeper or fade slower than the promises you made yourself. And then on the wrong side of seventeen I realised that predicting the future is possibly the most fruitless endeavour one can hope to comprehend because sometimes the exact thing that you never wanted is the exact thing that you always needed. I needed to fall in love, I needed to break that promise and there isn’t a day that goes by that this fact doesn’t simultaneously kill me and heal me.

And however we end up, whether she loves me forever like she does now with complete innocence and adoration, or she grows tired of my unrelenting pessimism and tries to break free of my inane bull shit – I will always be eternally grateful to her and the promise that she forced me to break.

And however we end up, I will always love the little girl who helped me set fire to the world and held my hand as we rebuilt it together, brick by bloody brick.

“Shiny Charizard.”

“Hank and I had met when we were both mature seven year olds in primary school and our friendship had begun with a rather vicious fight that ended with the two of us sitting with our parents in the head teachers office and a trip to accident and emergency. And what do seven year olds fight about, exactly?

Pokemon cards. More specifically, rare Pokemon cards.

And Henry Rosenbaum had had his eyes on my Charizard for weeks.”

From my current manuscript “Rooftops.”

When I Dream of Snakes

His hair was thick and rough with an earthy scent that hung in my nose and smothered his presence. The smell of sweat. The smell of stress. I had emailed the video off that morning, unbeknownst to him and there was nothing he could do to undo what I had already done. It would be there waiting in the inbox the following morning, a blinking envelope of pixels and promise waiting to be unearthed by an uninterested clerk with sleepy eyes.

And it would be going to the tribunal. Any day now I would be called before a jury of my peers, people who didn’t like me a whole hell of a lot and then the discussion would commence. The decisions about my future at the institution would be divvied up between a group of human beings, in the loosest sense of the word, that would come to convince old men who had never met me, and probably never would, that I was a bad person, a person deserving of punishment of the gravest degree.

I looked down at him chewing on his bottom lip, his face washed out by the grey green colour of his computer screen. He looked more worried than I did. I kissed the top of his head and wrapped my arms around his neck. Silence befell us.  We said nothing because there was nothing left to say, nowhere left to go and nothing left to do.

I turned to leave the small book lined room that among the scent of sweat and worry, was laced with the antiquated spice of old paper and forgotten fables. It smelled like home to me. As I left he reached out for my hand and I allowed him to take it, hold it and squeeze it ever so slightly, a reassuring glimmer in an otherwise grease stained evening. I allowed him to take my hand even if  I wouldn’t allow him anything else – even the chance to save me.

He told me that he was raised was snakes and that no two were ever the same. He told me that he could teach me this, this snake like demeanor, his eyes wide and alive and blue with want. I told him I was raised by wolves and that there was nothing waiting for me in those hallowed halls that I couldn’t defeat, nothing I would come up against that I could not beat. I didn’t believe my own words. I don’t think he did either.

And as he watched me leave I could have sworn I felt his heart break in perfect time with mine.

“Hounds of Hormone Hell.”

“April asked, her face all freckles and fat. It was cute then, the roundness of her face, the little paunch of belly that hung over some of her tighter jeans; but I knew it wouldn’t be cute forever. I was banking on April ending up fat and ugly, with crooked teeth and oily, acne riddled skin. All the things that I had waited for puberty to deliver to me that had never come, in some way I hoped the hounds of hormone hell were stockpiling for my oh so cute and cuddly sister.”

From my current manuscript, “Rooftops”.