The Rat

I am the proverbial rat in a cage. The cage seems to shrink with my every action and every word. At the end of every day, I look back and think about how much I behave like someone I don’t wish to behave like. I look back and wonder what happened to me. Was I always this anxious? Was I always this caught up in the mundane?

Perhaps it is the grief over love lost that has caused me to forget myself for a time. Perhaps I have bottled up the pain and it is manifesting itself in an unexpected way. Perhaps I have not changed. Maybe everyone else has changed. Unlikely.

The more I search for answers, the less I find. Every time I try to express how I’m feeling, my heart races, my throat constricts, my vocabulary shrinks. I have no way of telling anyone that I am sinking. I am drowning. Everyone has their own problems, so my head disappears under the water and nobody bats an eye.

It may sound like I have some kind of victim mentality. Woe is me, for I am lost. Pity me, for I am unloved. But I don’t want pity. What I want, what I need, are answers. How did I get to this point?

I am moving to another city. Do I really want to? No. Do I really want to stay here? No. What do I want? Clearly, I don’t know. How do I decide what I want? I don’t know. Do I want to keep working at this job that drives me crazy on most days? Not really. Where else could I work? At another job which is the same in almost every way because this is all I can do? Do I study something else so I can get another job? I don’t know. Would it help? Maybe the job isn’t the problem. Maybe I’m the problem.

I’m just waiting now. I can’t do much else. Maybe it’ll all be okay.

Breakups

This is more of a rant than some high-minded article. It’s a series of complaints. I am newly single, so I get to write about breakups now. I get to moan about breakups. Here we go:

Being single sucks

Yup, most of the pages I’ve read on being single use words like “opportunity”, “self-discovery”, and “freedom”. What a bunch of bollocks. Truth is, you don’t learn a damn thing about yourself when you’re single. You tend to set your life up to be as comfortable as possible. Where the hell is the learning in that? You only get to know who you are when there’s someone challenging you every day with their weirdness, perspectives, phobias, and baggage. I was single for one long 8 year stint. I cultivated a belief that I was just the greatest guy. When I eventually got into a relationship I quickly discovered that I was a sack of shit. I had to up my game big time. I had to try. I had to commit to trying every single day. It made me a better person. Don’t give me this “single is better” horseshit.

Here is why relationships are worth it. Life is hard. It’s dreary drudgery. But there are these moments. When your lover is lying in your arms and her presence overwhelms your senses. There’s this whole other person that has thoughts and feelings and ideas, and everything that’s ever happened in her life (and in yours) has led up to this one perfect moment. It doesn’t matter if she calls you a stupid bastard the next day. You smile, you forgive her (or she forgives you), and you move on.

You do not have those moments when you are single. You have to distract yourself with endless hobbies and ‘missions’. But life is fleeting. If you’ve never had a moment like the one I’ve described, I’m sorry. Save your “single is amazing” fanfare. It isn’t. It’s tolerable, often necessary, but never amazing.

I am also not saying you should jump into relationships or centre your life around getting into one. I’m just saying, being single is like eating ice cream without any chocolate sauce, outside in the snow, while a group of hipsters stands around you showing you their vinyl collections consisting of obscure bands you’ve never heard of. It’s barely tolerable. Wait until someone shows up with a hipster-hacking machete. Life will get better.

I still love her

I was the dumpee, not the dumper. That is a massive disadvantage. The dumper is like the person that goes “oh shit, this sucks, I better lose this guy fast.”

They then start the grieving process and the getting over it process before the dumpee even gets the news. The dumpee often gets a nasty surprise.

As a dumpee, you’re always at least 3 weeks behind the dumper. They start feeling joy and contentment again, and you’re looking at them thinking “how could you?”

But, give it 3 weeks and you’ll be there too. They might begin to feel regret or longing. You might think, “lol, what a loser, they miss me.”

But give it 3 weeks, and you’ll be right there too. A dumpee/dumper relationship takes any lack of alignment in the bf/gf relationship and makes it 1000 times worse.

But the worst of the worst is that very often, the dumpee still loves and is in love with the dumper. That, that is rough. Lying awake and thinking of her. Day-dreaming about her. Even if the relationship was doomed to fail, shit, you can’t help it. This was your person, and now she’s not. So, not only are you out of sync, but you also have feelings for someone that probably doesn’t really have the same feelings for you anymore. It’s the ultimate fuckshow.

Get her back

This is where I take issue. The division between men and women is pretty clear here. Male-oriented “get her back” websites teach you things like be an “alpha male” and implement the “no contact rule”. It’s all very manipulative. Women’s sites tend to tell the girls, “show him what he’s missing.”

What the holy shit is an alpha male? It’s utter bullshit, that’s what it is. Why would you manipulate someone’s feelings? Because you’re an asshole. Why would you want to make someone jealous? Because you’re not a good person.

So, what does a good person do? Firstly, you don’t try to get your ex back. Jesus Christ. She said “I don’t want to be with you.”

What must you do? That’s very plain English. I’m not saying give up. Just repeat after me, “If I got another chance with her, and things were better, I’d take it.”

That’s all. That way, if somewhere down the road your paths cross, and things look good, you can remember you said that and try again. Maybe it’ll work. But don’t live for that moment. It may never happen.

Don’t make any decisions

Fuck, if I had my way I would have called in sick for a month. I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near people. I’m moody, irritable, and generally stressed out. First of all, two days after the breakup, I decided to move back to my hometown. Three weeks later and I’m thinking that maybe I don’t want to go back to my hometown. The reasons that I’m moving are really good ones, but still, I could have waited a month. I could have waited until the maelstrom of feelings had settled, right? But I didn’t. So I might end up with a decision that I’ll regret.

Just move on

What? Are you fucking kidding me? Look, I realise that sometime in the future I may hear about my dumper’s new relationship. That’s great if she moves on. Right now, I feel like it would kill me, but hopefully there’s been some time between this end and her new beginning that I can get over it and be truly happy for her. Right now, I don’t want to touch another woman with a ten-foot pole. Why? Because in case you’re skimming, recheck point 2. Remind me how it’s so fair to have a rebound relationship? To use someone? Yeah? Fuck you. Fuck you and your dumb society.

The conclusion

Breakups are hard. I miss her. I don’t want to miss her. But my mind wanders, and I remember the moments. The realisations. The kisses. And I want those things. I want her. Because she wasn’t some hideous dragon full of evil. She was my wolfie. And the sadness of not being together is something that I will have to carry.

That’s how you deal with a breakup. There are no rules or magical fixes. You suck it up. You forgive. You try to make the best of it.

The Demon’s Lesson

The sky lights up and the monsters spit against my window. They howl and shake, and rattle. Their breath blows my curtain up and I feel their cold exhalations on my face. The world is mad, and with it, I go mad. I cry out, tears running down my face. The monsters do not relent, never relent. They are strong and callous. They do not mock me, they are not weak-minded bullies. No, they have a strategy. They want to see me broken, wailing in a pool of my own piss and shit.

The wind dies and the rain stops. My panic, like a lowering tide, loses its menace. My frantic gasps become slow breaths. The night settles, and the demons turn and leave, stalking across the nightscape. They speak of me, they tell each other how best to terrify me. All but one.

He is a smaller monster, still lanky, still taller than a man. His fur is less matted, his eyes glow less ominously, his snout is less squashed. He is a demon, but a demon with doubts. His brethren do not speak to him as much as they speak to each other. They huddle and whisper now. In the middle of an open field, they crouch. But the smaller monster stands alone, staring into the distance. He is thinking of me, the wretched, frightened boy. He is wondering how such a small thing can contain so much fear. He draws a deep breath, goes down onto his haunches, takes up a stick and begins to draw. He is drawing a plan. The crickets have stopped chirping, the wind has settled, and the world pulls away from him. He is lost in his plan. The stick dances in the sand, lines, shapes, a strange language. He is inspired. His companions leave him, wordlessly. They have plans of their own.

The demon looks up from his plan, but it is too late. The sun has begun to rise. He attempts to cover his eyes, his face. His skin burns, his teeth loosen, his claws slip from their sheaths. His bones force themselves through weakened flesh, his innards pass through him. His last moments are agony. His life of tormenting others is over. There, next to the twisted pile of flesh, is the demon’s plan. It is a good one. It is redemptive. It is beautiful.

This demon was planning to fight my demon. He had it all worked out. But he never did, never could. So, my demon still lives in me. I know him well. I watch the sun come up. But it does nothing for me, it does not burn my parasite. My demon laughs and spits at me. I no longer cry, I no longer cower. I have accepted the torment. That is my greatest sin now, not fear, but acceptance. With acceptance comes deserving, for what you accept, you also deserve.

Maybe, maybe

I have been reading too much. Is that even possible? Yes. Especially when the stuff you’re reading is mostly drivel from self-proclaimed writers. Blogs, articles, opinion pieces, explosive mind diarrhoea from derivative thinkers. But still, it is probably better than most of what I write. Probably more meaningful. Hell, people are building entire careers around writing their listicles and their thought leadership.

I’m a little more romantic I suppose. I want to sit in a darkened room with an old black typewriter. I want to smoke cigarettes and wear thick glasses and have everything and nothing to say. I want my rage, my love, my life, my passion, to burst on to the page, to filter through the ink. I want to set a reader’s mind on fire. I don’t want to write about politics, religion, or how you can be a more effective whatever. I want to talk about the place where you go when your world falls apart. I want to write about what your tears taste like and how much your smile is worth. I want to write about all the good things, I want to write about all the bad things. When you’re done reading, I want you to feel less alone.

So yes, I feel tempted to write about the things I know about. My job, the things I believe. But I know that it would be far more interesting to go on a journey, an adventure, and write about the things I don’t know much about. The things that drive us, the things that make us keep walking even when all hope seems lost. What is that? I want to write about that. That’s where meaning lies. That’s where truth is.

There are worlds that nobody has seen before, nobody but me. Maybe I should try and take you to them. Maybe we could visit.

A little twisted

Lord Alfred Cuntington stood in the middle of a field watching the sunset. Golden light lit his beautifully chiselled features. He was a manly man, powerful and strong. His bronze armour shone with brilliance in the dying light. A small voice broke the silence and the mood.

“Good sir?”

Lord Alfred Cuntington looked down at the short figure. The source of the voice was wrapped in a flowing robe of rags with a hood pulled low to hide his face.

“Away with thee beggar! Canst thou not see that I am enjoy the mood of the twilight?”

“Apologies good sir. I would just like to show you something…”

“If thou must! Be quick, I cannot tarry all evening with thee.”

The beggar threw back his cowl, revealing his face. The lower half of his dark gray visage was dominated by a double-row of needle-like teeth. The upper half was smooth, with two deep, red, sunken eyes.

Lord Alfred Cuntington gasped in horror, placing his hand in front of his mouth like a teenage girl moments after being invited to dinner by one of her Father’s friends. Not the good-looking one, no, the fat one with the lazy eye. I digress.

“Goodbye Lord Cunt-ington!”

The creature leapt, mouth gaping. Lord Cuntington let out a high pitch squeal while he still could. The beast made short work of his throat, shredding it.

Lord Cuntington lay dead. The creature stood over him, masturbating furiously.

“For the love of Pete, could you not?!”

A second creature had approached, and the first had not noticed it due to its nether activity. At the sound of the second creature’s exclamation, the first leapt two feet into the air, nearly pulling its pleasure-stick off. It landed, its expression shifting from bewilderment to anger.

“I’ll fooking pull me winky if me wants to!”

“I just wish you wouldn’t. It’s bloody rude.”

The first creature turned around and began tugging again.

“I said stop!”

The second creature, to whom I shall henceforth refer to as Shem, stepped around the first creature, Bolg, and slapped his hand off his pecker.

“Stop yanking at it!”

“But I likes the blood and what-nots, I likes how it comes out him. It makes me feel funny and I gots to yank my tank to get it out…”

“Yank. Your. Tank. Are you a bloody nutter? We are demons. We cannot be standing around in the middle of the day havin’ a wank over some dead bloke. Please!”

“But, I likes it!”

“I don’t give a shit!”

With that final exclamation, Shem grabbed Bolg by the wrist and led him away. Bolg shuffled along, closing his cloak with his free hand, looking forlornly at the dead man.

Frank

Frank sat in the coffee shop. He wore his favourite baseball cap. His only baseball cap. Frank wore his favourite jeans. His only jeans. Frank wore his favourite sneakers. His only sneakers. The soles were almost worn through, but they were comfortable and they did a fine job of keeping the cold at bay. Frank had a cup of coffee in front of him, untouched. Every sip that Frank took was one sip closer to leaving, and Frank wasn’t ready to leave. He stared off into the distance. He enjoyed the clatter of cutlery, the voices of happy people, the warmth, the busyness. He enjoyed the normality of it all. He basked in it.

Frank stared now at the empty coffee cup. The bill lay next to it. Four round figures separated by a full stop. A little bit of sadness chewed at the corners of his reality. He slid his coins into the bill folder and stood up to leave.

Frank stood on the pier. The ocean churned around him, but he was oblivious. He was lost in thought. Happier times when a Sunday morning coffee at a cafe was an every weekend occurrence. He remembered the face of the woman he had once loved. In his daydream, she smiled at him, she still loved him. He blinked and reality came back. He bent over painfully and picked up his small, battered rucksack. He zipped it open and took stock of his possessions. He zipped it closed and tossed it into the ocean. He closed his eyes and thought of her again. Her laughter, her voice. He let the sadness wash over.

Frank watched the sunlight, flickering, dancing. It was peaceful beneath the waves. He closed his eyes and let the water fill him.

Frank sank beneath the waves. His favourite baseball cap was gone. His only baseball cap, gone. Frank wore his favourite jeans. His only jeans, soaked. Frank wore his favourite sneakers. His only sneakers. They were doing a terrible job of holding the cold at bay. But it didn’t matter to Frank anymore. Nothing mattered.

Ideas and data

I’m taking a brief break from writing semi-amusing stories to talk about creativity.

There is a kind of creative idea that needs to be carefully moderated. The WIBCI idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if…

WIBCI’s are great during brainstorms. They’re great to get the ball rolling, to stir, to inspire, to get the room talking. WIBCI’s should never make it to production unless they can stand up to the test of ‘why’?

All great ideas share one thing in common. They have purpose. Their purpose may be to explore a theme (like a well-written novel or a movie), their purpose may be to solve a problem (like a new product or an application). The bottom-line is that purpose is important. To be cool is not a purpose.

An idea’s strength can be tested by how many people would potentially care about its purpose. If an idea’s purpose is to strengthen a brand position, you can be assured that not many people are going to care about the idea. If an idea is going to fundamentally disrupt an industry, then you’ll find the number of people that care will shoot up dramatically. People care about things that make them think, that inspire them, that change their lives, both functionally and intellectually. How do you determine if your idea is going to do that?

Simon Sinek tells us that we should ask why. We should interrogate. We should seek the reason for existence. We can apply this principle to just about anything, but it works quite nicely with ideas. Asking why an idea needs to exist is fundamental to its success. Having the data to back up the existence of an idea is crucial. To say that we need an application to allow people to see aggregated local community news might sound like a good idea, but where’s the data? Have I identified a need? Has their been an overwhelmingly positive response to a survey? Did I create a rapid prototype that received a ton of praise? No? Then I am sitting with a WIBCI, and sorry to say, WIBCI’s are nothing.

Creativity is only as good as its foundation. If the foundation is data, research, insight, empathy, and communication, then your output is going to be great. But if your foundation is weak, you’re going to have weak ideas. Once in a while you’ll luck out, but mostly you’re going to be shooting in the dark, wasting a lot of time.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.

Disconnect

Rhodes mine, was once the deepest coal mine on the planet. Installations sprawled across the surface, endless corridors lined with tiny cells. A deep bore tunnelled dangerously through the mantle, plagued with twisting passages. The coal had long disappeared. Rhodes mine was now a prison for a very unique kind of inmate. Any behaviour that was deemed treasonous was punished in the Rhodes mine. Refusal to update your social platforms, refusal to watch at least three hours of television per night, any behaviour that was considered outside of the norm was punished here.

Most of the tools were broken. Bent and shattered shovels, snapped picks, cracked buckets and barrows. It was partly because we didn’t know our own strength anymore and partly because we’d been forced to do all the digging and carrying with our bare hands so nothing got replaced.

Two days wasn’t long enough to recover. Hell, two years wasn’t long enough. I was sure that you were supposed to get some kind of treatment, some kind of therapy. Heck, even a pamphlet would’ve been nice. But you got nothing. You woke up and you felt sick and cold and distant from yourself. You had to learn to walk again and you had to learn to talk again. For some guys, it took months. You could see them, just shuffling, stumbling around. The upside is that you couldn’t feel pain anymore, so when the guards smacked you around or pushed you down, it was like nothing. Just the hollow clang of metal on concrete followed by you struggling back to your feet. But two days, right? Two days and you were in the mines. Digging with your bare hands. The ones that were not yours, but somehow yours. Your new hands. Metal and wire replacing flesh and bone.

Some guys never learned to speak again. It was hard when nobody told you how. It was hard when you couldn’t even breathe. Trying to quell that constant panic. You didn’t have lungs any more. Your brain was getting oxygen from somewhere else now. At night, you lay in your cell with a cable jacked into your back. Sometimes you were nauseous, other times you were so horny you don’t know what to do. It was like your brain was testing everything and finding that most of the parts you used to have were gone. Correction, all the parts you used to have were gone.

Three months in, it stopped. The day before, a man had come with an upgrade. We didn’t need to charge anymore. The new battery would last for three thousand years he said. The guards had a good laugh. Three thousand years of digging in a mine. I didn’t think my new body would last that long. It was that moment that the epiphany hit. It was mine. It was my body. The nauseousness stopped. The pain and panic disappeared.

I sat at night practicing. Staring at my fingers, I tried to make them close fractionally. It was useless at first. I’d been using them as shovels and nothing else. It took a month. That’s all. I became agile. I noticed that the others still struggled, zombie-like, clumsy. I figured I’d play along. I wanted the element of surprise on my side.

Seven months after my change, my chance came. One of the guards noticed me cleaning my joints with an old rag before lights out.

“What you doing there bot?”

“Routine maintenance, sir.”

The guard laughed. “You’re a criminal, you don’t get to be clean, drop the rag.”

I hesitated. The corridor was empty. The old flourescent lights shone dimly, flickering mostly. The floor was perpetually wet from poory maintained drainage pipes. The guard’s heartbeat was quickening. My heightened sense of hearing and eyesight were starting to pay off. He was scared of me. His big talk was just bravado. He was alone, and he knew it.

I dropped the rag. The guard raised his rifle to hit me my face with the butt. I grabbed the rifle and took it from him in one fluid movement. I knew that my strength was at least six times his. He was about to yell out so I grabbed him by the throat and crushed his windpipe. He gurgled and fell to the ground, dead.

The liberation had begun.

The art of negotiation

Fexler sat in a small, white-washed room. The stench of bleach hung heavy in the air. There was only one door, no windows, and everything reflected the single neon bulb that hung from the ceiling. It was bright, a little too bright. Fexler had kept his eyes closed for most of his wait. There was nothing to look at. He shifted uneasily in his paper gown, the bench was hard. Without warning, the door burst open and the doctor strode in. His over-bearing manner was clear from the start.

“Mister Fexler Wits. Wits. Wits. Wits.”

The doctor repeated Fexler’s last name while thoughtfully tapping his pen on his chin. “Any relation to Belinda Wits?”

Fexler opened his mouth to reply but the doctor cut him off with an absent-minded wave. “Moving right along. Mister Wits, your request to become a barn owl has been denied. The only thing I can offer you is cat. Do you want to be a cat, mister Wits?”

“Well, uh, no not…”

“Oh, really mister Wits, an owl? Why an owl?”

“Well, they’re wise…”

“No, no they’re not. Their eyes are very big you see, and that leaves very little space in their heads for a brain. Not wise at all mister Wits, not wise at all.”

The doctor’s comments on wisdom seemed less aimed at owls and more aimed at Fexler himself. The doctor eye-balled Fexler and began tapping his pen against his chin again. “Mister Wits, you have the worst kind of cancer ever. It is absolutely horrendous. We can transfer your consciousness into any animal you want… as long as it’s a cat. Here are some options.”

The doctor produced three photographs from his coat pocket and handed them to Fexler. “I like the tabby, but really, it’s your choice, as long as it’s the tabby.”

Fexler spread the photos out in his hand. All three were identical. A tabby cat, scowling. “How old is he?”

“She… she is fourteen.”

“She?”

Fexler sighed. He vaguely recalled that cats didn’t live that long either. “Don’t cats only live to about sixteen or something?”

The doctor smiled. “Not really. At about fourteen they start to smell quite strongly of piss and most people have them put down.”

Fexler shook his head. “Well, what’s the bloody point then?”

The doctor sat down next to Fexler. “Well now… are you going to take your pills, or do you want me to turn you into a piss-stinking cat?”

“Fine. I’ll take the pills.”