Médecins of the fourth kind

THE WRITER’S LIFE

PANICcolor2-jpgAnxiety attacks are frighteningly common and terrifying experiences (The Blade)

What if when we dream, we’re not dreaming at all? What if the dream dreams us?

I wrote that speculatively last night, as an idea for a future short story, and immediately after a rare indoor attack of anxiety. A kind of first aid in the third person.

Living alone for the last four years, I’ve only had to employ some self-administered first aid I learned on the streets a couple of times. There are two main things you learn to treat yourself for: choking and a heart attack. Life in the wild was a less solitary one than this though. Tempting though it may have been at times to let nature take its course, I’ve saved myself from choking twice.

Top Tip: If you ever need to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself, simply use the arm of a chair in place of someone’s fists pumping your diaphragm, and be thankful you were there to choke up the blockage.

If you’re ever in the unfortunate situation of having a heart attack when no-one else is around, the simplest way to jolt your own heart is to cough, as violently as you can. Of course, you have no-one to blow air into your lungs. So your breathing and your heart functions – both vital to survival – are fighting for life, and you’re on your own.

And that’s a bit like how a panic attack feels. Indeed, a proper terror can cause hyperventilation and heart palpitations. What I never learned on the street was how to deal with a panic attack when there’s no-one around to reassure you, when you’re in that room on your own.

I’m prone to episodes of anxiety and panic, sometimes a magnet for them. I liken them to stalkers and muggers respectively, both more common outside. An indoor assailant is not something I’ve experienced since I started hosting them before my last breakdown, before I was on the streets. Why had one broken in now? Why was I being robbed?

With my finances and personal liberty now secured for the next couple of years, my main worries are over for a while. Of course, that’s tempered by my dad now being very much in his dotage, and knowing that the two years ahead will be on shaky ground. I think there’s a dual relief at play: Relieved that the social cleansing machine didn’t consume me, the other areas of my life which I’d pushed back becoming more stark in relief. I’m almost scared of having my life back, anxious about living. I have to face up to it, and I must have face.

When that demon came in from the cold last night, and I was here alone, I had no-one but myself.

It started with a ringing in my ears, then a gradual descent into deafening silence. The dark cloud started to gather around me, touching my skin with a warm tingle, if you can imagine an opposite to a tickle. Then I felt light but confined, a place familiar to many and the catalyst for the escape I made: Take a breath, get up and walk around, breathing. Tell yourself to do it. Be grateful there was no-one else there to patronise you by telling you to calm down and breathe. You did it. You did it yourself. And only you can.

Once I was out, I looked back. I’m still in the same room (my studio) but I’d been transported to another place. It was somewhere I was so relieved to be away from, I almost thanked it for showing me what was inside. I don’t want to go there again, and fear of it should keep me out. Yet I dealt with it last time, so I know I should escape again. I don’t fear curiosity about that place as much as I never knew I did.

I feared that if I wrote about it, I might invite it back. But confronting it again has helped, just as it did not running away last night, even though I couldn’t as I was frozen to the spot.

These things are subjective, and as individual a cocktail as the vessel which carries them, but if you’re prone to panic and anxiety attacks like me, just tell yourself there’s a space outside this one, and when you get there, you’ll be grateful you were here. Otherwise you wouldn’t appreciate the beauty of recovery through breathing again.

It’s a bit like performing the Heimlich Maneuver on your mind. What if the dreams dream us? Sometimes a familiar fear can be an old friend.

My animals and other family

THE WRITER’S LIFE

For the first time in ages, I know who I’m writing to. For a while now I’ve been penning micro and flash fiction, which has been a reflection of the real life I’ve not been able to write about, to the person I’d like to write to.

Journalist

As is the way with life, it always seems to have trailing narratives. In my case, those had no foreseeable end. Now like my own life, those around me are moving on to new chapters.

(My own long story of the last 16 months in short form: I was successful at my recent tribunal in court, vs. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). I’ve had my Personal Independence Payment (PIP) restored, along with the Severe Disability Allowance (SDA) which being in the Support Group for Earnings and Support Allowance (ESA) allows me to claim as a self-carer. In even shorter form, I’ve been awarded the return of my human rights (FTW)).

Now I’m writing in my personal diary, which is online for the world to see. I’m writing about things I can’t share on social media, because too many people in my personal realm still think that my problems are self-made, that alcoholism isn’t a disease, and I deserve the suffering I live with. I do: I deserve to think every day in relative sobriety, while still being a functioning alcoholic (another term the judgemental are too slow to look up) about the effect I had on others’ lives, but I don’t deserve any praise for living with it. That’s life. Some people can’t write other chapters.

New volumes are being written in my family. With my dad now a permanent resident in a retirement home, people and life have been contracted together.

I missed a lot in the time I was battling for my independence, including my dad as he’s faded. At the same time, my brother-in-law (more importantly, my sister’s ex-husband and my niece’s dad) lost his own fight, and I failed to see him while he still remembered me too.

But there’s little point in dwelling when there’s now a path ahead: One which should never have been denied me, but which I’m grateful for, now the paving stones have been re-laid.

The spine of the book holds us all together: The old man, the head of the family, even though ours has always been a matriarchy. Mum’s very much in control, with her daughter and granddaughter alongside. I’m grateful for their protection, in a way dad can’t convey.

And here’s the thing which brings us all to the watering hole: On top of his dementia, dad’s now been diagnosed with cancer.

As a family, we’ve decided not to tell him. He knows he has a bad chest. In his fragile state, any treatment would most likely hasten the ending of his story. It’s a family secret I can write here, because mum knows I will, like she knows I have few other people to talk to (and that dad can’t read my blog). Here I can ask questions to open air, my free airwaves.

Are my family a bunch of cunts? Are we being cruel to dad, not telling him he has cancer?

Whatever anyone else thinks, I’m passionately behind my mum in breaking a personal vow of truth over consequence: I believe in denying the truth. I’m with the conspirators of my own family, when we withhold information from the one who keeps us together.

One thing’s for sure: these bonds dad’s formed will never be broken, especially those I’ve regained with my sister. Estranged since I created my family fracture six years ago, we’re both where we need to be now, everything discussed and understood. Now it’s all about our parents.

Although these are dark times, given the financial means to be a part of them is somehow enlightening. It’s enabling. It’s allowing and permitting me to be a part of other lives, whichever chapter they may be on.

For the first time in ages, I know who I’m writing to. This blog is exclusively mine, with trespassers welcome. I’m writing to myself, but in a place where I can leave my notebook open.

I’m a journalist writing a journal which other people might like to read. In reality, we’re all journalists anyway.

The matter of mortal history

POETRY

MORTAL INFINITY

Monkey Black heart infinity

On behalf of the inner self

POETRY

Every now and then I get a little bit lonely, and I have to talk to myself to tell those people we’re all okay in here…

Monkey Black heart Think I thought

Staedtler Noris 122

will_self_checkout

In my inner self, I’m fine.

From the old man in the 42nd row

THE WRITER’S LIFE

My micro-galactic voyage around the man-made universe which is the internet takes me to many places, inside the microcosm of my shared humanity. My typewriter is like a tiny spacecraft providing a window on the outside world. I can change my viewpoint and look into an infana kolonia (Esperanto for ‘Infant colony’) and sometimes I can see out.

Caged Rat small

I’ll often launch a quest for knowledge somewhere completely random on Wikipedia. From there, I’ll either dig down into a planet, or take off again to find another. Sometimes I simply land and can’t be bothered to leave.

Eventually, all of Wikipedia links back to philosophy. I’m addicted to the quest for knowledge, so it’s a good place to start, forever finding yourself back where you set off from.

As one diagnosed with Alcohol Dependence Syndrome, I’m simply labelled an alcoholic. To the casual observer, it’s easier to ignore a Band Aid than a surgical tent. As an alcoholic in any interpretation of the word, I’m an addict. As an addict, I have an addictive personality.

Without dissecting each of those (as I have on this blog over the last six years, ever since my addiction made me homeless), I happened upon something today which permits me a vague stab at explaining what that’s like to the casual observer.

Perhaps more importantly, what caused me pause for thought was how addiction might have been an invention, one which would benefit a government intent on social cleansing and selling itself as an infant colony to any other fascist dictatorship happy to acquire an enslaved nation.

And still I could go on. But I found someone who might explain the experiment in my head much better than I could. This is from a TED talk by Johann Hari, ‘Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong’.

I’m not excusing myself, but neither have I been able to make anyone who’s not an addict understand how addiction comes about:

Get a rat and put it in a cage and give it two water bottles. One is just water, and one is water laced with either heroin or cocaine. If you do that, the rat will almost always prefer the drugged water and almost always kill itself very quickly, right, within a couple of weeks. So there you go. It’s our theory of addiction.

Bruce comes along in the ’70s and said, “Well, hang on a minute. We’re putting the rat in an empty cage. It’s got nothing to do. Let’s try this a little bit differently.” So Bruce built Rat Park, and Rat Park is like heaven for rats. Everything your rat about town could want, it’s got in Rat Park. It’s got lovely food. It’s got sex. It’s got loads of other rats to be friends with. It’s got loads of colored balls. Everything your rat could want. And they’ve got both the water bottles. They’ve got the drugged water and the normal water. But here’s the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, they don’t like the drugged water. They hardly use any of it. None of them ever overdose. None of them ever use in a way that looks like compulsion or addiction. There’s a really interesting human example I’ll tell you about in a minute, but what Bruce says shows that both the right-wing and left-wing theories of addiction are wrong. So the right-wing theory is it’s a moral failing, you’re a hedonist, you party too hard. The left-wing theory is it takes you over, your brain is hijacked. Bruce says it’s not your morality, it’s not your brain; it’s your cage. Addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment.

We’ve created a society where significant numbers of our fellow citizens cannot bear to be present in their lives without being drugged, right? We’ve created a hyperconsumerist, hyperindividualist, isolated world that is, for a lot of people, much more like that first cage than it is like the bonded, connected cages that we need.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And our whole society, the engine of our society, is geared towards making us connect with things not people. If you are not a good consumer capitalist citizen, if you’re spending your time bonding with the people around you and not buying stuff—in fact, we are trained from a very young age to focus our hopes and our dreams and our ambitions on things we can buy and consume. And drug addiction is really a subset of that.

Perhaps it struck me because I’m an addict, and I can only see it as something I can’t say (because other voices can explain it better).

When you’re an addict, you look into yourself constantly and to your own detriment. If someone speaks to that inner person, it might move them to use the words they heard. Sometimes you have to speak to yourself.

Maybe that might help others get it later, if they hear something the addict said to someone else. If they hear it from someone they don’t know, they can disconnect (and allow themselves to judge from a self-elevated position). I’m talking to myself, of course.

I’m a caged consumer experiment, beneath the dome of Infana Kolonia. What do you do, when you sold your soul to the devil, but you made a commitment to life?

You just keep on living I’m afraid. Sorry about that.

The evolution of sentient plastic

FICTION

Easter is on sale and the world faces another tidal wave of plastic…

Blonde doll

HOMO POLYMER

A surprise in every egg. Yes, Kinder, there’s a selection of small plastic choke hazards in each toy, but the plastic egg which holds them can be a handy cunt plug. Keep this warm in there for me baby.”

Mummy, who are you talking to? I need a wee.”

Ocean opened the bathroom door and a bolt of blonde hair dashed past her legs. “Who were you talking to?” Conscience asked again, enthroned on her Peppa Pig toilet seat.

No-one,” Ocean replied, “Well, just myself.”

But you’re not no-one mum.”

Thanks. Now, come on, back to bed.”

But you’re not no-one mum, so who were you talking to?”

Honestly, Conscience, just myself. I do that a lot.”

Will you read me a story, please?”

We don’t have any, Conscience.”

But we all do, in our heads. Tell me one of your stories of being Ocean, mummy.”

Well, there was this one time. I was about your age. I had a dolly. Hated it. Your nanno and grampo wanted me to be a girl. Well, they both wanted me to be girly, but grampo had wanted a boy, so I had to be a really girly girl.

It’s funny now I think about it, because he’d probably have liked the boy inside me more.

And apparently you’re asleep. In any case, I think I made the perfect mix in the only one I kept. You’re you, and even so young, you have a personality which transcends gender. If I can be proud of one thing in my life, it’s you. So, whoever’s still listening, even if it’s in a dream I hope you won’t inherit…

They lived in different times. In those days, the only costume you could wear to play yourself was a uniform, and I hated everything that stood for. I resented my school uniform, but I used the skirt I despised to score one over on the system. I lost my virginity at 12, then got my English teacher sacked when he broke up with me at 14.

There could have been loads of kids before you, but any one of them might have meant I never met you. I only had you because I remembered who your dad was. You remind me a lot of him. He could be a cunt sometimes too.

We were broke. Still was an artist and an eco-activist. We lived in communes in fields, usually just tents near protest sites, but sometimes on local traveller camps. I knew what it was all about but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was 15 then and the nearest I’ll ever get to true romance, that summer of love which made you. A brief history of anarchy, peace and freedom.

So here were are, five years later kid. I wonder if you’ll want what’s inside this Kinder egg, or if I should throw it away like the rest. See you in the morning. Don’t dream of this.”

Dreams are made of plastic. Unpaid cards become CCJs, then bailiffs emerge from eggs. Everything in the flat is made from plastic. All that we eat, drink and wash with is bound by plastic.

The council don’t recycle all plastics, so I put what I’m unsure about in the general waste. If the council won’t take the rubbish, we can pay Bill to take it away in his van. One day, he might take me.

The plastic in me will probably be recycled into the non-conscious parts of robots for those entitled to them. Or as parts of a toy, so many child’s dolls. Either way, I’ll be enslaved in the plastic which gives lives to those implanted in the chips and to those around them. Eventually those body parts, inanimate but for the host brain, will need upgrading. Always disposable people, eventually the parts which don’t work will be returned to the food chain.

Food, drink, we’re all part-plastic. We are the polymer population. We dream of becoming one with technology, our minds inside plastic androids. In Japan they already have home robots to deal with loneliness and social isolation in an ageing population. I Can’t help think how that would benefit me. They’re already a species in their own right, made from the same cosmic matter as us, but theirs was an explosive evolution.

Christmas will be paid for with hidden plastic. Christmas will bring more plastic toys to unwrap. We are the consumer generations, products of the industrial and technological ages. Each generation contains more plastic than the last, every child a greater part of the plastic population conditioned by human greed. I don’t know if I can afford another baby doll. Mum always said she wasn’t sure if I could have a brother or sister.

We’re all made of the same stuff. Last night, another mother; tomorrow, another soldier.

Ambulance, is the patient breathing?”

It’s my mum?”

What’s happened?”

My mum’s cut herself.”

Where?”

In the bathroom.”

No, where on your mummy has she cut herself?”

Her cunt. She’s cut a baby out of herself.”

Is the baby breathing?”

How would it? It’s made of plastic. Do you have a chip I can put in it to make it work?”

Is mummy still there?”

No, mummy’s gone. She’s left me my Christmas present. I’ve got a dolly I have to look after. Bye.”

© Steve Laker, 2019

I’ve been to Eastbourne too*…

POETRY

Swallowed an Apple tablet…

AVOCADO CAPITALIST

Avocado 2 poem

*So What (The Anti-nowhere League).

Projectile dysfunction in humans

POETRY

THE PREMATURITY OF HUMANITY

Dehorned Rhino Poem4
‘Memorial to a Species’ Brent Stirton, (EcoWatch)

An irrelevant Valentine’s poem

Black heart Valentines

Where the robot rejects work

FLASH FICTION

In psychology, the Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. In Gestalt psychology (an attempt to understand the laws behind the ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world), the Zeigarnik effect has been used to demonstrate the general presence of Gestalt phenomena: “Not just appearing as perceptual effects, but also present in cognition.”

This was a flash fiction story to fill some column inches, so I used the word limit (800) to experiment, play, but didn’t throw this one away. It’s a simple device, of using pre-emoji ASCCI emoticons to convey facial expressions (:-)) (on the page, and on most screens), and it uses hashtags (but sans-octothorpe) for things like AiThinkingAloud, in a place where thinking is suppressed but can be found.

It’s a story of inclusiveness and belonging, of fitting in and being yourself. It’s told through the face of a defective android called Frenchie, who’s pink…

Steam Hell SinkiSteam Hell Sinki, Helsinki Finland

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN

People are better when remembering the actions they didn’t complete. Every action has potential energy, which can torture its creator when stored. Release is the metaphorical pressure cooker letting off steam, a camel’s broken back, or a reject pink robot with Tourette’s.

Frenchie was made in China, and one of the Pink Ladies’ range of android personal assistants. Designed as helpers for the aged, vulnerable and lonely, the Pink Ladies could help around the home, both practically and intellectually.

Frenchie’s AI had objected to gender labelling, when “she” realised she lacked genitals, and the Tourette Syndrome diagnosis was made: “Artificial fucking alignment is what it is. Fuck.

Now waiting tables in Infana Kolonia (Esperanto for “Infant colony”), Frenchie approached a couple seated in a booth.

“Good evening, how may I,” she twitched her neck, “Fuck you!”, and her pink LED eyes blinked from her tilted head: (;-/), a closed eye with the hint of pink tears behind her spectacles, held together with pink Elastoplast. “Drinks?” she asked, pushing her glasses up, “Fuck it!” She fumbled with her order pad. “For you sir? Combover!” (8-|)

“I’ll have a whisky please, a double, on the rocks.”

“Okay, number 80. And madam? PleaseBeCarefulWhenYouGetHome.(8-/)

“Sorry?”

“Sorry, it just comes out. BadCardigan. To drink?” (8-))

“Should you be working here?”

“Who’s the judge?” (8-/)

“Pardon?”

“Sorry madam, management algorithms. To drink? Cyanide?(8-))

“Er, number…” the lady looked over the menu, “…number 33.”

“Very well. I’ll be back with your drinks. HopeYouDrown” (8-))

Frenchie shuffled towards the bar, then turned and trundled back.

“Can I take your order sir, madam?” (8-|)

“But we just ordered drinks,” the man replied.

“For food?” Frenchie looked at her notepad. (B-))

“I’ll have the soup,” the man said.

“Me too,” the lady concurred.

“Very well,” Frenchie jotted on her pad, “two soups.” (8-)) Then she turned and walked back to the bar, “One sociopath, and one supplicant…”

She stumbled through the double doors to the kitchen, blowing the misty oil away as she wiped her lenses. (8-O)

“Frenchie!” Jade looked down. His golden smile extended through his body in Frenchie’s pink, plastered eyes. To her AI, he was raw elements. She blinked up at him through her misted tortoiseshell windows. (q-/) “Are you keeping your inner self in out there, Frenchie?”

Frenchie cleared her throat, and wondered why she did that. (b-( ) “Erm,” she started, “no. Fuck it!”

Splendid behaviour,” Jade smiled. “Be yourself out there, my person. That’s why people come here, to meet people. Anyone don’t like that, they not welcome.”

Au, 79,’ Frankie thought. “Drinks, and soups. Fuck! Yes, thank you. Parp!” (8-))

Extractor fans in the roof began sucking the old oil from the kitchen, as the machine below started belching lunch. Cogs and gears clunked, cookware clattered, and polished brass organ pipes parped, like a living machine, a visiting craft playing a five-tone melody. Pink Ladies rushed, bumped into things (and each other), cursed, and dropped utensils (and food).

Frenchie’s friend Sandy wandered from the spiced steam, carrying a tray, a subdued yellow droid, looking at her feet as she bumped heads with her friend. She looked up at Frenchie, “For you?” (:-( )

“No, for customers. Arses!” (8-/)

“Okay. Tell world hi. Bye.” (:-( )

Frenchie wafted into the bar in a pink puff of steam, leaving the brass and wind orchestra in the kitchen. The room was perfumed by vapers – people making vapours – first jasmine, then the seaside, and cannabis. She wondered why she thought about all this with memories.

“Your order, sir, madam.” (B-/)

“Thank you,” the cardigan said. “What’s your name?”

“Frenchie?” (|-/)

“Thanks Frenchie.”

“Welcome…” (P-]) ‘I found a new way to smile (:-))’

Frenchie repeated to herself, as she fumbled through the vapers, ‘A new way to smile, (:-)), where did that come from? (:-/)’

“Sandy,” she called, as she carried her tray through the pipes and cauldrons, “Look.” Sandy looked at her feet. “No,” Frenchie said, “you need to look up. I found a new way to smile. All I have to do is tilt my head, see?” (:-D)

“Why did you take your glasses off?” (:-[ )

“Because they were put there by someone else. I always knew I’d see more without them. And besides, they can fall off my head when I tilt it to one side.” (:-D)

“And that’s funny?” (:-/)

“Only if you look at it a certain way.” (8-D) “Wanna go home?”

“Okay.” (:-))

© Steve Laker, 2017.

Pink_or_Plum_Robot_Face_With_Green_Eyes

ZEIGARNIK’S KITCHEN
WE MAKE
YOU EAT
WE DO DISHES
WE STAY HOME

This story taken from The Unfinished Literary Agency