An irreversible misadventure

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

EDIT: World War 3 was always going to be a technological conflict, and one without national borders. Eventually the war was between humankind’s bi-polar ideologies. Essentially it came down to what it means to be human.

In a test of how my new fabric conditioner works, I’m hanging out some old laundry. Fashions change, but I wrote this three years ago: After the pre-amble, a hacked story of how warring factions in a video game don’t see the common foe which might unite them.

Back in the 1980s, I was a teenager. These things are subjective, but for me, that was the best decade to be one. Back then, I’d sit in my darkened room, tapping away at an Atari ST, a Commodore Amiga, and latterly, my first IBM PC. We had four terrestrial analogue TV channels back then in the UK, so I collected films on VHS tapes. Most nights I’d watch a US teen movie, with WarGames being a personal favourite. I’d envy the kids in those films, with their cool rooms, their computers hooked up to dial-up via an acoustic coupler, and watching US cable TV.

The-Only-Winning-Move-is-NOT-to-Play
The only winning move is not to play

Then my first life took over. I got married, we moved to London and had kids. I worked in print, up to group director level, before I set up a business with my ex-wife and we were successful for a while. Then the drink took over and it all peeled away, so that eventually – after ten years – I found myself back in Tonbridge and on the streets.

I’d lost everything and I had nothing: No home, let alone anything to put in one. The only thing to do, to occupy my mind, was to write. That was almost four years ago now. In those early days, I wrote about anything and everything. In one of my old notebooks (which I still have), I wrote of where I wanted to be, ‘when this is all over’. It took a lot of work, but I recovered, and now I have what I wished for then: A stable base, where I can write, surrounded by the things I loved; a place I’d wanted to be when I watched all those old films on VHS. That was a small place (I was never going to be able to work again), which I gradually filled with all the things I’d wanted as that teenager: A huge film collection, loads of books, a big music library, a good computer, and a decent number of TV channels. I’m not in a financial or physical place where I can have satellite or cable, as the latter isn’t laid around here, and my building is Grade I listed, so I can’t have a dish. My village internet is too slow for any streaming service, so I’m stuck with Freeview. But I’ve found UK Freeview to be just like the old US cable channels I used to see in those geeky 1980s films: Car crash TV, half-arsed documentaries, good and bad films, cult American TV, geeky and conspiracy late-night stuff. I’ve kind of recreated my teenage wish, and now I can enjoy catching up on all I missed, because I was drunk. I’m retro.

I wrote most of the stories which make up The Perpetuity of Memory while I was homeless. Not long after I’d written about reliving my teens, I wrote the story below. I won’t be posting all of those stories on this blog, as I’d rather people buy the book and read them in the order they’re curated, which makes the sum of the parts a complete book in itself. This one is timely though, coming at a time when my personal life is somewhat mirrored now in some of the elements of the story, and it has nods to WarGames, something I’ve become wearily involved in in my personal time lately. There are other references for the sharper-eyed film geek to spot too.

It’s apropos of nothing though, that I can feel a depressive episode coming on, such is the nature of those things. Others who deal with depression will know this feeling: That something is in the post. It’s an analogy, and there’s nothing expected in the mail, but the mind of the chronic depressive can sometimes do this. There is no trigger and no individual event or situational catalyst, it just happens. I deal with situations and events as they come. The latest one which threatened my karma was someone making personal remarks in ignorance. Having told the individual to cease and desist, they clearly didn’t recognise it as a term usually used at a pre-legal stage as a final warning. It seems that some people might only see vindictive lies as the slander they actually are, when they’re served with a legal notice, have to repeat their baseless argument in court and lose a load of money for defamation of character. I’ve given pre-legal warning with the cease and desist request, so I’ll only have to pop this particular boil if it continues to irritate. One of the many great things about being a writer, is the knowledge and contacts you pick up. All writers have to be conversant with copyright and common law, so most have a lawyer friend. And like all depressive episodes, the one which seems to be brewing may not even happen. Like some people, they’re just an annoyance, but you can’t legally warn a depressive episode not to happen.

The best distraction for me is to write. On that front, I’ve been put in touch with a professional book reviewer, who’s going to review Cyrus Song. One of my short stories is currently with a creepy pasta site, so there may be a short film coming soon. And I’m writing the sixth of 17 new short stories for my second collection. The story should be finished and published in the next month. Then there’s the personal history book I’m working on, which ought to take on more form at the weekend, when I’m hosting my parents and a shoe box full of old photos.

For now, a short fable, about what can happen when someone wanders blindly out of their depth…

L177L3 M155 &Y

If you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite supply of typewriters, they will eventually transcribe the Complete Works of Shakespeare. The way things had progressed so far, it felt to Andy like every time her monkeys got to the last letter, one of the little fuckers would hit a wrong key. And so the process would begin again. She looked as the green-on-black text on her monitor scrolled through brute force attempts to crack her current holy grail of a password. She read the scrolling text on her screen in duplicate as it reflected back from her spectacles.

“This isn’t working, Vic.” Andy addressed the keyboard in front of her: an old Commodore Vic 20. Launched in 1981, the Vic 20 home computer pre-dated Andy by twenty years. It had five kilobytes of memory, a processor speed of 1.1Mhz and a graphics display of 176 x 184 pixels. Andy liked the keyboard and the retro look. Although the computer inside was fully functional, it was just the keyboard for her set up: a high end gaming PC under the desk, which she’d built herself and which would make a PS4 look like the Commodore. It was like reading her geek magazines, hidden inside a copy of Just Seventeen on the subway.

“Andrea?” Andy’s dad called from downstairs. “Sam’s here.”

“Thanks dad. Could you send him up please?”

“Yep. Up in her loft Sam.”

“Thank you sir.” Andy heard the steps creak as Sam ascended. “Hey bitch.”

“Dude. How’s things?”

“Oh, you know: different day, same shit. Jesus fuck, Andy! Do you ever clean up here?” Sam looked around at piles of newspapers and magazines; notebooks and pens; pizza boxes and dirty clothes.

“Only when I have to. I mean, when I absolutely must go out and I’m passing the garbage cans anyway? Besides, I prefer Salt n’ Shake to Shake and Vac.”

“Doesn’t your old man get mad? I mean, he’s a clean freak.”

“That’s why he keeps me locked in the attic.” Andy smiled. “Nah, dad’s cool. He keeps the house just as he likes it, and as far as he’s concerned, the loft is my apartment. I’ve got all I need up here: bathroom, refrigerator, cooker; couch, TV, DVD player…”

“Do you spend any time with your dad?”

“Every Sunday. We have brunch at his, and his eggs are to die for.”

“At his; downstairs.”

“Yeah, I know it’s a bit weird, but dad’s just as private as me. We’re totally different, but we get on well if we keep the doses small.”

“Your dad’s cool.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty special. And anyway, he’s too busy competing with next door for the best manicured lawn.”

“Yeah, what’s with that guy next door?”

“He’s just a creep. When I do go out? He’s always at his window. I swear he’s jerking off.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Nah. He’s a lonely old man. He’ll die pretty soon.”

“You freak. Anyway, why’d you call me over? What you up to?”

“Well, I figured I’d see if I could give the computer hardware something that might actually challenge it. There’s a rumour among the geeks that the next generation of consoles will sort of skip a generation: a kind of quantum shift. So the PS5, or whatever they call it, will not be to the PS4 as the PS4 is to the PS3. The PS5 will be more like a PS6 or 7. So they say.”

“Well, they say a lot, don’t they?”

“Yeah but they’re well connected. Anyway, no-one knows what this great technological leap is going to look like, so no-one’s writing code for the new consoles. There have to be games out there with developers though, right?”

“I guess.”

“So, I’ve been using the dark web and I’ve picked up a few tools. Right now, I’ve got my system looking for other computers with lax security and having a poke around. Nothing too malicious: we’re just looking for specific file types which would suggest that a particular computer is being used to develop games.”

“Andy. Do you really think that kind of thing would be sitting on a vulnerable system?”

“All systems are vulnerable to the kind of tools I have. Anyways, when I find a computer which would be vulnerable to a less well-armed hacker, I leave a calling card with instructions on how to shore up the holes.”

“How very noble of you.”

“Oh, come on. Just because Joe public is a bit dumb, doesn’t mean they deserve to be hacked by malicious amateurs. I’m a white hat hacker, Sam.”

“And you’re pretty good at it. Judging by the screen though, it looks like you found nothing yet?”

“I’ve found plenty of cracks into systems and I’ve got them all saved. This latest one is proving a tough nut to crack. Let’s see what I got from some others.” Andy switched screens and a list appeared. “Welcome to the backstreet, where all these good folks left their back doors open.”

Hey, you got a bank.” Sam pointed at an entry on the list.

“Well, someone would have to be pretty foolish to give their account details, PIN or password to anyone on the phone, but they might as well hand over their house keys if banks leave doors open like this. Gotta make a note of that one: might come in handy some day. This one looks interesting.” Andy hovered the mouse over an entry on the list. “Doesn’t identify itself.” She clicked on the unidentified vulnerable computer.

Welcome to Drone Doom.

Please wait…

“We found something Sam.”

Game loaded.

Drone Doom is a collaborative project, designed for the next generation of games consoles. Combining real time data with augmented reality, the game is played in the real world, using drones.

Take control of a Doom Drone and the game will augment itself with Google Earth to give players a real life, ‘live’ video feed in which to play the game.

Played online, Drone Doom enables players to collaborate or act as lone units. Fight as part of an army, or act alone: the choice is yours. As a combatant, players are safe: you take control of a remotely operated drone in a field of conflict. The only limit is your imagination and morals.

You will see the real world through the video feed from your Doom Drone. Defeat enemies and witness the destruction first hand but from a safe distance. STRAP A WARHEAD TO YOUR FOREHEAD!

Points are accumulated by killing enemies and recorded in the game database, so that players may compare scores. THIS IS OLD FASHIONED, HIGH SCORE GAMING!

Upgrades can be earned as a player progresses in the game, or as in-game purchases. Please note that Drone Doom is beta-testing and not all features may be available during development.

Please choose your theatre of conflict:

A cursor blinked on the screen. “No list of options? What do you think?” Andy turned to Sam.

“Help?” Sam shrugged.

“Give it a go.”

Help.

Help not available at this stage.

“Hmm…” List games.

Game list not available. Drone Doom is open-ended and scenarios are generated by players. Once released and online, Drone Doom will offer a choice of real world live scenarios and those created by users. Please note that because of the nature of the game, decisions are one-time only and irreversible. Once committed to a scenario and in control of a Doom Drone, a player may only exit by means which may become apparent once inside the theatre. In the real-life scenario, a soldier would not dessert his or her comrades and this extends to drones operated by combatants remotely. Physical separation from battle provides a degree of personal safety for a Doom Drone operator but as soldiers, we must fight alongside one another and obey the same moral rules that we would if we were there in person.

Laws and ethics of war.

The international laws of war (such as the Geneva Conventions) govern the conduct of participants in war (and also define combatants). These laws place a burden upon participants to limit civilian deaths and injuries through proper identification of targets and distinction between combatants and non-combatants. The use of completely autonomous weapon systems is problematic, however, because of the difficulty in assigning accountability to a person. Therefore, current designs still incorporate an element of human control (a ‘man in the loop’), meaning that a ground controller must authorize weapons release.

Concerns also include the human controller’s role, because if he is a civilian and not a member of the military (which is quite possible with developmental and highly sophisticated weapons systems) he would be considered a combatant under international law which carries a distinct set of responsibilities and consequences. It is for this reason that the ‘man in the loop’ should ideally be a member of the military that understands and accepts his role as combatant.

Controllers can also experience psychological stress from the combat they are involved in. A few may even experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Professor Shannon E. French, the director of the Centre for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University and a former professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, wonders if the PTSD may be rooted in a suspicion that something else was at stake. According to Professor French, the author of the 2003 book The Code of the Warrior:

“If [I’m] in the field risking and taking a life, there’s a sense that I’m putting skin in the game … I’m taking a risk so it feels more honourable. Someone who kills at a distance—it can make them doubt. Am I truly honourable?”

“Blimey.” Andy ran her finger through the text. “This is pretty deep. I need to find out more about these quantum consoles. Meanwhile, let’s see if all my hardware is brutish enough to handle this thing. If all my work and cash spent on building this gaming colossus can’t handle this, I need to give up and just go back to buying the latest console, queueing with the masses for days. One thing…”

Drone Doom rules.

“Rules” are a construct of whomever writes them. The rules of Drone Doom will be dictated by the collective conduct of players. Two rules are however hard-wired, etched in stone and transmitted for future recipients to interpret: once a Doom Drone is disabled, a player may leave the arena. A player’s comrades will note the downing of a drone. The game may be paused at any time. This feature is necessary, but use of it should be with the greatest caution. If every player in a party of 200 were to pause for refreshment, this would become impossible. A battle would be lost. Breaks will normally be arranged within parties but it is important to underline the weight of the rule:

THE GAME CAN BE PAUSED AT ANY POINT AND FOR ANY LENGTH OF TIME BUT ALL PLAYERS WILL BE PAUSED. THE GAME WILL IMMEDIATELY RECOMMENCE FROM WHENCE IT WAS PAUSED.

The PAUSE GAME function is not to be considered a light undertaking.

You are free to choose but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.

“I want this game!” Andy turned to Sam. “Sammy. Do you see what this is?”

“Yes, I do. Well, I see what it could become. Fucking hell.

Play game.

Join an existing theatre of conflict or create one of your own?

“Fucking hell, Andy.” Sam pointed at the screen. “We can pretty much do what we want. And until the game goes on public release, we have total freedom from judgement. No-one else is here.”

“Pretty cool. Where shall we go?”

“Syria? Take out some of so-called Islamic State?”

Syria.

Loading database.
Selecting random mission.
Loading Google Earth data.
Loading military intelligence.
Please wait…

Mission loaded.

Mission details: Take control of an MQ-1 Predator Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle, armed with 1x AGM-114 Hellfire missile. Enemy agents are known to be installing Improvised Explosive Devices in the field of conflict. Identify and eliminate targets. Location classified.

“Wow.” Andy stared at the computer monitor.

Play.

The screen turned black for a second, then a slightly grainy and distorted image appeared: a small runway, stretching ahead.

“I can’t say the graphics are up to all that.” Sam squinted at the screen.

“This is a remote image from thousands of miles away. How much more realistic do you want?” Andy took hold of her joystick. “I assume I fly this just like I would any other simulator.”

The drone accelerated along the runway, then Andy pulled back on the joystick and they were airborne. A heads-up display was overlaid on the remote footage, giving altitude, speed, distance and direction to target, as well as in-screen miniature feeds from cameras mounted on the rear, sides, top and bottom of the Predator. Distance to target read 1KM and Andy could already make out tiny figures in the fields ahead. She zoomed in on the front camera and could see six men digging holes, placing something inside and covering them up.

“Andy?” Sam pointed at the men. “How do we know that those are insurgents burying IEDs and not farmers sewing crops? I mean, it’s a bit grainy and distorted.”

“They’ve been identified as targets. That will be based on military intelligence. Our job is to fly the drone and complete the mission.”

“I need to pee. May I use your bathroom?”

“That’s a little more information than I needed Sam but go right ahead. Mi casa su casa.”

The figures on the ground grew larger, before a cross hair appeared on screen with a message:

Target selected. Fire at will.

Pause game.

“Sam! Sam? Obviously taking a shit.” Andy stood up and looked out of the window in front of the desk. Her neighbour stood with his back to her, leaning against his garden fence and just staring straight ahead. “I wonder what’s going through his mind. Something sick, no doubt. Sam! Sam! Oh, fuck you then Sam.”

Resume game.

Fire.

The Hellfire missile accelerated in front of the Predator, then bore down on the targets. Within a second, a flash of explosive light blew them apart. Andy heard the lavatory flush.

“You missed it Sam! Come see what we did.”

“Sorry, I think I blacked out for a second in there.”

“You okay?”

“I’m fine. Jesus Andy!” Sam looked at the screen as Andy switched to the camera beneath the drone and zoomed in on the scene below. Not a single human limb remained attached to a host, nor intact. Small parts of disintegrated humans littered an area a hundred metres in diameter. “Now, that’s realistic!”

Mission complete.

Civilian casualties: 6.

“Fucking, what!?”

“I’ve always said that ‘military intelligence’ is an oxymoron Andy.”

“Fuck, man!? Okay, Drone Doom: you mentioned in-game purchases. Let’s upgrade.”

“What are you gonna to do Andy?”

“What am I gonna do? Nuke the fucking American base. Watch…”

“I know it’s only a game but if all that shit at the start is true, who knows where this could end up. The FBI? It’s a bit harsh, Andy.”

“You’re right, Sam. It’s a game. What better way to make myself feel better without anyone really getting hurt?”

“You’re mad.”

So Andy bought an MQ-9 Reaper drone, strapped a tactical nuclear weapon onto it and flattened a US military base.

Mission complete.

Combatant casualties: 425.

Andy stared at the screen. It was less than two minutes before the flash from outside was reflected on the monitor from her spectacles and she felt a sudden heat. She looked up and saw the mushroom cloud in the distance. “Oh, fucking hell. No. No, no, no!

Pause game.

GAME PAUSED…

“Fuck, no. Sam?” Andy turned to Sam but Sam stared, unblinking at the monitor. “Sam!” Andy shook Sam but he didn’t respond. She let go and he slumped back in his chair, his head tipped back and he continued to stare straight ahead, now at the ceiling. “Oh, god Sam.” She shook him again but he was like a stiffening rag doll. Andy checked for a pulse: faint. It was as though Sam was frozen and fading in time. Andy looked at the computer monitor:

GAME PAUSED…

She looked out of the window: The mushroom cloud had frozen.

Andy rushed downstairs. Her dad was asleep on the couch. “Dad?” He didn’t respond. She shook him: nothing. Andy sat next to her dad, and lay her head on his chest. In the three minutes she spent there, her dad’s breathing slowed.

She burst outside and the mushroom cloud in the distance was still exactly the same. She noticed her neighbour, still leaning against his fence. She ran to face him. He was staring straight ahead. Andy waved her hand in front of his face. She slapped his mouth. Then again, harder. A third time, even harder, drawing blood from her neighbour’s mouth and her skin. She lifted him up and let him drop to the grass. “He’ll be dead soon.”

Andy turned to face the cloud. “I guess that makes me the last of the monkeys.”

GAME PAUSED…

© Steve Laker, 2016

The fourth world war will be one of words.

My books are available on Amazon.

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Elephants in the atmosphere

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

A talented writer whom I respect, said of me in a review, “It takes creative voodoo to sit me down and give me a novel to read. It takes even more dark magic to get me excited about a fictional piece of work. I only respond to mental stimulation that puts me in a story…”

His is a mind entwined with my own, and he’s the author of a book I’m reading at the moment: Acupuncture of the Mind. In my own mind and many others, I’m just the occasional elephant in the room, which travels with its own atmosphere and requires a different kind of gravity to step among the surrounding eggshells. In many respects, we all are.

ElephantsSalvador Dali

Like horses galloping on coconut shells, mine is a loud story, some of which is told on this blog. Other parts are in my stories and books, and still more will travel with me one day. Mostly it’s quiet, and elephants can float. For now, I’m landed back on something resembling my home planet after a recent episode.

Actually, to call it an episode would give it less credit than it’s due, when previous ones on my medical record only resulted in failed attempts to leave life. This latest one arrived like many before, then didn’t leave. It was the difference between seeing a UFO and beaming on board. Yeah, I was smoking, but that’s the best analogy to paint.

Just recently, my physical life has had to traverse landscapes far more frightening than the daily ones of the life I once lived on the streets. Once I found writing, I knew there was a way to deal with things. Then I stopped writing recently, which was odd.

Writing only what I feel I should, balancing my need for an outlet with what anyone really wants to read about, I’m not sure what to write. Yet I’m a writer, and it was writing which pulled me out of the depression before. I create my own paradoxes.

Lately it’s been more about people I care about than myself. When you’re me and you’ve done what I have, most people are better than me. I’m sober, but I remember being drunk.

To forget would be to drink again, and I won’t put anyone else through that. I go through it alone, perpetually in sobriety. To end that would be more selfish than anything I did before, so it’s an inescapable penance. And there are people who need me, by invitation.

My adopted kid sister is still fighting to keep her baby (the one I’ve been given debatable godfather duties with). My dad continues to remind me of the frailty of life, but inspires me with his spirit to fight. The mother ship is somewhere between Joss Whedon’s Serenity in SciFi, and a graceful duck beneath the surface. These are all things concerning others which I can only write so much about, but which have been consuming me.

It was the pen which saved me from death by bottle, but while I’ve not been writing this blog, I’ve not lapsed. I’ve perhaps smoked more, and I’ve thought. I wondered what was worth writing, and if it was worth sharing. But a blog is a platform, a soap box. Even if the speaker perched on top doesn’t have a coherent message, at least they have a voice.

A blog is an up-turned table, which could be used to flip the message on the writer’s life. It’s my stage. Whether or not I have an audience, it’s my open diary for all to read.

So that’s the real life and virtual life I was having so much trouble separating but trying to connect. When the physical is lived alone, the virtual becomes more real (the subject of more than one of my short stories). But in the spirit of maintaining the blurred lines, these were a few of the things occupying my mind today:

On #Brexit: “They may be fictional, but most of the Starfleet captains could teach Earth politicians a lot…”

On the #SyriaStrikes: “Well, this is feckin’ interesting: It adds weight to theories that we’re watching the playing out of a plan made long ago (‘Conspiracy theorist’ is a derogatory term applied to those who think more)…”

And on the latest developments in #WorldWar3: “Theresa May says the Syria Strikes were ‘In the national interest’: I beg your fucking pardon? Is that not why we have a Parliament and voters who elect our representatives? Tory Hypocrisy. The national interest? #NotInMyName…”

Those are all from my Facebook timeline, not my author page. I’m staying on Facebook, because to run away is to submit to the defeat of democracy. I’m grateful I have people to spend time with, wherever they are. The world is only as big or small as we make it.

My problems are universal. We are not a machine. We have autonomy, and we can be rebels if we still want to be.

We could still be heroes.

Twisted Shakespeare’s Sisters

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.

Mouth sewn shut

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.

Thinking more of the writer

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’m getting to know myself, and more of who I am, all over again. Occasionally my solitary life forces me to do that, like a brain reboot after a depressive episode. It’s happened before but it’s one of those traumatic things you tend not to remember until it hits again. It’s becoming reacquainted with the whom…

IcebergAbove and below the waterline: what I write, and what’s in my mind.

It’s a meeting convened inside the mind, between factions who have to always occupy the same space, so dialogue and understanding become survival, when a lesser mind might wish to end the conflict by giving up on life. I’ve been there before, when a voice constantly reminded me of the inevitability of death. But then I went off to learn what happens when we die from science, and I wrote about it. For this latest encounter, I became mediator of my own mind again.

For the conversation to start, I needed to withdraw to the theatre of conflict: My brain. And therein is where I needed to go, to work out what’s been up with me lately, as the field I surveyed was quite empty: I actually didn’t have enough on my mind to keep it functionally occupied. Just as I’m capable of seeing most situations from an outside perspective (in fiction, and the issues others have), sometimes it’s hard to transcend my own mind.

An above-average IQ is nice, but it can be a poisoned chalice and sometimes the host of the mind can’t see the woods for the trees (The Girl with the Snake Scarf is a fairy tale about finding a third way: A coping mechanism for others, and for me as I wrote it. Sometimes my own stories help me as a reader to look into my mind, to see how it was on a previous setting.) My problem was, I’d split into two. The writer had become separate from my depressed other self, and had separation anxiety from its own ideas factory.

Inside myself is not a good place to be if I don’t have enough thoughts to distract me. It makes the issues I need to address more stark. That inner world travels with me and if I’m only thinking of myself, I’m paranoid of my surroundings and the people therein. But if I go out and my inner writer is working on various projects, I feel more personally confident. So I am. The writer interrogated the other mind’s depths, and came up with some stories. I confronted the thoughts, rather than flee. I had to, as they were in my head and there’s a writer in there too, who can help get them out.

I’ve plotted and begun writing three new shorts, coming to an eZine soon, and included in a third anthology I’m planning (as yet untitled). There’s a tale of human consciousness as a virus (perhaps you wish could be cured, so you didn’t have to think about how awful your species is). There’s another, where life on earth is an accident, and no other life exists anywhere in the universe. Depressingly dark ideas on first inspection, but they’ll be tales with likely twists or surprises, as happens when the author spoke into the black mirror of a cracked mind.

Cyrus Song (the eBook) got taken up on the free offer a few times on World Book Day: Not huge numbers, but enough to tell me that someone is reading it, a complete stranger, somewhere unknown. And that’s a kind of magic, that’s why I write.

What would be the point of leading the rest of whatever life I have left, in a quiet and orderly manner? None at all. Life is not a singularity, and even the most introverted ones want to be shared.

An active mind fuels my insomnia, but rather a lucid mind than a dead one, empty of all but inward reflections. Inside my head is a universal microcosm. If I feel low about myself, that encourages the paranoia I have of how others see me. It’s a self-propelled paradox.

I’m writing this late at night, and working on those new short stories. I’m actually sitting in a scene I could imagine for a story, but which I don’t have to, because I’m in it: A writer, sitting in front of a window, illuminated by a desk lamp and writing on a typewriter. The moths look in, and seem eager to read what I’m writing.

We make our home under piles of words, we make friends amidst the pages of books and we find comfort in between a full stop and the next capital letter. We feel in italics and reflect in capitals. With an obsession for the written word and words dangling from our fingers, yes, we’re writers.” Aayushi Yadav, from “Inside A Writer’s Mind”.

Writing intended for reading

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Rather than freshly back, I’m jaded from a week away, without actually going anywhere. It was a week in which I found myself conducting some sort of twisted social experiment, on myself (when there’s only oneself for company, there aren’t many others willing to be experimented on): I stopped writing. It was a depressive episode, a writer’s block, everything which helps the others along.

writing_on_the_wall_by_blue70Blue70, DeviantArt

It started with separation anxiety, after my last monthly visit with my children. Geography and finance are the governors of that infrequency, so the time together is precious. Meanwhile I was helping some friends with their own issues, yet no-one seemed to have the time to ask me how I was doing. No-one asks, so I don’t get the chance to tell anyone how it tears me apart every day. That’s just what living alone is like, and no-one seemed to be reading my writing.

Christmas had already been a solitary one for many people around me: a family mostly reliant on public transport, and regular visitors to my studio displaced by their own families (one was having a baby).

Aside from the monthly outing with the kids (a known and practised quantity), anxiety means I find travelling very difficult. I have mobility issues, even though my disability isn’t physical. This causes problems in itself, not only by being a self-perpetuating mechanism, but by rendering me almost exclusively displaced, unless people come to me. But it’s often the same people I’d like to get to myself, and therein lies the biggest issue.

I’m not able to demonstrate how much I care for some people, not through an inability to express myself (sometimes I do that a bit too much), but because my brain keeps me locked up. It’s frustrating, and it must make me look pretty shit when I won’t get on a combination of buses and trains to visit someone in hospital, but it’s the invisible disabilities of anxiety and paranoia which make it that way. So I feel even more shit about myself, which fuels the depression.

I want to tell people about my own struggles, but I don’t want to be a burden. I want to help with theirs, but don’t wish to intrude. I care about people but I don’t want to bother them. Then I wonder if that makes it look like I don’t give a shit. It’s all self-perpetuating.

So I’m living alone, feeling pretty hateful towards myself, missing a load of people who can’t visit me and who I wish I could go to myself. But the same regular visitors I might rely on as chaperones are the others who’ve been away. Another self-propelled paradox, just like anxiety and paranoia, which have no place together, other than to encourage each other along. I wished I had someone to do that for me.

I questioned my value as a writer, and as a person. I’m living alone and lonely, I’m depressed, and I’m an alcoholic: surely the perfect storm, at least for a relapse.

Although such a thing might have pleased some, it didn’t happen. I’m diagnosed with alcohol dependence syndrome, self-managed with controlled intake. The term ‘functioning alcoholic’ doesn’t mean someone who gets drunk but just about maintains bowel function, it’s someone who drinks little and often throughout the day.

I didn’t hurt myself, and there was no attempted suicide. That would be a failure and a defeat. If I wanted to kill myself, I’d make sure I was successful. The only attempt at anything which could be pinned on me, was some attempted accounting I did when I wound up a couple of my old companies, before the rest of my life fell apart. I got over that, so a depressive episode wasn’t going to beat me.

Episodes of depression are like unwelcome friends or relatives: They turn up unannounced, with no prior warning and no idea of how long they’d like to stay. Friends and relatives of someone with depression might sometimes fear to tread, wondering how long they’re likely to be lumbered. Sometimes you have to place yourself in others’ positions to see how they see things, and you may not like what you see. It’s all part of living alone with depression, but I do wish others could appreciate what depression actually is. Anxiety breeds paranoia and vice versa. They conspire together, and loneliness magnifies it all. Sometimes it wants to kill me, but I won’t let it.

Just as some advanced species in my sci-fi writing have transcended war, concluding it to be a waste of time, I try to rise above a situation. The only way to explore it is to question it, and write about what I find. Thoughts can quickly grow when you’re your own sole interrogator.

And there it was, staring me in the face, like it had been all along. Except I was so wrapped up in myself and with no-one else to point it out that I didn’t see it. Another paradox. I was away from home, while still being at home. I didn’t feel at home being away, even though I was here. The thing I’d lost was the writing, and I’d only stopped doing that because I didn’t think anyone was reading me. I still don’t know, but why should that stop me?

It begs other questions, like why can’t I go out and write, if writing is my home? That’s a whole load more blog posts. For now, it’s all I have, so I’ll just keep doing it, doing it at home, and seeing what happens. Just as in real life, I need people to find me, as I lack the confidence to find others.

It’s only writing which gives me a reason to live. If people don’t read me, is that less reason to live? When I have no-one else to talk to, is my writing just talking to myself?

Now that I think about it, it’s the only thing I can do. If no-one reads, it means it’s more private and I can say more. I’m a socially anxious writer with things to say, and it’s perfect, because that’s the kind of thing people like to read. It’s a paradox which works.

I write, because one day I won’t be able to. My words will always be there to read, even when I’m no longer around. All I have to do is leave them where they can be found. Unlike my attempted accounting of old, I’ll persevere with my attempts to be read.

A book, a ninja and some smoking joints

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Cyrus Song (the novel): due early 2018

My recent depressive episode ended as unexpectedly as it had started, such is the nature of those things. It was a relatively short one, lasting barely a week. As usual, my coping mechanism has been writing. Smoking weed and having a dear friend along for the ride helped too (thanks).

I despair of the world around me at the moment; The wider world, not my personal planet. While I can talk and write about the former, hoping to make some sense of it, sometimes it’s easier to escape to the latter. And so it’s been this week.

Encouraged by a test reader (my own, personal ninja), I’ve committed myself to Cyrus Song, the novel. This was originally planned for publication after Infana Kolonia, my sci-fi epic, but such is the scale of that book that it’s a long way off. So Cyrus Song (the book) is scheduled for release sometime early next year. The original short story which spawned the new book is in The Perpetuity of Memory, along with the sequel, The Cyrus Choir. For the financially challenged, original versions of both stories are still on this blog. The third in that series of shorts, The Babel Fish, will be online this weekend. Meanwhile, I’m adapting them to become chapters in the novel. Here’s a synopsis:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk…

Simon Fry is convinced that the answer to life, the universe and everything, is in the earth itself. Specifically, he believes that if he could talk with the animals, he’d find the answers. Or at least, the questions which need to be asked for the answer to make any kind of sense. Doctor Hannah Jones, a veterinary surgeon, has a quantum computer, running a program called The Babel Fish: Like its fictitious namesake, the Babel Fish can translate any language to and from any other. Elsewhere, Mr Fry considers what might be possible if historical scientists were able to make use of all that would be new to them in the 21st century. Having watched Jurassic Park, he is fairly sure he can make this a reality. So begins one man’s quest to find answers to questions he doesn’t know yet.

Cyrus Song is the story of Mr Fry’s voyage to find answers and love in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s pretty obvious that it’s in part a tribute to Douglas Adams and the first stories have been praised as such. Like all fiction, there’s a part of the writer in it and it was during conversations with my test reader this week that I finalised the overall plot in my mind. If I’d been talking to a different reader, the book might have taken an alternative route, but others were unavailable and wrapped up in personal affairs. It was handy to have my Ninja one as she provides a personal as well as a creative kick, and that’s what I needed this week. Every writer should have a personal ninja, especially one who humours one when one has been on the weed. Cyrus Song has its own Facebook page, where it’ll post updates on itself.

I’m churning out more short stories for publication online and elsewhere, some of which will end up in my second anthology, due out later next year. With my short stories now tending toward the longer end of the spectrum, there will be fewer, more in-depth stories in the second volume, provisionally entitled Reflections of Tomorrow. By happy coincidence, it looks like there’ll be 17 stories in the next collection: There are 25 in The Perpetuity of Memory, so that’s 42 in total, which is nice.

It took me three years to write and publish my first three books and it will be a similar timescale before these next three are out. If I manage it, I’ll have six books to my name, when (or if) I turn 50.

Just so long as I can make it to 49, then I’ll have reached the same age as Douglas.

Strange days indeed (Most peculiar, honey)…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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This week, the UK has started to dismantle the achievements of 60 years: A period of unparalleled peace in Europe, security and prosperity. Brexit is an epic act of self-harm, under a Prime Minister who has further divided an already fractured nation. And this week, I’ve been suffering one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve had in a while.

As others will testify, depressive episodes are really good at what they do: They come without warning, for no apparent reason. Sometimes they last for hours and others, for weeks. Then you never know how long it’s going to be before the next one, how long that will last, or how severe it will be.

Panic attacks are like being mugged; anxiety, like being stalked; and an episode, like having all those assailants and stalkers in your head at the same time. Then they all sit there: They sit around in your brain, sipping tea and stealing your biscuits like there’s no tomorrow, chatting away about your life, and never knowing when to leave. It’s like a trip to a scary place; a mental place, far from home. Then you watch the departure boards, as trains and planes are announced, then cancelled. You’re lost and stuck. This one’s a youngster: Today is day three. Welcome to my brand of depression.

I don’t have the luxury of what some might call “triggers”, any more than I have an early warning mechanism. There are always things to maintain and entertain an episode though; things which might not normally bother me, if I knew what normal was: Things like failed Amazon deliveries of my books, when their system tells me I’ve signed for a package, then I have a burden of proof negative, trying to persuade them that I really didn’t receive my goods. And at the moment, I have an excruciating tooth ache, which is as varied in its severity and duration as any depressive episode; ergo, I’m constantly on edge about when the next attack might be launched. And my local Tesco Metro didn’t have any sea bass, which is what I’d planned for dinner tonight. First world problems I know, but ones which affect me more than they should. Because they are now in the “Unknown” or “Unaccounted for” pile in my mind: Lost, with me helpless to do anything, except expect a possible resolution sometime. But not knowing when that might be causes me further anxiety.

My depression, the tooth ache, the deliveries and the unavailability of fish, all conspire to take an already low mood and systematically hammer it further into the ground. Sometimes the only thing to do is sleep, which is difficult with chronic tooth pain. So I get over-tired; a condition I once thought the preserve of fantasist parents. So I suffer insomnia. Once, drinking would have been a solution but it’s a testament to my resolve that I don’t lapse.

This too shall pass. And it will, as they do. And although I’ll go back to simply hiding it and others will think I’m okay, I’m not. At the end of each depressive episode, you lose something; They take something out of you. Even though it’s barely perceptible, after each episode, you will never feel as good as you did before. The new happiness plateau is lowered, permanently.

Of course, there are valued sympathetic friends but many of them get the other problem: That being clinically depressed can often mean you don’t want to speak to anyone, because you don’t know what to say. Depression can be unfathomable. Then there are still the others, who feel I brought it all on myself. My depression is deep-seated, originally triggered by a robbery at knifepoint. Then I drank as a coping mechanism and the drinking took over. Then I lost everything. I suffered many things which induced PTSD out on the road. It was a rough ride. But it was my fault in the eyes of some. And it’s that which has resolved me to get rid of more of those people permanently from my life; to erase them and deny their existence. To paraphrase an old friend, who wrote recently on social media:

Because the most depressing thing of all, is Brexit: Sorry, but I’m going to find it hard to talk to or engage with those who voted for it. They’re fools. I’ll certainly find it hard to forgive them for what they’re doing to me and my family. What they’re doing to their own? Well, that’s their affair. Perhaps that will change and I don’t like the fact that I feel negative towards them for this. But I’ll absolutely never forget it. I don’t think any of them have or had any clue what they were doing, except those to whom chaos was the only desirable outcome (who are just evil – I don’t know anyone like that I hope, that’s the Dacres and Hopkins and Farages of this world – true scum that we don’t need on the planet, let alone in this nation). But they’ve associated with, and driven the agenda of, howling degenerates, racists and bigots like that with their vote.

For the record: I don’t stand behind it. I won’t stand for it. It’s the biggest act of civil stupidity I can think of in recent times, in a supposedly major world economy and state. Where once I was proud of the United Kingdom, it is no longer that: It’s broken, divided, and I’m ashamed. As soon as individual EU citizenships become available, I’ll be near the front of the queue. I wish Brexit hadn’t happened, as much as I wish my breakdown hadn’t happened. But it’s happening, and I can’t stop it, any more than I can end a depressive episode.

They are brilliant at metaphorically flooring you, and keeping you on edge otherwise, with paranoia and anxiety about the next attack. Previously, they’ve landed me in hospital when I’ve overdosed but this one has come with a psychosomatic condition, as they sometimes do: Uncontrollable vomiting this time, which kind of insures against keeping pills down. So I shouldn’t be bothering any doctors this time: Every cloud.