It was around five years ago that I found myself on the streets, an alcoholic. But this story has only a part of me in it. It’s about the other people out there. They are the quiet ones, and those aren’t monsters under the bed. These are the ghosts…
The story of how I became a ghost is surprisingly ordinary: I died. My actual passing was like that moment when you fall asleep every night: You don’t remember it. The next day, you’ll remember being awake before you slept; you know you’ve been sleeping and you may recall dreams. But you won’t remember the transit from wakefulness to slumber. So dying was just like that, for me at least.
It didn’t take long to realise I was dead because people just stopped talking to me. I could still walk around but no-one could see or hear me. A couple of times, people just walked straight through me, as though I wasn’t there. I wasn’t but I was.
When someone walks through you when you’re a ghost, you get to know a lot more about them on the inside. I don’t mean how their internal organs look (just like in a hospital documentary or horror film) but a feeling of their inner self. It’s surprising how many people you thought you knew turn out to be complete twunts.
Even though I was invisible and inaudible, I felt vulnerable in this brave new world. I’m used to being looked at. I like it. I dress provocatively. But here, no-one was looking at me, which made me anxious. I felt invisible. I was invisible. That’s how I ended up sleeping under George’s bed.
So kids: It’s not a monster under the bed, it’s a ghost.
It was while I was under there that I decided to write this story.
I’d suddenly found myself homeless. I had no personal belongings, nowhere to go and nothing to do. But like any child’s bed, George’s had cardboard boxes underneath it. I wouldn’t pry into something which might be private, but like most children’s beds, George’s sat above a wasteland of discarded ephemera: a little-used word but for the purposes of this story, it was the right one. It’s a collective noun, for things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. Or collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. Ephemera also has a certain supernatural aura about it (Ephemeral, an adjective meaning lasting for a very short time), so to a ghost and a writer, it suits the story very well.
As a ghostwriter, I could be anyone I wanted. I could do that in cardboard city but I had less to worry about under the bed.
It wasn’t me writing the story; I was employing someone else. When a man writes something, he is judged on his words. When a woman writes, it is she who is judged. Being a ghost was perfect. Because if a ghost writes the story, then they control it. If a ghost tells this story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Among the discarded stationery, I found a note: ”If you don’t finish that story, I will personally punch you in the face. Cool?” I had no idea who’d written it, nor the circumstances surrounding it. I assumed it was a note given to George. Or it might have been one he’d planned to give to someone else and thought better of it. It could just as easily have been addressed to me. Whatever, and if nothing else, it was a kick start. Sometimes that’s what we need.
It wasn’t a physical kick (There was no room under the bed) but it was a mental jolt, like the friend who places an arm around your shoulder and tells you they believe in you. That’s a very brave thing for them to do, because the kind of person who says that kind of thing is going to end up stuck with you.
I needed something to sustain me while I wrote, but I was under George’s bed. I had no idea how the rest of the house was laid out, so I wouldn’t know where to find the food. It occurred to me that even if I found any food, I was ill-equipped to cook it. One revelation leads to another: Ghosts don’t eat. Do they?
Eventually, I’d gathered enough odd paper to make a useful pad. All I could find to write with was a crayon. A fucking green crayon. So then I began to write, in green crayon.
Should I really have been denied drugs, when it was that which drove me, once I learned to control it? Should those who thought they knew better have removed my lifeline? If I’d allowed them to do so, I’d surely have died from the withdrawal. At least that’s what I was afraid of. So I kept going. I kept shooting up. Then I ran away. I was 16.
Once you’re 18, the law says you can leave home without your parents’ or guardians’ permission. Strictly speaking, if you’re 16 or 17 and you want to leave home, you need your parents’ consent. But if you leave home without it, you’re unlikely to be made to go back unless you’re in danger. You are extremely unlikely to be obliged to return home if that’s where the danger lies.
It didn’t matter to me that I had nothing. Just as long as I could get a fix, I had all I needed. Even personal safety and well being become passengers when the heroin is driving.
There’s a dark magic within you. A frightful thing I cling to.
But as a ghost I couldn’t score, just as I couldn’t eat.
So I had nothing to do but write. It would be romantic to write that the flow of ink from my pen replaced the alchemy running through my veins, but I was writing with a green crayon.
The writing was a distraction, but it couldn’t mask the withdrawal symptoms. It turns out that even being dead can’t do that. So I was faced with the prospect of cold turkey, a cruel joke as I was hungry and couldn’t eat.
How could I write but not be able to eat? Actually I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure if it was delirium tremens brought on by my withdrawal, or the limitations of my new body, but I had no fine motor skills. I could rummage through things and pick them up, but I couldn’t do something like thread a needle if anyone had asked. I probably wouldn’t have been able to put a needle in a vein if I was alive, and I certainly couldn’t make my hands write. My fine motor skills were like those of a toddler. So I simply did what many authors do: They have an idea, some thoughts, a plot, and they’ll employ someone else to write their story for them: A ghostwriter. I was both a writer and a ghost. So I just thought my story; I willed it, in the hope that someone else might write it one day, now that I couldn’t.
I needed to haunt George.
I’ve read a lot and learned through self-teaching. I could have been so many things if it wasn’t for chasing the dragon. But that dragon must be chased, just as a puppy must be played with. So I’d read up on ghosts and the various types of haunting.
The “Crisis Apparition” is normally a one-time event for those experiencing it. It’s when a ghost is seen at the time of it’s predecessor’s passing, as a way of saying farewell to family and friends. It would be like going about your daily business, then suddenly seeing your mum outside of normal contexts. Minutes later, you receive a call to tell you that she’s passed away. With practice, the deceased may be able to visit you more than once, to reassure you. If they do that, you might have a guardian angel. In my case, a fallen one with broken wings.
“The reluctant dead” are ghosts who are unaware they’re deceased. They go about their lives as if they were still living, oblivious to their passing. This innocence (or denial), can be so severe that the ghost can’t see the living, but can nonetheless feel their presence: A kind of role reversal. This can be stressful, for both the haunter and the haunted. In films, it’s usually someone moving into the home of a recently deceased person. Perhaps they lived and died alone in their twilight years. To them, the living might be invaders. These are not ghosts which need to be exorcised: Simply talking to them about their death can help them to cross over and leave your home.
Then there are ghosts who are trapped or lost: They know they’re dead but for one reason or another, they can’t cross over yet. Cross over into what? Some may fear moving on because of the person they were in life, or they might fear leaving what’s familiar to them.
There are ghosts with “unfinished business” broadly split into two categories: A father might return to make sure his children are okay. Or a lover might hang around, making sure their partner finds happiness and moves on. But there’s also the “vengeful ghost”; perhaps a murder victim, back to haunt their killer.
“Residual ghosts” usually live out their final hours over and over again. They often show no intelligence or self-awareness, and will walk straight by (or through) you. Many think that these types of ghosts left an imprint or a recording of themselves in our space time.
Finally, the “intelligent ghost”: Where the entity interacts with the living and shows a form of intelligence. I certainly wanted to communicate with George. In fact, to lesser and greater extents, I fitted parts of the descriptions of all types of ghosts. I’d not long been dead and already I had a multiple personality disorder.
All I could see of George when he first came into the room was his feet: Black elasticated plimsolls and white socks, like I used to wear for PE. I couldn’t say what size his feet were but I imagined them having a boy of about ten years old attached to them. I guessed George was quite a hefty lad by the way the sky fell slightly as he climbed onto the bed above me.
I laid still, because even though I myself was inaudible, my developing motor skills would betray me if I dropped the crayon or kicked anything. I could hear pages being turned and I was aware of movement above me. It could be that George was writing; doing homework perhaps. I didn’t want to entertain an alternative. I hoped he was writing.
No matter what we do in this life, we may eventually be forgotten. It’s a comfort I gain from writing, knowing that whatever’s published is recorded, and will be out there long after I’ve gone. The democratisation of publishing and reporting has meant many good and bad things, but for as long as the conversation is global, we need to keep it going. There may be voices with whom we disagree, but through writing, we can posit an alternative opinion and seed a debate. Beyond all that is happening in our constantly evolving universe is a simple fact: What is right will win. What is right can emerge from the anarchic democracy which is the internet, but only if there are enough voices. There will always be sides and factions but with everyone involved, those who engage the most because they are passionate enough will prevail. We don’t need to shout louder than the other side; we simply need to educate the ignorant. Evolution will tell the story of whether we became a liberal race and prospered, or if we destroyed ourselves because we were unable to evolve. Either way, history will record it. If we destroy ourselves, eventually our history will be lost in the vastness of space and time, and it may be as though we never existed. From the quiet above, I gathered George was quite a deep thinker.
There’s only one race on this planet and that’s the one we all belong to: The human race. Where death may scare most people, it doesn’t trouble me. I’m seeing evidence that the human consciousness exists independently from the body and continues to live after our bodies give up or we destroy them. What does scare me is even more existential: Being forgotten, as though I never existed. The human race faces an existential threat: That of ignorance. Simply by talking, we can make a difference. Listen to the previous generations, for they are our history. Talk to the next generation and don’t patronise them: They’re intelligent beings. They are the human race and the future. Maybe George would be heard one day.
After a while, the sky fell further and the lights went out. George had retired for the night.
Ghosts can see in the dark. As soon as George had been quiet long enough for me to be sure he was asleep, I was getting restless. I moved around and stretched a bit. I’d managed to keep the shakes under control, but now George was asleep, the withdrawal was becoming quite uncomfortable. Despite my anxiety and a developing agoraphobia, I was tempted to just get out and run around; to do something to distract myself. I decided against it. I’d be like a child who’d just learned to walk. I would bump into things and knock things over. I didn’t want George to have a poltergeist: They’re bad. I’m not bad and I didn’t want to be the victim of an exorcism, made homeless all over again.
I thought I’d try my night vision out and have another go at writing. I managed to draw a crude stick man, a house with a smoking chimney and a space rocket with flames coming out of the bottom. He was a green man, who lived in a green house (so shouldn’t throw stones) and he had a green rocket which burned copper sulphate fuel (copper sulphate produces a green flame). I wasn’t evolved enough to write.
I fought an internal flame: One which was a danger I wanted to flee but at the same time, a beckoning warmth. I didn’t know what time of day it was, and I had no idea how long George slept for. He might be one of those kids who was in and out of the bathroom all night, or he might be near enough to adolescence that he hibernated. Either way, or anywhere in between, I couldn’t keep still for even a minute.
The shakes were more like tremors now: Delirium tremens: a psychotic condition typical of withdrawal in chronic alcoholics, involving tremors, hallucinations, anxiety, and disorientation. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens. The DTs were the manifestation of my other addiction, which I’d used heroin to cover up. It was somehow less shameful to be an addict of an illegal substance and hence a victim, than it was a legal drug which most people can consume with no ill effects. As an alcoholic, I was less of a victim. I was a sadomasochist.
As soon as you tell people you’re an alcoholic, if they don’t recoil, they just assume you’re always drunk. Or they presume that you must never touch a drop. Both are true in some alcoholics but there’s the “functioning alcoholic”, who still drinks far more than anyone should but who doesn’t get drunk. They can get drunk, but most functioning alcoholics simply drink throughout the day (a kind of grazing), to keep the delirium tremens and other dangerous side effects of alcohol cessation at bay. It’s called Alcohol Dependence Syndrome but most people saw it as a cop out. I couldn’t educate the ignorant, or get them to listen long enough for me to explain. So I started taking drugs. I got so tired of trying to explain alcoholism to people, educating their ignorance, that I gave up. You get much more sympathy as a drug addict. Yeah, right!
So as in life, this once functioning alcoholic is now a ghost.
For the brief period that I was on the road in the last life, one saying; one sentiment, was always to be heard in the homeless community: “Be safe”. Those two words convey much more than their brevity would suggest. But when you’re homeless, relationships and lives are fragile. It’s quicker and less sentimental to say “Be safe” to someone you may never see again than “I love you”.
Even if I was restless, I felt safe under George’s bed. To keep busy, I broke a promise and looked in the cardboard boxes. I placed the green crayon in my mouth, like a green cigarette. I sucked on it like a joint and the taste of wax was actually quite pleasant. It helped just a little as a distraction from the shakes.
The first box was a complete mixture: Sheets of paper, smaller boxes and random other stuff; like a model car, some Lego and, well, just all sorts. I gathered the papers first.
Some of George’s notes were apparently to himself: They were in a handwriting different to the first note I saw, so I couldn’t be entirely sure, but one such note read, “You came close a few times but you backed off. You didn’t want to be one of those boys who made her cry. That’s the only reason you did it.” If they were intended for someone else, he’d not delivered them.
There were unopened presents, and gifts addressed to others, but George hadn’t delivered them. Some things were wrapped, while others weren’t, but they were clearly intended for someone else as they had notes attached. A packet of 20 Marlborough Lights: “Should really have got two tens, then I could have given mum and dad one each. Like that’s going to stop them.”
I’d not seen or heard the parents. Without knowing even what day of the week it was, there could be many scenarios. In one, George’s parents argued a lot but they were very much in love. Perhaps they were frustrated and united against a common foe. With my parents, that was me. Whatever it was, I imagined something bonding them and keeping them together. That could have been George I suppose.
I wondered at what point in human evolution it might have been, that we started analysing things and where we started to over-analyse. Marriage guidance, or relationship management; fucking counselling, from professionals and the plastic police alike: We all have someone. We all love someone. They care about us and vice versa. But over time, something’s not right, so we take the lid off and start poking around in that jar. We keep chipping away, feeling more free to say things in an environment, which we might not in another. And eventually we say something irreversible. Something that’s niggling us deep inside and which doesn’t affect us until it’s dug up. And from there, the relationship breaks down further and ever more of the undead join the feast.
Rather than encourage engagement, that kind of situation can invoke the fight or flight reflex in the previous life; the past. And whether fleed or not, the past is history.
So we arrive in the next life with so much unsaid. We want to say it but we have to learn all over again, how to speak. And I suppose that’s why we want to haunt people.
George woke up. A light was switched on and the sky above me moved. I waited for the feet from above but there were none. There was movement like before, and the sound of paper. George must have been writing. Or drawing. After what I guessed to be around 20 minutes, he stopped, the light went out and the sky moved again. I was trembling quite violently by then, so I bit down on the crayon between my teeth and returned my attention to the boxes.
I don’t know what’s worse: to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone.
Do the first one: Get to know yourself and be happy with what you are. Then do the second: Those who loved you first time around will be the ones who are still there. So you’re not lonely.
The human body is merely a temporary host.
Put like that, we simply inhabit a body for a period of time, like a possession; In “life” we are already ghosts possessing bodies which give us physical form. That organic structure will age and eventually die, but our consciousness is separate from what we look at as a living body and it goes on living, long after the host gives up. Life, as we know it, is merely one part of an ongoing existence, the greatness of which we don’t yet understand. Knowledge comes with death’s release. You may well have lived in another body in a previous life: Deja vu tells us that; that feeling that you’ve been somewhere before. George had deep dreams.
The trembling had reached my head. There was more than one person in there, and the dialogue was two-way. I wasn’t talking to myself; I was talking to another person.
I began to realise that perhaps George and I were somehow connected. I always subscribed to pre-determinism in principle. A part of me knew that the Big Bang carried an imprint equal to its original noise; that everything was mapped out in that pre-spacetime manifestation of knowledge and understanding. I was drawn to believe that our futures were mapped out long ago, but that they were as inaccessible as our pasts: We had no control over either. Great swathes of George were alien to me. But why wouldn’t I explore, if George was my destiny? Or it could be the withdrawal, and I may have been withdrawing to a comfort zone. I couldn’t do that to George. What had this kid done to deserve me, inside him?
Life had been very much a game of give and take: If George had taken something, then he was indebted to someone else. If he received something and it wasn’t in recognition of anything he’d done, he was in someone else’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back. It was simply an accepted fact that life gave back far less than was put in. No-one understood him, least of all himself. Did I? Could I?
His life revolved around visits to toy fairs with his father. They couldn’t afford the mint-and-boxed or the ready-made, so dad would just look around and George would use pocket money to buy spacecraft parts.
Broken and incomplete model kits were fuel for George’s shipyard in a cardboard box under the bed. When weekends were over, the shipyard had to remain where it was. When George was at his dad’s to build his craft, he didn’t. Because time was too valuable. So we were at George’s father’s house and it was the weekend.
When he wasn’t constructing, he was thinking. And he made more notes. He made the normal in my life fantastical, by explaining how science fiction writers were just one small step ahead of the real world. George knew I was there, or at least that it was possible for me to physically be there.
There were clippings from newspapers and magazines in the next box, including an obituary: Jemma Redmond was a biotechnologist who died aged 38 in 2016, like so many others in that awful year. The passing of her life was overshadowed by many more well-known figures in the public eye. But like George, she worked quietly, tirelessly and passionately. And she achieved some incredible things. She developed a means of using human tissue cells as “ink” in a 3D printer. She also helped in the design of 3D printers which reduced the cost of their manufacture. Jemma Redmond made it possible to “print” human organs for transplant into patients, and she reduced the cost so that the technique could be applied in the developing world. This is not science fiction. This is science fact, just a few years from now. Most people wouldn’t have known, unless it was brought to their attention and they then had the attention span to listen. But if anyone were to Google her name, her work is recorded in modern history.
There was a printout of a scientific paper about NASA’s EMdrive. The Electro Magnetic drive is a fuel-free means of propulsion, which could replace rocket fuel and all its limitations of bulk and speed. The EMdrive could take a spacecraft to Mars in 70 days. At present, it’s a two year trip, with a lot of psychological and physiological risks to any humans making the journey. Many of those problems would be overcome with the EMdrive. It’s due for testing soon and with development and improvement, could make other stars in the galaxy viable destinations for exploration and research. This is not science fiction. He had articles about solar sail arrays, the size of Colorado, taking tiny scout ships out to explore the cosmos ahead of humans. All of this could be possible within George’s lifetime.
But very few people know about these things because all of the bad news in the world shouts louder. If more people knew about the technological and scientific thresholds we’re at, they might talk about them. Others would then learn and eventually there might be a chorus of voices so loud that mankind has to listen and consider another way forward for the species.
George thought what a wonderful world ours could be if we concentrated on this stuff, rather than religion, conflict and capitalism. Of course, George was young and naïve in the eyes of most. He’d never be taken seriously if he proposed an alternative plan for humankind. So he kept and curated records, and he wrote about them. Like so many other people, he was recording his thoughts in the hope that someone might discover them later, or when he was older and might be taken more seriously. He was aware that he was documenting the present and the contemporary, and that it could become either history or the future.
My trembling had almost taken control of my limbs by now. Where it was first shaky fingers, then hands, now my arms and legs ached as though they needed to spasm.
The light went on again and the sky moved. There was more rustling of papers and scribbling with a pen or pencil. I started singing a song in my head, as I wondered something: I knew I didn’t need to eat, but would I need to get my hair cut out here? It was a song by the Crash Test Dummies: God shuffled his feet. If crash test dummies were to have nervous systems, I knew how one might feel by now. The light went off and the little big man upstairs settled back down. I needed coffee: lots of cream, lots of sugar.
My coffee used to come from a jug on a hotplate. George was planning a replicator. He explained in his notes how a replicator was just one step further on from a 3D printer. Scientists could already print human body parts after all. To print a cup, then some coffee to fill it, was actually quite simple. George was keen to point out in his notes that one should always print the cup before the coffee.
Like the quiet voices of mankind, George could only imagine. He could only wonder at the sky, or lie in bed and dream of what was beyond the ceiling. Humans travelling to other stars was one lifetime away. It was only a matter of generations before the dream could be anyone’s reality. George wanted to be anyone.
George escaped in his sleep. And he explained in his notes how it was possible to travel all over the universe. Not only was it possible, but everyone does it, every night. Everyone has dreams and George wrote his down. The spacecraft and all of its missions were in the same cardboard box; a microcosm universe beneath George’s bed. He explained how time travel could be possible:
It’s a simple matter of thinking of space and time as the same thing: Spacetime. Once you do that, it’s easier to visualise the fourth dimension: I am lying beneath a bed and I’m occupying a space in three dimensions (X,Y and Z); my height (or length), width and depth. Trembling limbs aside, I will occupy the same space five minutes from now. So the first three dimensions have remained constant, but the fourth (time) has changed. But also, I did occupy that same space five minutes previously. That, and every moment in between is recorded in the fabric of space time: I am still there, five minutes ago. I know the past. I don’t know if I’ll still be here five minutes hence: I can’t predict the future, even though it may be pre-planned from the start of all time as we understand it.
Of course, there is what’s known as The Grandfather Paradox: This states that if I were to travel back in time and kill my granddad, I would cease to exist. But if we assume that in George’s new world order, various ethics committees exist in the future, then time travel to the past could be undertaken in a governed, regulated and ethical manor. It might be a little like the First Directive imagined in many science fiction works, where it’s forbidden to interfere in any way in a species’ development, even if that means remaining invisible whilst watching them destroy themselves. This in itself is a paradox because no-one is qualified to say that it hasn’t already happened, conspiracy theorists aside.
When you’re despairing late at night and you just wish someone was there, but you don’t really want anyone around. When you’re confused, perhaps by internal conflict. That’s when you need a guardian angel. If someone would just phone you at that time, that would be perfect, because you’re not bothering them. You’ve not caused them any trouble. Guardian angels need a sixth sense and the ability to travel back in time.
George estimated his brave new world to be around 200-250 years from now; perhaps ten generations. There was a long way to go and a lot to do, and George would most likely not see any of it. Or so he thought. He was young and he had much to learn, then he needed to learn how to deal with it. The things which George wanted to do were the things I regretted not doing.
All things considered, I thought it might be better to not let George know that one of his prophesies does come true. It was too soon. He wasn’t ready. I couldn’t let him know that it was possible to send letters from the future, or that people from the past could be visited. It was a one-way street, a bit like going to see grandma because she can’t get to you. The departed are still around, we just can’t normally see them. Often they’re just watching over us. Sometimes they might want to speak to us but we need to be receptive.
By now, my arms and legs were in full spasm and I could feel my torso waiting to convulse. I cleared everything from around me as quietly as I could, so as not to interrupt whatever dream was unfolding above me.
The human body has an internal mechanism which shuts it down when stimuli get too much. An inconsolable baby will cry itself to sleep, and if a pain becomes truly unbearable at any age, we will pass out. I hadn’t tried to sleep since I’d been dead, but it looked like I was about to be shown how to.
I don’t know how far I travelled in the fourth dimension but I was woken by a voice:
“Georgie?” It was a man’s voice. Dad was home.
“In here dad.” George calling to his dad was the first time I’d heard him speak.
“I got you your magazines.” Dad was now in the room, quieter but closer. He had big feet.
“Thanks dad.” George’s voice had changed. Now that he was speaking at a lower volume, his voice was deeper: Young George’s voice was breaking.
“Writing, the science one, and paper craft. Is that right?”
“That’s the ones. Thanks.”
“What’s all this?”
“Notes. I’m writing a story. Here.”
There was a long period of quiet. George was shifting about on the bed and his dad was pacing around the room. There was that same distinct sound of pages being turned that I’d grown used to.
“Jemma Redmond. I read about her. Amazing woman. Deserves a posthumous Nobel.
“The EMdrive, eh? That’s exciting. I think we’ll use that for the interstellar stuff, and the solar sail ships for the wider galactic vanguard missions.”
“There’s some pretty deep stuff in here Georgie. Did you do this all yourself?”
“Well, I kind of had some help.”
“From whom? I’d like to meet them.”
“You can’t dad.”
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“Can I smile?”
“You may smile”. There was a pause. “So, I had a dream.”
“We all have those. What about?”
“Nothing specific. Just a load of dreams mixed into one I suppose.”
“So you wrote about it. It’s good to write down your dreams.”
“But not all of that writing is mine. See, there was this girl.”
“A girl? In your dream?”
“Yes. A small girl, with blonde fizzy hair. And green teeth.”
“Green teeth? Was she a witch? Is she under the bed?”
“No. Well, she was kind of a witch. A dark witch but a good one. She was just wandering around, like she was showing me things. She might have been lost. I want to see her again.”
“I imagine you do. At least your witch has somewhere to live now.”
George left at the end of that weekend but it wasn’t the end of the story. He visits every weekend and he continues to record things for historians of the future. Eventually, he may realise that he was part of the machinery which kept the conversation going. He didn’t know this yet but he was encouraged in his chosen vocations.
I was there, under the bed. If I’d been able to write, I’d have just added a note for George:
Do what you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll be good at it and people might notice you. If not now, then in the future. Don’t put off till tomorrow that which you can do today. Because if you do it today and you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.
Your life is not empty and meaningless, regardless of who is in it or absent from it. Your life is what you make it, for yourself and for future generations. Don’t give up.
Hopefully George will continue this story, now history, but in the hope that it might be read in the future. Perhaps he’ll find the notes I left him.
Dust to Funky. Be safe George.
To this day, Dad has never gone through George’s things under the bed. I’d have noticed.
© Steve Laker, 2017.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
A question asked directly of me (and I assume of others) on Quora was, What made you realise you were a writer? I didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter, and the enquiry gave me the chance to pot some history. When you’re feeling shit about yourself (depression does that) and have no-one to hand, sometimes you just have to go over it all again for your own benefit.
They say not to dwell on the past and to move on, but I must never forget that my ability to travel forward in time obliges me to travel back every now and then, lest I forget. The penitent man in the eyes of God seeks forgiveness in a life of servitude in return for entry to heaven. The atheist with many more questions will forever carry the burden of guilt, but never seek the forgiveness of a deity made in another man’s image. So I write open letters to the other humans around the world, to whom it may concern…
As a human who writes, I don’t fear redundancy by technology just yet. For now there’s enough pure humanity still detectable in our own species to protect (most) writing as a human interface, where the readers’ and writers’ gains are more about preserving life than getting paid for what we do.
Every writer will tell you a different human story (their own), and mine is probably as original as most. I started writing on the streets, like a budget version of Charles Bukowski. I didn’t so much realise I was a writer as happen to be one.
I worked in London in print for 25 years, from the days of hot metal and the trade as an art, to the digital revolution and print as technology. From corporate finance and security printing in the 80s boom, to working with design agencies in the West End, print was always an industry fuelled as much by alcohol as ink. Deals were done in pubs and bars, and a lot of people made a lot of money.
I went on to run my own companies, latterly home-based when I was married with kids. But the alcohol in that environment wasn’t the same lubricant it had been in the city. Eventually my drinking got the better of me and I lost everything in 2011: Home, marriage, kids, business.
I found myself on the streets and only then realised that anyone, no matter who they are, could be just one or two luck-outs away from there. I literally had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. I had no TV, radio or internet. I was cut off.
Being December, I’d seek warmth in McDonald’s after I’d got enough money together for a coffee. I could read the free newspapers but there was nothing else to do. So I begged some money for a notepad and stole some pens from a bookmaker, and the rest is quite literally history.
Becoming a writer just happened, but what made me realise I was one? I’d never had time like that alone with my thoughts, and the opportunity presented itself to get some of them down. Many went into the blog as I’d use library computers, and others became the foundations for short stories (some of what I experienced out on the road people wouldn’t believe, so it’s easier written as fiction).
I got back on my feet, but I’m always an alcoholic (albeit a functioning one) so I couldn’t go back to work. After all that, I didn’t want to. In some respects, I was happier on the streets just writing than I’d ever been in well-paid jobs. I’d rather not have lost everything else, but were it not for that, I wouldn’t have become a writer.
It’s about freedom and satisfaction with life (there’s no point being a writer if you’re out to make a lot of money). My alcoholic breakdown left a lot of scars (on me and others), but those who knew me throughout said that I emerged a better person (and a pretty good writer). I look at the world differently now, in a way no-one can until they’ve been at that all-time low.
I don’t know what I’d do without writing, when I have so few physical people around my in real life. It’s hard enough living with myself, let alone burden anyone else, so I address much of what’s real in fiction. It’s not so much virtual detachment as the only coping mechanism I have, when to write beyond the headlines would be speculation. So long as that remains fictional, there’s hope, because the real life news is that my dad’s health is deteriorating and my son is the same teenage lost boy I once was. I hope we all get better as I’m the Marmite filling in a generational sandwich.
The whole of my life, before and after the fall, is in my books and online writing, a mixture of fact and fiction, real and virtual. From Linotype print to the scars of the road, ink flows through my veins and written into my skin. My words on the page are as deep as the tattoos on my arms: my children’s names, in Helvetica typeface.
Nowadays I tell my kids, be the best that you can at that which you enjoy the most, because then you give the most and you get the most back. My dad told me something similar once, and I hope that one day I will. I know I have good guides.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
We all have things we wish to say, but which we keep to ourselves, fearing others’ reactions. But avoiding a clash can be more harmful than the conflict itself, certainly for the side bearing a burden. I’m a left-wing liberal social democrat, preferring dialogue for mutual understanding, over confrontations of anger which quickly degenerate. A third option is sometimes to walk away, perhaps to fester and make matters worse. If others choose to ignore me, I can at least write.
I’ve previously described my life as chapters. It’s been partly a coping mechanism, when I dried out and tried moving on from my accrued guilt. But the alcoholic label is permanent, just as the repentant alcoholic’s guilt complex is a life sentence. My latest depressive episode is ongoing, as much in my personal life has reminded me of the fragility of being. Many of my previous coping mechanisms are redundant, so this is a new chapter.
I read inspirational quotes, some by great philosophers, telling me that the past was a lesson, that I should learn from it and move on. But that’s easy for them to say, when they probably don’t have chronic depression of my particular brand, and all the add-ons which come with it (and when most of them are dead).
My depression is compounded by living alone, interred by social anxiety, and where paranoia and guilt breed like bacteria in a Petri dish. There are plenty of opportunities to review the events of the last five years, and the many episodes which led to diagnoses of PTSD.
I can understand how others lapse (and I’ve come close), to escape a life of guilty sobriety as they previously sought to escape daily life. Some people I knew took their own lives, unable to deal with the constant voices; their own paranoia, and other people, who can’t forgive. My drunken years left marks on many, but most are reconciled. They’ve moved on, perhaps unaware that I can’t, but those who apply the permanent label continue to carve into my permanent scars.
I wish I could forget, but the only way to do that would be a gift to those who wish me ill. I’ve moved on otherwise, but I live the life sentence of regret. I won’t jump, as those who may otherwise push me might like. I’ll deny them their own selfish pleasure, just as taking my own life would be selfish on my part. These people are the enemy, not just my own, but of all whom I love and who care about me.
Chapter one was my life to 42, lived but not knowing why. Then my alcoholic mental breakdown left me with just a pen and paper, so I started to write chapter two. The third chapter started when I got a permanent home with a social landlord, where I’ve now lived for two years. I’ve been stuck in my mind, but I needn’t be in life. My humble needs of shelter and security are addressed, so even if it’s dark, I can write. Even if only a few read my words, at least I was heard. I live, even if some wish I didn’t.
I know there are others with these same toxins in their life, who can hold a mirror to these people, so they can see how deeply evil they are. Their lives are also lessons, when we who they look down on can rise above them. Because if you’re alive, they’ve lost. Then you can spend some of your living days silently taunting them, but not actually having to say anything: A real-life haunting. You’re just there, and it’s what they’ve been doing to you all along.
The blisters on my feet from walking around the issues others won’t address, I can turn into heat as I write the words.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
Two years ago today, I woke to the news of David Bowie’s further travels. Ziggy Stardust, the thin white duke, the cracked actor, Major Tom was a starman again. The news was delivered by text message from one of my best friends. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky…
It was news I wasn’t prepared for. David Bowie was immortal (but of course he is, just like the rest of us). He was back with the stars he came from, exploring further (“Knowledge comes with death’s release…”). It was poetic that I received the news as I did. Short of getting a telepathic message from the Starman himself, my friend was the best sentinel I could think of.
We’ve been friends for the best part of 40 years, we went to school together, and on my 40th birthday, he gave me a very personal gift: Bowie in Berlin; a book by Thomas Jerome Seabrook, which tells the story of the three-year period when Bowie made some of his most intensely creative music. We grew up with Bowie together, and there’s an inscription inside the book:
To my old friend,
These three albums [Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger] struck a chord with us, when we were younger. I remember smoking, playing pool and hanging out, with Bowie in the background. ‘Soundtrack to our lives’: Let’s live to it again.
Your old friend, T x
Along with my hi-fi separates and my signed copy of Diamond Dogs, the book is one of my most treasured things. When I was ill, had my breakdown and ended up on the streets, my ex-partners looked after my belongings until I found my own place, for which I’m forever grateful.
At some point during that period of homelessness, I dreamed that I’d one day have a place I could call my own, with copies of my own books dotted around. It was a daydream, as I sat in McDonald’s scribbling in a notepad (I probably still have it, as I managed to retain most). I knew I’d most likely never work again, so I wondered, “What the fuck…”
I was street homeless for three months (in winter), sleeping in garages and on benches (and once in a bin). Then for six months I had the squat, and a further seven months of sofa-surfing followed, before I took the tenancy above the pub. After a year of suffering that landlord, I was offered the place I have now: a small studio in a quiet village, and with a social (legal) landlord. After my first year as a tenant, I was given an indefinite rolling tenancy. It’s the nearest someone who doesn’t own their own place can get to actually having one.
All of that covers a period now just into its fifth year, and all documented on this blog. As I’ve noted several times, I needed to have a base before I could really sort myself out. Conventional wisdom works the opposite way, but if you give a human shelter and take care of their basic needs (like food and warmth), the rest will follow.
The day between Bowie’s birthday and the day he left, has become a day of reflection. Last night, I sat and looked around my little place, thankful for all I have and all I’ve done, and for the guidance. Because if you believe in the universe, it will talk to you.
I picked up The Unfinished Literary Agency from my coffee table, and I had a flick through: It really is a very good book, of which I’m proud. It’s my fifth, published on the fifth day of my fifth year as a writer, and my shit don’t stink.
We can all be heroes, even if it’s just for one day.
“And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor.” (Five Years, David Bowie).
The Unfinished Literary Agency is available now.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
It’s curious how things can turn out when you don’t plan them at all, like being homeless at Christmas, or a black cat landing in your lap. But then when looked at from a long-game perspective, it’s like the plans were there all along. Lately it’s been things in real life coming together which are freeing me up at a handy time to be writing. It’s like having atheist prayers answered, so that everything fell into place, despite Christmas.
It was four years ago now that I tried the life of the tramp, and like Charles Bukowski, I eventually used it to write. The last few Christmases have been family occasions to a gradually greater extent, but with my mind still very aware of the rest of the world (including the homeless, near to our own homes) while most people shut themselves away in a family bubble.
The girl I wrote about a few weeks ago found some answers she wasn’t looking for, in places she wasn’t expecting. In another sci-fi story, she spoke as the last human, to animals and to technological beings, and her alien angels subtly intervened. She remains the Marmite filling in her family’s generational sandwich, and it’s a family extending far beyond pure blood bonds. But it turns out that it doesn’t matter who likes white and who likes brown bread, so long as they all like the filling.
For my part, I’ve finished The Unfinished Literary Agency, that being the second collection of short stories from my typewriter. It’s 17 new stories, some of which have appeared on this blog and been published elsewhere. Others are unique to the book, and there’ll be a further few bonus stories, re-imaginings and adaptations of old ones. The stories are complete, with just a few changes to make to one, to increase the effectiveness (offensiveness), then there’s just the publishing bit to do.
I’ve decided on the running order, so that the collected tales tell a longer story in the context of the book. Once the remaining compiling, editing and proofreading are done, I should have a final page count, cover price and publication date in about a month.
There are other stories coming out of the typewriter and there’ll be further volumes. With Christmas now available to get this next one out not in time for Christmas, I can concentrate more fully on my family and local history book. It’s a journey I’m enjoying, even more now because things have conspired to give me the space.
So at a time when others will be with family, I’ll be writing about mine, then when we all meet in January, I’ll have a new book. And when the kids come to stay with me at their grandparents’ house at Easter, the whole Marmite sandwich will be in another.
Christmas is a placeholder for many dark memories, and the roots of at least one of my PTSD diagnoses, but this will be the one which puts it back in its place. And you don’t need a date on a calendar to tell people you love them.
I didn’t have to pray, and no-one had to get on their knees. Somehow, everything just came together, overseen by unseen alien angels. And it’s only weird if you make it that way.
The Unfinished Literary Agency ISBN-13: 978-1979983556
Silent Gardens ISBN-13: 978-1974367900
My previous books are available on Amazon, and can be ordered from most book shops and at libraries (for reference and borrowing).
The more you embrace and engage with a thing, the more it will talk back to you, consolidating you as a component in something greater. We are all made of stars, and as I’ve become more connected with the universe around me, I feel more accepted, not so much by people (I don’t fully understand myself) but by the place in which I live. Yet I still don’t feel at home, despite being as secure as I’ve ever been personally. Medical science and human psychology put this down to my depression, anxiety (mainly social), paranoia, and PTSD by virtue of hangover, but as someone who questions, I wish to know more.
Knowledge is fear for some, but I fear little (heights and formal social occasions mostly, but not the dark, spiders, snakes, nor even death), because of my understanding of quantum physics and the eternal human soul. The only part I fear, is the actual transition, the mode of extinguishing this life. Hopefully, it’ll be quietly in my sleep, but I do worry about a traumatic death, yet I don’t fear what comes after, as I have a pretty good idea of what’s there. It’s just like wakefulness and sleep, with that transitory phase between the two being the one we never recall. Perhaps on the other side, I won’t actually remember how I got there. Quantum physics suggests that it’s simply the continuation of one parallel universe, when another becomes impossible to inhabit in my fleshy human form. In my new, ethereal ‘body’ (my ‘spirit’), I then have eternity to explore the universe, unencumbered by any physical restrictions. To me, that’s heaven. And yet to others – with less enquiring minds – being presented with all of knowledge would be simply overwhelming: It would be a personal hell.
I prefer constructive debate to blind argument, because no matter how opposing or polarising, I seek to understand the reasons for the opinions of others. If I can understand an objection, all the better to deal with it. Through debate comes greater understanding and further discussion. Alas, there are those who are too blinkered in their ingrained (and inbred) prejudices to debate. Deluded they’re right, or scared they’ll be proven wrong, they act rashly, and ignorance causes conflict and war. Our entire planet is teetering on a balance, where all of humankind’s endeavours could be used to discover and explore, if we don’t use them to destroy ourselves first. It’s selfish elitist greed vs. longer-term thinking. Naturally, I’m of the latter camp.
So if I don’t understand something, when learning more about it might help me to do so, I will question, interrogate, read, research, listen and learn. With my depression and anxiety – although those are perfectly good labels for the medical profession – I want to learn more about them, to better understand them, so that we can co-operate rather than fight. Seeing as it’s all going on in my brain, that’s a place where I’d far rather host a party than a riot.
I’ve written before on this blog, of how my alcoholic descent into nothingness (having nothing and being nothing) somehow woke a previously latent lobe in my brain. It wasn’t an epiphany and it was a gradual process, but as I sobered up, I started thinking about the bigger things. With no possessions and nothing to do, there were few distractions. Life on the streets was shit, but it was where I met humanity, when their own humanity is all that people have left. I lived in a world without money, but it was also one without government. And I lived in a squat, where social anarchy prevailed. Seeing life in an orange glow of Sainsbury’s Basics, with all veneer stripped away, allowed me to see life’s roots.
Maybe I was just appreciating life, in a way I never had, but in a way which was the norm for everyone else. But as I became more and more in touch, I saw members of the public (the name homeless people use to describe the superior social classes) for what I’d been before: automata. Freed of responsibility, I also found freedom of expression. Obviously I eventually became a writer.
Since I’ve been friends with the thing in my head, I’ve questioned those labels placed upon it; mental illness, for want of anything better. But that’s such a general and inexact term, for what I’ve found can be used as a gift. I’m disabled through mental health, yet it’s that which has expanded my mind, with all of the self-improvement (or delusion) which comes with it. I recognise my brain, not as unwell, but as something which has things which make it unusual. And because of that, it interests me, so I’ve interrogated it.
Yes, I talk to myself. And yes, I smoke weed. It’s pretty obvious I’m pro-cannabis, because I’ve found it to be so helpful in calming my anxiety and broadening my mind, hopefully improving me as a writer. When I think existentially, I don’t see a world which others have always seen, and which I missed because I was drunk; I see a greater picture now, which the automata most likely never will in their distracted lives.
I try to place myself in some sort of pan-position, because it’s easier to understand that which you can look at from above or outside. It extends to politics, where I’m obviously left-wing, but I see more in social anarchy than conventional liberal socialism. I’m comfortable with my gender alignment (male), and I present as a heterosexual, but I identify differently, in my recognition of five gender types, in line with Native American beliefs, before the invasion and brainwashing of the Pilgrim Fathers. The five genders are male, female, two-spirit male, two-spirit female, and transgender. Although I’m not homosexual, I appreciate the aesthetics of the male human body, just as I do the female (artistically, rather than erotically: I’m a writer). I’m in touch with the feminine side which all humans have within them, but not a transvestite, although I do dress slightly effeminately sometimes. So I identify as two-spirit male, but I have two-spirit female in me as well. As such, I identify personally as pan-sexual (it’s more embracing than asexual, which is contextually inaccurate anyway).
I’ve been called (affectionately, I think) an alien (and many other things, less affectionately) in the past. With this in mind, I set off to find out more about me. I didn’t send off a DNA testing kit, I researched some of my thoughts, feelings and theories, and some of that research was in forums on the dark web. Apparently, I could be a Starseed, which I liked the sound of, so I researched some more. Probably the most accessible article I found, was one called What is a Starseed and how to find out if you could be one, on Learning Mind. Keep a mind as open as mine, and humour me here:
“Star Seeds are beings that have experienced life elsewhere in the Universe on other planets and in non-physical dimensions other than on Earth. Star Seeds may also have had previous life times on earth.”
That comes from the Sirius Centre of Ascension, no less (yeah, I know). But before I dismissed it as the Sirius Centre of assumption and blind faith, or of condescension, I kept an open mind and read further (and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is real, after all). And I must admit, I could relate. Obviously, one can apply any old bollocks to human traits, but it’s no more bollocks than the bible or a personality quiz, and fits better with my scientific mind, validating, vindicating and verifying (or at least complementing) my universal appreciation based on quantum physics and maintaining an absorbent mind.
From the Learning Mind article, I learn that Starseeds are highly intelligent beings (I’ve got an IQ of 147: Does that count?) that come from far-flung corners of the universe, when previously I thought I was from Catford. Starseeds are advanced souls (well, I’m in touch with mine) who have wisdoms humans cannot comprehend (which goes some way to me not being able to work myself out fully). Starseeds are not aware of their true identities (pan-gender and pan-political aside) but have come here to help mankind evolve to the next level of higher consciousness. So I figure that’s what I’m supposed to do. And I do already, especially with my ongoing counselling of young people.
The article goes on to say that I didn’t know about my mission until the time of my ‘awakening’ (I’d been drunk). Again, it all sounds a bit quasi religious and spiritual, but there was that slow non-religious dawning I wrote of. These awakenings can range from sudden and intense, to serene and barely noticeable. Seeing as mine was propelled by weed and not fuelled by alcohol in the latter stages, mine would be one of those, if indeed that’s what it was.
Whilst no one really knows where Starseeds come from, their purpose on Earth is clear, the article asserts. Mine wasn’t at all clear to me, before the age of 42, and even now, there are things I remain unsure of. But apparently I’ve come to usher in a new dawn for mankind; a new spiritual awakening, that will raise the consciousness of the whole planet. It sounds a bit grand, but that is what I’d quite like to do.
Starseeds are (apparently) naturally empathic and intuitive, and have a fascination with science and astronomy (true, and many things besides, like what makes those work too). They are naturally drawn to subjects that include the universe, space exploration and discovery, and they believe passionately in life on other planets. Well, I am, and I do.
Then the Learning Mind article offers 30 things to look for:
You have always felt that you don’t belong here.
You have a fascination with images of the Earth.
You believe you have travelled from Earth and may think you have been abducted by aliens.
You feel intrinsically different from everybody else.
You don’t feel at home here and could imagine living on another planet.
You have a deep resonance with the universe and sometimes pray to it to get a wish granted.
You are fascinated with science-fiction and prefer to watch TV programmes or films that feature this subject.
You feel out of place and prefer to spend time alone.
Large gatherings of crowds bother you and make you feel trapped.
You prefer to live somewhere there is plenty of open space.
You often feel as if you have higher morals than other people.
You always see the bigger picture.
You have an innate sense of empathy that can be overwhelming at times.
You feel as if you can fly and often have dreams where you are travelling above the Earth.
You feel trapped in your physical body and feel as if it is holding you back.
You feel as if you are incredibly special and have some sort of mission to perform.
You have had a paranormal experience.
Animals are drawn to you and you understand them intuitively.
Even at a young age you were questioning rules and regulations and may have been rebellious as a teenager.
You instinctively know if someone is lying.
You are spiritual but not in a religious sense.
You are a good listener and people often come to you for your unbiased opinions.
Sometimes you feel overwhelmed by the problems in the world as they make you feel helpless.
You have incredibly vivid dreams that are full of colour and imagery.
Strangers often tell you their deepest secrets and problems.
You have recurring dreams about space travel and aliens.
You suffer from social anxiety.
You might find life a struggle as you try to find your true purpose.
You have always been an old soul.
You feel that the rules of society don’t apply to you.
With one or two exceptions, I can relate to each to varying degrees (I’ve written about some on this blog). I don’t believe I’ve been abducted, but it may be that that’s by design. And I feel younger than I ever did, but Starseeds come in three different flavours anyway:
‘New Starseeds’: Those who just arrived here and not had that many lifetimes on Earth (I don’t remember any: see above).
‘New Age Starseeds’: They’ve been here for many lifetimes and are here to help the planet achieve a higher consciousness.
‘Old Soul Starseeds’ that have lived hundreds upon hundreds of lives on Earth and are at the end of their journey through space.
Based on what I know, that would make me a noob.
“All Starseeds are here to share their knowledge, wisdom and assist in the ascension of consciousness in individuals and in humanity. Their mission is to help humans understand that earthly problems are immaterial and there are much more important lessons to learn about spirituality and attaining a higher level of consciousness. Whether you believe in Starseeds or not, they are here to shine a light on humanity and are powerful beings that want to propel us to the Golden Age of inspiration, love, creativity and advancement.”
You get me?
It’s a bold claim and one I make light-heartedly, mindful of the ridicule it might attract. But I smoke cannabis and I wear my heart on my sleeve, and this is my blog, my story. It’s said that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, but I’ve not been sectioned yet.
I don’t place myself alongside other thinkers suspected of being not-of-this-planet: Albert Einstein (IQ upwards of 160), Stephen Hawking (160), Garry Kasparov (190), and I’ve only known my own IQ since I sat an invigilated exam last year (and I have the piece of paper to prove it), so my continued enlightenment feeds that. I’ve been guided most of my life by the Starman himself, the man who fell to earth, and who said that knowledge comes with death’s release. I have no immediate plans for release, but my mind has plenty of capacity for expansion in sobriety and cannabis.
Just a note on the weed:
If ever you’ve been smoking cannabis and you’re doing some dishes, bear this in mind: If you try to move the mixer tap from side to side by holding onto the water coming out of the tap, it will not work. This is not to say cannabis is bad for you, just that you’re in touch with the quantum universe and shouldn’t operate machinery.
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