Our parents nurture us in our formative years and we care for them in their dotage. My adopted teenage kids made me what I am. I don’t want to go back to working for someone else, for that would put me out of touch with the young adults who I now hold dearly as friends. I don’t want to go back to working for someone else because I’m too volatile. And I’m mentally ill, something which has been further recognised by the system which I spent so long fighting. It wasn’t a pyrrhic victory after all. I don’t want to go back to working for someone else because I love what I do now and where I’ve ended up, in life and as a person.
The overall war, made up of all of the conflicts which brought me here, was not a pyrrhic victory: it was a war which I lost. I no longer have a wife or a family home. Until now, I have not had regular access to my biological children by virtue of geography. My latest award will address that problem. What I do have though is the Pink Hearts family, formed during the war years and – a few casualties aside – still together as a family, never a gang. Mainly teenagers, the institution of the Pink Hearts and the squat where we had many happy times together is what carried me through. I consider the family in what I refer to as the safe house as my own, for they got me through seven months of the war. The family I share the pub with too, have become very close friends. Most importantly, I have rebuilt the bridges I burned with my biological parents and sister. All of these people are honorary members of the Pink Hearts. It’s unlikely that any more pure Pink Hearts will join the family as initiation with the application of our insignia happened in the squat, during the period of conflict. Besides, we ran out of badges. But anyone can be a Pink Heart: they just need to have a heart.
The greatest human losses are friends and family. I’ve mourned the passing of many in both circles, whether they be deceased or simply lost; all leave a scar on this Pink Heart. I’m currently nursing a recent, very deep wound, sustained with the departure of one of the adopted girls. There is little point in trying to understand that which you don’t have access to. There are times when you care about someone so much that you simply have to stop caring for them. I let my barriers down again.
I no longer have a bachelor pad overlooking a private swimming pool. I lost the beautiful flat which I shared with my soulmate, intellectual adversary, supermodel-proportioned fiance. Now I have a bedsit above a pub and the view out of the window in front of my writing desk is of one of the many arse ends of this town. But in front of that view is the screen where my words appear as I write them: this is my life now.
I no longer have a business which I can milk. I don’t have milk in fact, as my supply has been milked by housemates. I no longer play poker in the West End. But I do have a business of sorts: myself. I can write and I have a lot of projects on the go at the moment. I still play poker, for very small stakes online but I’d rather be writing, as I often am in the middle of the night when I used to gamble instead. While my writing pays the small sums of commission and royalties which it does, I am still entitled to the final bundle of benefit payments which I have now secured: in addition to the ESA Support Group benefit and Personal Independence Payment which I now receive, it transpires that I am also eligible for Severe Disability Allowance. I am mentally ill and have proven myself as such at tribunal. With housing benefit, what I receive from the state is just over £1500 per month. How worthwhile the effort required to attain such nosebleed heights of remuneration was is questionable, but what I’ve attained is financial stability, support and recognition. I lost a lot in the war but I gained so much more in non-monetary terms.
I’ve gained freedom: I feel now as I did on the many occasions I was released from police custody back onto the streets. I’ve learned. I have what we all have: freedom of speech and of expression. I’m in a privileged position where I can place my freedoms in the public domain through writing, like the national newspaper which I’ve written for. Anyone can do what I do. This freedom has been granted me by the state which I fought for so long to gain what I was due; a state and a system that I am proud to be a member of and which I now understand the logic of, respectively. I’m proud to call this inclusive, diverse and free culture in which we live, home. The system does work and so do I. The state has given me the means to do what I love. Commissions and royalties aside, I am financed by the state to write. To counter the very predictable and in some ways, understandable, view that I am sponging off of the state, I would point out that the system is financing my recovery in the most economical way possible.
A recent article in The Guardian prompted this piece, wherein noted writers describe how time spent living on the dole made them what they are. All are names familiar to and respected by the writing community. Those writers honed their art and developed their skills whilst reliant upon state support. Latterly they are professional writers, like me, earning money and paying taxes, as I hope I will one day. What those writers contribute passionately to society though is far greater than financial: it’s knowledge. I am in a position now where I am supported in doing something which I hope will benefit others. I certainly benefited many during the war years and there are several who will always stand testament to that.
Of course, the money coming in will open up many more opportunities, all of which add up to a comfortable – if still frugal – existence, not least of which is being able to see my children on a more regular basis. I don’t have my old life back and frankly, I wouldn’t want it, but I have a life now. The war made me a better person and I continue to get better. I’m financed by the state which I’m currently in: get the double meaning.
Like my recovery, my writing is largely a personal thing, albeit self-publicised, mainly in the hope that I can inspire others. I enjoy it, just as anyone a certain way inclined likes the smell of their own farts, or the taste of their own bogeys. My recovery had to be personal because I cannot be contained, restrained or overseen: a stereotypical writer. It’s been suggested that some of my stories are semi-autobiographical. This is true, as is the case with many writers. What better bases for fiction though than things with which you can empathise as a writer and use to convey new experiences onto the reader? Writers give pleasure to others. I have the freedom to do that now and I have the skill to turn personal experiences into allegorical fictional situations, full of parallels and metaphors. Life imitates art and vice versa.
It’s a two-way street though and comment is free. I welcome comments on my blog posts, because comment breeds discussion and debate. Where once I was drunk and an aggressive, objectionable and sometimes nonsensical antagonist, now I’m invariably stoned instead and resultantly more open-minded. The only thing missing in this new life is someone to share it with: someone who can dismantle the remaining barriers and permanently dispose of them. If I’m honest, there’s no-one in my life at the moment who would be able to do that; no-one who’d be a keeper.
I failed but I picked myself up again. Kids: don’t dismiss yourselves. It was being homeless and now on benefits that made me what I am: a better person even than the slightly afloat one you held in esteem for whatever personal reasons, who you originally took under your wings and nurtured, like I did you.
The person you made and who you now see less frequently is alive, well and writing a lot. Besides this blog, I’m currently writing a story which is destined for print publication, essentially about an oil rig which falls in love. People are intrigued by the concept but on the basis of feedback from the first draft, it’s a winner; to such an extent that it’s the basis for one of three novels which I’m writing: the ongoing Bloodstained Knaves; Paradoxica, the sequel to The Paradoxicon; and the aforementioned tale of mechanical love: The Inner Leviathan.
Wherever you end up, you are still free, whether you realise it or not. If you find yourself in a place where you’d rather not be, you are free to escape: you just need to know where you want to be and sometimes you may require guidance to get there. When you find your place, you will be happy. Like me.
The trick is to keep breathing.