Please do not lick the windows

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s been a while since I wrote in my diary, and personal blog entries have been scant over the last 18 months, while my life has been on hold. Someone let the brake pedal off though, and now my personal liberty has been restored. Now I have money in the bank, a regular modest income, and a life worth living.

Cow Car Nothing Worth Doing

This blog started off as a personal journal, but lately I’ve not had much I could write, because of so much unresolved in my life. I can blow off the dark glitter and write my open book once more, now that I’ve won my freedom and been compensated for the trauma inflicted by a battle which lasted a year and a half. It’s a story worth telling once more.

My doubters and detractors (mainly in the other life, away from here) are two distinctly separate but overlapping groups in the Venn Diagram of my social world. They might judge me as someone being paid to do as they please, to sit at home and avoid disease. But they weren’t there over the last 18 months. They didn’t see the consultations, the interviews and the final court tribunal, which led to here and which took a toll on my mental health. They didn’t see the separation anxiety from my family and the loneliness of social isolation. 

Now I receive the Personal Independence Payment I’m entitled to and a Severe Disability Allowance, both of which are the social cleansing machine’s recognition of my condition. It’s a combination of mental malfunctions which no-one judging from a detached position would be able to detect, but which become plain to those prepared to engage with me. It’s worth persisting with life, especially if it winds a few people up.

Much has changed over the last year and a half, including my dad’s health. A retirement home resident, he still remembers me and he’s looking forward to seeing me more, now I have the means to travel. My kids grew up too, although I still managed to see them every couple of months. Now I can spend days with them more often too, and we can do as we please without lack of finance placing undue restrictions on us. On this side of the 18-month war, they’re both teenagers, two of my favourite people and my two very good young friends.

I was out with the kids in London on Sunday, something their mum suggested as money wasn’t such a big issue. I was grateful for that and we enjoyed a full day, starting with lunch somewhere other than a Wetherspoons. With the capital offering the world as our culinary oyster, we went to Nando’s instead.

London wasn’t quiet (it never is) but it was far less busy than normal, even for a Sunday. We’re not too neurotic about Coronavirus, so I just told the teenagers not to lick any windows. They wouldn’t have to, because we had some money.

Later in Piccadilly, we paid an impromptu visit (at £25 for adults; £18 each for under-16s; plus £6 for a locker as bags aren’t allowed in) to Body Worlds, Gunther von Hagens’ now permanent exhibition of plastinated people, providing a guided tour for the still-autonomous around our shared human anatomy.

More than the tarred lungs of a smoker, or the swollen liver of a drinker, I was struck most by the shrunken brain of an Alzheimer’s victim. If I hadn’t had my two teenage friends with me, I might have lost face and broken down at the tragedy of another shrunken mind in a retirement home, which still remembers me. Then again, those young people have never forgotten I’m their dad, and they didn’t give up on me.

It’s good to have my personal liberty back, especially when I can appreciate it because so much has changed. Funny how life works. Now I need to use it more for the benefit of others, which is one for those Venn segments of my life to suck on.

Monkey Black heart Coronavirus

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.

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.

Messages from Brobdingnag

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A lot’s changed since the last time I wrote to you. I hope you’re okay. Wherever you are, I thought I’d write down what’s going on in my life, because I know you read my blog.

Brobdingnag

This is just a synopsis. I’ll write the chapters which led to it all another time.

Recently I’ve done a couple of things I’ve not been able to for a while: I had a day out with my kids (another chapter), and I visited my dad with my sister and niece (a further chapter). I’m having lunch with them all on my birthday weekend in May (another book, after the next two).

My life will become more enabled now that I’ve won my battle with the Department for Work and Pensions (the chapters I’ll fill in, now that I can write them). A recent tribunal hearing found that I’m entitled to the Personal Independence Payment I’d been denied, so I’ll regain my freedom and liberty. The machine didn’t cleanse me from its social ideal.

Dad’s fully-installed in a retirement home, which isn’t what anyone wants, but it’s the only place equipped to deal with him now that his dementia is in almost complete control. It’s a cruel illness which killed the man we know, even though he’s still breathing. It’s his birthday today, so I sent a card to his new home with a note:

Dear dad,

At 78, you’re like an old vinyl record, full of memories:

My very first memory is sitting on the front step of our old house, waiting for you to come home on your motorbike. You pointed to the chrome exhaust and said, “Don’t touch that.” I didn’t. You’ve always looked out for me.

When I was growing up, you’d read us stories. The real-life ones are where the most treasured memories are. You helped me learn.

When I was older, you’d do casual work with Mick, your friend from school. His son Kev was older than me, and I wanted to be a part of working with the men. You took me with you. I didn’t get paid like you, Mick and Kev, but the next morning you came into my room and put some change by the bed: “That’s for helping,” and gave me money out of your own pocket.

I remember.

Throughout my teens, you drove me and my friends everywhere. I’ll never forget dad’s taxis. You helped me with my social life.

You bought me my first bike, took off the stabilisers, then bought me a car. You gave me freedom. You gave me liberty.

In 2001, when I got stranded in America, you phoned my hotel, just checking in from 3500 miles away. Never far apart.

And when I was on the streets, you came and found me in McDonald’s, just to see how I was. You always made sure there was food on the table.

You used to tell us such simple stories. I write it all down now so we can remember together. You were always there for me.

Thanks for being my dad.

Mum and dad won’t be able to join us for my birthday lunch, as London’s a bit of a trip too far now for dad. I’ll take the parents out another time nearer to home but for everyone else, London is most central and I’d like to return to my spiritual home for my 50th. Seeing as I can’t avoid it, I might as well go out and write some more chapters.

Pinhead SSE31

First I’m having the lunch some thought would never happen, with my kids, my sister, my niece, my ex-wife, and the kids’ step-dad. In the afternoon, the young ones and me will be in and around London. When they’ve all gone home (about 6), I’ll pop back to ‘spoons to see if anyone turned up and waited. I’ll bring Marmite sandwiches.

I’ve not seen many people besides my real and adopted family since my alcoholic breakdown gave old friends a right to judge and condemn. Those who’ve kept in touch are welcome to come and meet the family. It’ll be interesting to see who walks in from outside, even if to just cure their own curiosity about whether you can have a conversation with an alcoholic over a drink in a pub, like we used to.

Octopus Motherfucker

For now I’ve got through a lot of what I’ve been unable to tell you, because the stories had no end. Some concluded, while others continue to be written. This was just a synopsis of how things change, and how social isolation can be cured.

German queen in nomad street

THE WRITER’S LIFE | MICRO FICTION

Throughout the whole Brexit debacle, ‘EU Rope’ never became a slogan. Still, we’ve done it now. A nation has hung itself. In other news, I won my appeal against DWP today at tribunal. Silver linings in the notepad.

On the day the UK left the EU, I liberated myself from a fascist social cleansing machine in the final battle of a 15-month war. I’ve been re-awarded my human rights and can now live a more independent life. More on that another time.

For now, if you wish to see all of life, spend a day in Ashford (where I had to attend court). There you will find every kind of humanity, from those who want to help you to the ones who’d rather eat you.

I met a man on my way to have my hearing tested, stood in front of a window. I noted our conversation in my journal as I was probed by inquisitors…

Queen Trump 2Someone is photoshopping Trump’s face on the Queen (It’s a B3tan)

PSYCHIC PSY

Guy comes up to me today, says, “Think of a number, any number.”

So I did.

Then he says, “Tell me what the number is.”

So I did.

Correct,” he said.

Amazing.

Staedtler Noris 122

Among all that nature can throw at a species, I found a judge, a doctor and a mental health specialist on a tribunal panel, far better qualified to determine my future than an out-sourced government contract to a private firm with shareholders. During a day in the wilderness I found beacons of humanity, acting independently on behalf of the crown. I bought a lottery ticket too: EuroMillions.

EU Queen3The Queen’s hat (original)

No doubt the Tories will eventually scrap the right to appeal against benefits decisions, now that the British public have blindly elected a fourth Reich. I may have lost the country which made me, but I’ve still got the Queen, who’s German.

For now if I really want to, I can be a nomad queen in Germin Street. At liberty with freedom of expression. 

Helvetica sans serif and Georgia

FLASH FICTION

At Helvetica Haus, we’re only allowed one sheet of paper per day…

TSEE1  TSEE2TSEE3  TSEE4

MANNEQUIN MIRROR

With all that was churning in my head last night, I was reminded of my broken washing machine. If only I could launder myself, so that I was fresh again, back with everyone my illness had alienated. Or just burn my clothes, maybe with me in them. Anything to flood the deepest valleys in an ocean of depression, just for one day. To go swimming in a font of typesetting.

On the other side of my drawn curtains, I heard the sound of laughter and heels. If I could break through the window behind the drapes, I’d be out there.

Instead, I sat all evening, staring variously at dark curtains and the paper in my typewriter, respectively wondering and writing about the world outside. All the while, a gin and tonic by my side, like all writer stereotypes.

I hated myself, as anyone will when they stare at a wall which separates them from another world they can’t reach. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I wouldn’t blame anyone for punching that face.

Eventually I ran out of paper.

The joy I’d heard earlier outside the window returned, but it was dark now. Heels were clicking, the owners tripping.

My glass tipped, I needed more. I had to go out, despite myself. No matter how much I loathed the author of this night, I had to face him. I had to check I looked okay before I went outside.

I smashed my head into the first face I saw, then I carried on.

I was in the world of stilted lives outside, where grazed knees are all which many have to remember of the night, before they look in the mirror.

© Steve Laker, 2020

Feast on the forbidden inside. Wash your mask in the font. Wipe it clean with cotton paper. Spread the dark curtains and remove your make-up.