The journalist who ate himself

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

A self-consumed writer’s inner psychologist suggested writing just one page freestyle. I have one sheet of paper…

woman-finds-mysterious-typewriter-made-from-human-teethWoman finds mysterious typewriter made from human teeth (Sightings.info)

I’m lonely, but I like it that way. There are few actual people I like, and even fewer I actually enjoy spending time with beyond mime. If my life was a filmed social experiment, my behaviour would depend on the number of available rooms. If there was only one, I’d be there on my own. Like I am now, at the writing desk in my studio.

I write frantically most days, hoping something will sell so I can pay the bills. Most days it’s just freelance, writing copy for websites aimed at the enabled and entitled.

Some of the work is interesting: I recently wrote some articles for a US client about medicinal and recreational Cannabis. Most of it’s tedious though, an insult to the wordsmith who sells property on plantation land, and spread betting positions to speculators on the natural disasters market, for less than minimum wage. Often the brief is so vague as to give the client license for rejection of the copy, retraction by the author, and later plagiarism.

I feel better now there’s something at the top of the page. A blank sheet of paper in the typewriter is an empty universe. With something to look up at, I feel there’s a life of a writer above what I write next. If I had more paper, I could tell the whole story without having to chew on my fingernails. The freelance work I do is covered in non-disclosure clauses, but if I had freedom and a whistle, I’d be able to eat again.

The words I already wrote float like clouds of Alphabetti, which at very long odds have fallen into something legible. They only did that because I wrote them that way.

So apparently I can control the weather, at least with pasta steamed in its own container. My intestines know how I feel.

If I can play God, why do I just want to gather letters from my storm clouds and throw words at people? Because I’m lonely and want attention; I can’t just come out with it; or I’d like to share a meal?

In any case, I’m at the bottom of the page in the typewriter, I can’t afford more paper and I’m hungry.

An A4 sheet of Smythson White Wove contains few calories, but the seasoning of ink lends flavour. Tomorrow, maybe the sun will shine.

© Steve Laker, 2020

The Unfinished Literary Agency in fiction, and in fact…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Unfinished

The Unfinished Literary Agency is a fictional entity which I’ve used in a few of my own stories. It’s based above Hotblack Desiato’s property agency in Islington, which actually exists, by virtue of the owner being a Douglas Adams fan. I can almost forgive the guy being a property agent because of that alone. I like to imagine he gets the irony of being one of the professions loaded onto the B Ark when the Golgafrinchans rid themselves of an entire useless third of their population in The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My fictional agency exists to tell the stories of those who are unable to tell them. As Paul Auster once said, “Stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.” So the Unfinished Literary Agency employs writers to tell the stories of others, which is pretty much what writers do anyway.

So I wondered if such a place might exist online. Surely, there would be lots of people who have stories, and many writers grateful of ideas? Well, that’s why there are ghostwriters, of which I am one. But my motivation for writing is more than money, of which there is very little. For me, it’s the reward of having someone tell me how much they enjoyed something I wrote.

An example in the public domain, is my award-winning children’s story, A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie. It was written when I was lodging with a family while I was homeless, and the family dog died. As someone who sees animals as people, I saw Jake’s passing as that of a family member, not a pet. I remembered losing many animal people of my own and not being able to find a coping mechanism. Eventually, that came in the form of Goodbye, Dear Friend: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Pet, by Virginia Ironside. Like me, she saw the loss of an animal person, rather than a replaceable pet. But those most affected by the loss of a family member are invariably children, who might be unable to express or understand their grief. I remembered again, not being able to find anything when I was a kid. So that’s how the children’s book came about, and it’s been variously praised for how it deals with life’s losses and changes, through the eyes of a girl and her talking dog. Anyway, if your animal friend dies, there’s a book for that.

One of the stories in The Perpetuity of Memory is called String Theory: It was written for (and therefore, by) a young lady I met via her mum, again, when I was homeless. The young girl was at a transitory stage in life, where she was about to move to secondary school, with all of the internal changes which someone of that age will also have to deal with. She was a little bit lost, so I (she) wrote String Theory, which is about a puppet girl on strings, who learns to fly.

I had to conclude that there is no real or virtual online place which does what The Unfinished Literary Agency does, to tell the stories of others. If such a place were to exist, there must be so many untold stories to feed it: Children and adults alike, facing challenging situations, which fiction might help them to see and understand in a different way; the terminally ill could be given immortality, people could become known and remembered. But such an agency would need a staff of purely altruistic writers like me. And there are many who ghostwrite like me. The unfortunate truth is, something like The Unfinished Literary Agency couldn’t be monetised, so it would have to operate on charity alone.

People have asked me how things might have been different if I’d started writing earlier. If I’d gained a degree in literature, then gone straight into writing as a professional. The simple answer is, well it didn’t fucking happen like that, did it? In fact, the main catalyst for me becoming a writer, was when I was homeless, without possessions and with nothing else to do. It turned out I’m pretty good at it by all accounts. And by living a life before I came out as a writer, I gained experience. I lived the stories which I can now tell, and I met the characters which I can now inhabit, while developing my own. I’ve been complimented on the depth of some of my characters. That’s because, like most writers, my stories have a part of me in them. And I’ve put other people I know into stories too, with The Unfinished Literary Agency, and The Human Lending Library, from Reflections of yesterday.

In yet more stories of mine, there are protagonists and narrators who are writers themselves. In some of these, the fictional writer’s actions make the story more real: Writing is art, after all, and the beauty of an individual piece is often to be found in the unique marks left by the human artist. One such story is the title track from The Perpetuity of Memory. Another, The difference engine, will be published in early July.

I’m already a ghostwriter, for stories I write for other people and which are published without bearing my name. With stories like A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie, and String Theory, the arrangement was symbiotic: I told someone else’s story, by writing a story of my own. As a writer, I was given an idea and turned it into a publishable story, which the person I was writing for was then able to see in print. In a couple of cases, that person bought a copy of the book containing their story, then arranged privately with me to send it to me, to sign and return. Others have asked for this, even though they’re not in any of the stories. While I’m still on the literary fringes, this is something I have time to do and it’s something I enjoy. Because it’s another thing which is more than money: It’s a personal touch, which people appreciate.

So far, I’ve avoided politics. But in making another prediction (and I’ve been pretty much spot on previously), I’m predicting a Universal Basic Income to be part of Labour’s manifesto for a second parliamentary term. If so, something like The Unfinished Literary Agency could become real, with writers more able to work for a greater good with a reliable minimum income in place. Until then, it will remain a purely fictional place.

So for now, The Unfinished Literary Agency has but one writer in residence. But as I’m not driven by money, I will accept commissions. I’ll write the stories of others, free of charge, and both parties gain a little warm feeling, through helping someone else.

And for as long as I’m writing, I’ll always be happy to sign copies of my books.

The Perpetuity of Memory; A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie; and The Paradoxicon (my original, semi-autobiographical novel) are available now. My next sci-fi book, Cyrus Song, is due for publication around October.

The dark matter of the dogs

THE WRITER’S LIFE

dark-matter-dog

I appeared to have a day off earlier. That is to say, I looked around this morning and this appeared to be a good day to take off. As such, I should be relaxed. But no matter how good everything is, that fucking black dog is always there. It’s somewhere, though I can’t see it.

This isn’t the black dog once used as a metaphor for depression: I’ve got that one on a lead and walking to heel. This is the anxiety hound. Ever since anxiety was placed at the top of my list of mental health problems, it’s the one that’s been hounding me.

Things could hardly be better: Benefits and freelance money have started to come in; I’ve bought a few gadgets for the writing desk; and I’ve pimped the typewriter, so it looks cooler and more mine. The fridge, freezer and cupboards are stocked; I’ve got a ready supply of alcohol, tobacco and weed; I’ve added to both my music and DVD collections.

On the music front, I’ve added the back catalogues of Bat For Lashes and Charlotte Hatherley (ex-guitarist with Ash). With a music collection running to the many hundreds of titles and with eclectic tastes, it’s rare that I’ll leave an album on loop all day but Grey Will Fade by Charlotte Hatherley is one such disc.

Film wise, I’ve completed the Savage Cinema collection, as defined by the most authoritative lists. There were three titles missing from my collection, by virtue of them being unobtainable through price (one would have set me back £395) and being banned. I’ve found a workaround though and now Begotten, Aftermath (Genesis) and The Titicut Follies complete the “100 most disturbing movies of all time” collection and about 400 others. Unlike their 97 stable mates, I couldn’t get originals with cover art but better to have them and to complete the collection than not.

The latter title is an out-of-print documentary by Frederick Wiseman, exposing the mistreatment of inmates inside the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater. As my journalistic output through freelance work has increased, I’ve taken a greater interest in a number of things and begun to expand the Savage Cinema with a non-fiction section. It’s small at the moment but it already includes some important films by John Pilger, Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer.

Films like Into the Abyss, by Herzog and The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer) are not pleasurable viewing but they are brave films by some of the more maverick film makers. Into the Abyss is a series of conversations with death row inmate Michael Perry and those affected by his crime; an examination of why people – and the state – kill. The Act of Killing is a documentary which challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to re-enact their mass killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. These are very powerful films.

Why do I watch documentaries like these? Why would I want to collect them? Because, just like the Top 100 “Nasties”, these are important and affecting films. I want to be affected by what I see and hear and the films I collect are effective in achieving that. I like to explore and learn about things, however troubling that knowledge may be. It means that I’m informed, not blinkered, and can pursue subjects and causes in an educated manner. The democratisation of media and blogging means that I have an instant publishing medium with a global audience, to talk about things.

The move into documentaries was prompted by freelance writing and it’s feeding me with ideas for fiction writing, so life is self-perpetuating.

And it’s not my consumption of controversial films which feeds my anxiety. In fact, the documentaries such as those above make me appreciate how lucky I am, when I consider the cruelty which mankind is capable of inflicting on his own kind. For me, life is comfortable.

The day off didn’t really work out in the end: A freelance client has asked me to write some copy and it looks interesting, so I’ve taken it on. I’ve written this of course. Later, I’ll probably do some writing. In that respect, I never want to take a day off. I just wish some days themselves weren’t off.

Yes, the anxiety can be crippling, but there are many worse places to be.

I, am a product…

THE WRITER’S LIFE

crass-flag

The story of Crass and David King

…I am a symbol of endless, hopeless, fruitless, aimless games.

I am aware, through bitter experience, that the benefits system is a filtering mechanism by design. Having taken my claims to tribunal twice now to prove my mental disability, I have gone where few have the resources and stamina to go. As with most claimants who persevere to that stage, my appeal was successful. But it’s a dehumanising process.

At the moment, I qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Severe Disability Payment. Yet still the Department for Work and Pensions seem intent on making life as difficult as possible sometimes. It deadens the spirit and devalues the person.

I’m going through the same process as I did two years ago and, like then, I’ve won recognition of entitlement and am now battling to receive the funds due to me. I can see why so many claimants simply don’t (or can’t) go through the whole process because it is enough to make one ill. The irony is, that seems to be the intention and my successful appeal feels a somewhat pyrrhic victory.

This latest battle is just drawing to a close and my benefits will be back paid to my original claim date. In the interim though, my benefits have been sanctioned and although I’ve managed on my own, I can see how others with more responsibilities and dependants might not. It is a system which I would rather not be a slave to but upon which I am reliant, because I have quite serious mental health issues preventing me from doing any kind of work.

The fact that I’m a writer is a fortunate coincidence and one which I’m begrudgingly grateful to the system for allowing me to do. It has been recognised that I am unfit for work but that writing is therapeutic for me. Furthermore, I am permitted to work and be paid within certain parameters. Being a self-employed freelance writer, working from home, fits into all of those guidelines.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, the pay for freelance work is poor but it’s a means to an end for me. Writing for others allows me to divide my writing day into paid freelance work and my own work, which I hope will pay one day. Until then, my benefits keep things topped up and allow me to live.

With writing going so well on all fronts, I’m fairly up-beat but when you live on what can seem like the whims of others, the anxiety never goes away. That dark stalker is always there.

I have a list of conditions: They are my mental illnesses and factors which a tribunal panel agreed as being severe enough to entitle me to disability allowances. Alcohol dependence, depression and PTSD (on several accounts) are all listed, but at the top of the list is anxiety. Just as it’s always there, every day, it will always be there. It’s only smoking cannabis which lessens my anxiety and allows me to function.

Without marijuana, I simply can’t relax. Having had a smoke though, I can happily immerse myself into some writing, reading, watching TV or a movie. I am at my most relaxed, yet stimulated, when I have smoked some weed. I’m also more creative.

Cannabis, in fact, enhances my depression; which may sound slightly counter-productive. But my depression, in common with many others’, does have a manic element. I am on the Bi-polar spectrum: I’m not schizophrenic but I have a personality disorder: It’s one of mood swings and different personalities; It’s manic depression. So cannabis can mean that I get more down but it also increases the pleasure of the times when I’m up. It is simply a magnifier of my illness.

My illness is one I’m at ease with, because it is the reason I’m so inquisitive and imaginative. It’s my mental health which guided me to becoming a writer. It is my friend and ally, even though it can be my nemesis. When I’m suffering internal conflict because of my wonky brain, I always remind myself of the documentary which Stephen Fry made, about his own Manic Depression. In the end it comes down to the metaphorical big red button: If I could press a button and simply switch off my mental health issues once and for all; and that would make me normal, with no depression nor manic periods. If I could press that button, would I? Just like Stephen Fry, I would answer “No”.

I won’t stop smoking weed either.

So, I’m one of those you read about in the red-top tabloids: A person on benefits who has a drinking and smoking habit. Hopefully this blog serves to educate, not just about my situation but those of others.

I, have mental health issues. I, benefit claimant and writer. I, Guardian reader and liberal. I am an atheist, anarchist, restless spirit.

I, am a slave to the system: I, robot.

I, human.

I am an example. I’m no hero of the great, intelligent, magnificent human race.
I’m part of the race that kills for possessions
Part of the race that’s wiping itself out.
I’m part of the race that’s got crazy obsessions
Like locking people up, not letting them out.”

(Crass, End Result).

An expression of perpetuity

THE WRITER’S LIFE

suicide-the-demon-called-depression

I first dared to call myself a writer about a year ago now. Back then, it was more like an admission, and only to close friends. I’d had a few short stories published, I’d won an award for one of them, and I’d self-published my first novel. To those who are late to the party, The Paradoxicon is a semi-autobiographical story of a man searching for answers in life, while he battles his own demons. And still it goes on.

That first book was written in about eight weeks, when it was my sole obsession. Even my harshest critic (me) would say that The Paradoxicon is a pretty good book, and others agree. When I compare it with my writing now though, I realise how far I’ve progressed.

Now I’m earning money from freelance work, as well as writing my own material. Now, I’m busy enough to be able to call myself a writer with and not in confidence. People enjoy reading my stories and my freelance clients like my style.

I was compared with some truly great fiction writers by a sub-editor and praised for my authorial voice. There is a part of the writer in every story: An aspect of a character, or a memory on the fringe of experience. Good writing comes from the heart. As I become ever more prolific, I hope that others will read my work and judge for themselves.

Writing was never going to be a highly-paid vocation and it would be a fool who got into it thinking it would. I’m clearly not a fool and writing is one of the more admired professions for its required intellect. My living costs are covered by the disability benefits I receive on the grounds of my alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety. My modest writing income is for permitted work, which is recognised as being beneficial to me and my mental health.

So my overall income makes for a modest but comfortable life. And this second life I’ve made, after my breakdown three years ago, is rather perfect. Mentally, I had to accept that I wasn’t kidding myself; that I really am as good as people say: If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have clients. Turning it into a sole-trader business mindset was key. Now, I’m a professional writer; an author and a freelance writer. It took a long time to realise and just as long to set everything up so that the business worked, but it does.

What I earn through freelance work is one side of things: Signing contracts, writing for clients and invoicing them. The other side of the business is my own work, sold on Amazon and Lulu through my various online presences: My website, this blog, and Facebook. My general outlet on the latter is in recognition of where I came from: Gilbert House Publishing on Facebook. Gilbert House was the name of the building I squatted in when I was homeless.

As a writer, I read a lot and my newspaper of choice is The Guardian, perhaps unsurprisingly. Their in-depth reporting and analysis provides me with a lot of material for both sides of my business. It is true that there are a few writers who’ve become very wealthy and it’s not just bitter jealousy which drives other writers’ disdain for some of those people. Like all writers, I appreciate the craft of others’ work. And like all writers, I critique the work of others.

There are writers whom I admire and aspire to. There are others for whom I have no time whatsoever. It’s not so much intellectual snobbery as not finding some writers particularly engaging or challenging, and wondering how the fuck they got their publishing deals. John Crace sort of summed it up with a satirical piece in The Guardian recently:

The news so many people have been dreading. Dan Brown is writing a new novel called Origin featuring his world-famous symbologist, Robert Langdon. It won’t be published until next year but Brown has been kind enough to offer me a preview: “Langdon’s mind was a vale of darkness. His eidetic memory had failed him. ‘You’ve been shot,’ a woman said. He looked up to see a lissom figure with gentle brown eyes that held a profundity of experience rarely encountered in someone of her age. ‘I’m Carla Miller. A doctor. We have to get you out of here. Someone is trying to kill you.’ ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ he asked. ‘Because they read The Da Vinci Code.’ Just then, a masked woman with spiky hair burst through the doors, firing a metallic gun made of metal. Carla opened a hidden trapdoor no one had guessed might be there and she and Langdon slid down a curved tunnel that took them to a secret hideout. Langdon looked out the window. ‘From my observations, I deduce we must be in Florence, the most populous city in Tuscany, with 370,000 residents,’ he said. ‘There’s no time for you to quote Wikipedia,’ Sienna reprimanded him scoldingly. ‘The world is under threat.’”

It rang true for me, as I’ve read a lot of bad prose written by others. Perhaps I am an intellectual snob.

Others will be the judge of me as a writer: Something I don’t mind standing in the dock for. For now, I’m good enough that I’m able to get paid for what I do as a freelancer. My first novel is out there for me to be critiqued on. But it will be my greatest pleasure so far to be judged on my forthcoming anthology: Now a collection spread over the last two years’ writing and including some deep and thought-provoking tales.

I remember how things were before I even dared to call myself a writer. I remember all that I loved and lost. I remember every day that I’m now serving a life sentence. Beyond this second life I’m now living, I hope others will read as I remember. And still it goes on.

The Perpetuity of Memory will be available in hard cover at the end of December.

The politics of feeling good

THE WRITER’S LIFE

marijuana

Thought provoking quotes about medical marijuana from Potbotics.com

By unfortunate coincidence, my work and real lives clashed again this week, even though I’ve got all my internal personalities working well together. The unfortunate thing was that a very dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative illness. By coincidence, I was writing some articles for a client about cannabis.

As well as writing about marijuana, I smoke it: I’m a recreational user, and I use cannabis to deal with my anxiety. My friend confided that she also uses the drug to help with her condition. For me, the answer to the cannabis “problem” is one of legality: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The subjects I write about for clients are varied and interesting. The pay is poor but the satisfaction is in learning through research and putting that knowledge into an entertaining and informative piece. Because the articles were written for a paying client, I do not retain copyright but I can publish excerpts.

In the course of my research into all things weed, I naturally had to familiarise myself with some history, to place the law into a certain context within an article which was very much pro-consumption. What I found out was quite shocking and I had to tone down the language of a US politician to make my piece suitable for the intended audience:

..Cannabis was outlawed with the introduction of The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Some of the reasons given by Harry J. Anslinger (Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) for the banning of cannabis, speak volumes about some of the ignorance and attitudes of the time:

Anslinger believed that cannabis was an ethnic minority problem and described non-whites and “entertainers” as diseases infecting the white population. Their “Satanic” music resulted from marijuana use, which caused insanity, criminality and death. Cannabis was “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”, he said. He further stated that smoking cannabis made ethnic minorities “think they’re as good as white men.”

Despite Aslinger’s naive and narrow-minded views, in less enlightened times, his bill was passed and the recreational use of marijuana became illegal. At the time, cannabis was prescribed by doctors for pain relief, and was an accepted part of American life. Although cannabis was the common name for the drug at the time, the Spanish word – marijuana – was used in the name of the act to further encourage racist sympathies…

It took a lot of editing to remove words which were offensive, even to me, whilst still making it a legible section. Then I continued:

…Thankfully, attitudes have changed. Medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is legal in certain states and being debated in others. Medical research and progressive politics have combined to realise the benefits of cannabis, both socially and economically. Regulation and taxation are made possible with legalization…

The article (and the writer) is not pro-legalisation (I used the American in the article itself, as it’s for a US client) just because of the benefits of decriminalisation (not getting locked up). The pro-legalisation argument is for cannabis to be regulated, taxed and sold for recreational and medicinal use. I went on:

…[Users] will experience a range of feelings, sensations and personal benefits, including a general feeling of wellbeing, hightened awareness, uplifting and cerebral thoughts. Recreational cannabis is therefore unsurprisingly referred to as a “mind expanding drug”.

For some people, marijuana is an occupational drug. Many people working in the creative arts cite recreational cannabis use as an aid to their craft. Writers and artists especially take advantage of the creative effects of the drug…

I then researched the two main types of cannabis which are cultivated for recreational and medicinal use: Indica and Sativa.

…Indica dominant marijuana strains provide a very relaxing and strong body high that is helpful in treating general anxiety, body pain and sleeping disorders. Indica is most commonly smoked by medical marijuana patients in the late evening or even just before bed. Sativa dominant marijuana strains provide an uplifting, energetic and cerebral high that is best suited for daytime smoking…

…In summary, Indica effects and benefits are relief from body pain, headaches and migraines; muscle relaxation, relieving spasms and reducing seizures; and relief from anxiety and stress.

Sativa effects and benefits include feelings of well-being and of being at ease; uplifting and cerebral thoughts; stimulation and increased energy; increased focus and creativity; and relief from depression.

Cannabis (marijuana) has many beneficial effects for the casual and medicinal user. Sativa and Indica effects are different and can be combined for the most effective tailored benefits…

At my recent (successful) tribunal appeal to prove that I was entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), I mentioned to the residing judge that I smoke weed. She nodded. As a poker player, I’m pretty good at reading people and I’d bet on her nod not being a despairing one, nor one of resignation. Rather, it was a nod of understanding. I shouldn’t be surprised nor judgemental if the judge herself liked a bit of a toke on the reefer.

I’ve completed dozens of freelance assignments over the last couple of weeks and submitted my invoices for payment from the clients. All were interesting, even when they were about things which would normally hold no interest for me. Writing about a cause which is close to me though was the most satisfying. Because as a writer, I can get points across effectively and in an engaging manner. I may prompt debate but that’s part of my job.

In the other part of my job, as a fiction writer, I can use my writing to raise awareness of many things. With my friend I mentioned at the top in mind, I’m working on a short story. My stories have helped a family dealing with the loss of a pet; a friend’s daughter coping with growing up; and a teenage friend who self-harmed. I’m hoping I can help a friend who’s just been diagnosed with MS:

“…The curious thing was, it was the diagnosis which hastened the condition. It had lain dormant, without troubling me. Then as soon as I heard its name, it made itself known. What a cunt.

I wouldn’t be had. I decided to wager with the thing. All my life had been one long gamble anyway, most of it working out for the best. So I bet my life with the thing.

I bet this thing that I wouldn’t beat it on my own: That confused it. I was betting that my opponent would win. But I continued: I bet, that although I knew it could win, I would put up such a long fight that it would lose. Because I would fight for so long, through times of medical research, personal resolve and those around me, that I would live to see the day when a treatment was found.

At first, the thing taunted me. But gradually, as I learned to live with it, it was as though I were growing all over my own parasite. It was far from its kin but I had my team around me. The bet couldn’t be annulled, because I’d told the thing that I couldn’t beat it alone.

That was a pretty big bet: I was playing the long game. I’m still playing my opponent, so I may yet win the wager…”

(To be continued)

Even though writing doesn’t pay much, the rewards are far greater than financial. And the pain of depression and anxiety is made bearable by writing and by smoking weed for my recreation and occupation.

The politics of feeling good are simple: Legalise, regulate, medicate, educate.

The re-invention of solitude

THE WRITER’S LIFE

solitude

Finding peace in solitude, Disjointedthinking (Jeff Hughes)

The Invention of Solitude is one of many novels by my favourite author, Paul Auster. His work has been a major influence on me and he is a silent mentor. Often, my internal dialogue is between me and him: I talk to myself, in my head, where my mentor resides. In there, things are created by an alchemy which can only work in the solitude I find in my inner voices.

All of my personalities are now in order and working well together. But the real me is still the one inside, the one who hides behind the words and disguises the anxiety.

The anxiety is probably the most debilitating aspect of my personal illness: Alcohol dependence, depression and several counts of PTSD, recognised as a disability by a tribunal judge last week and entitling me to PIP.

Just like the depression which holds all of my contributing conditions together, the anxiety part is difficult to explain because it’s so personal. It’s hard to convey how it feels because however I put it, it sounds irrational. Even at the moment, when everything is going so well, I still get anxious.

I’ve written before of how the various aspects of my illness might feel to someone else, in an attempt to get across just how debilitating they can be. A panic attack feels like being mugged: I know, as it’s happened to me. An anxiety episode feels like being stalked: I’m also qualified by experience of that one.

So why, when I have every reason to be happy, do I still feel anxious? I’m busy with freelance work, writing for clients and getting paid. I’m busy with writing under my own name: Still churning out short stories, editing my anthology and hoping to make some sales when it’s published in December. I’m happy doing both, because I love to write. So why, at the end of a productive day of work, do I still suffer anxiety? I don’t know.

In my day job as a freelance writer, I’m in my element: Reading for research, learning, writing for the education of others and loving every minute. Just today, I’ve written articles on progressive prescription lenses for an eye care website; and about Nicosia in Cyprus for a property company: Not subjects which would otherwise trouble me but I’ve enjoyed learning and passing that knowledge on in my own idiosyncratic way: a style which people seem to like. In the other part of my job as a fiction writer, I’ve continued with my next short story, Cardboard Sky:

As I continued to read George’s captain’s log, I realised that the fantastical situations he described could just as easily be real. I only had to read between the lines to see the parallels. It took a while because George described his night time adventures in a dream-like state. It required a lucidity of the reader like that of the writer to imagine the sub-texts.

Or perhaps I was simply dreaming in the world around me as George dreamed in his. He wrote of things he encountered in his sleep, as though he were dreaming as he wrote. I was fully awake as I read his words, relating them to the world around me. I wonder whether my words betray my waking state? It would be for a reader to tell me but a writer cannot hear a reader.

My short stories now are deeper and longer than the schlock horror I used to write, because the life I’ve made enables me to craft each one more carefully. Consequently, my anthology will have fewer than the promised 42 stories but those that are left and still being written are much better works. I love all aspects of the life I’ve divided up to make one. I’m passionate about writing, yet I’m still anxious.

Anxiety is the feeling that something is about to go wrong: Not at any minute but sometime and in a massive way. It’s a feeling of impending doom, with no idea where that next shit sandwich might come from. Everything is good for me but there’s still that feeling. Everything can change, suddenly and forever.

That’s the frustrating thing about mental illness: It can be irrational and unfathomable. I’m very intelligent and as such, I get frustrated when I don’t understand something. I’ve been saying for a long time that my high IQ is a poisoned chalice. Depression does tend to favour the enquiring mind. But I’ve written also of the big red button and whether I’d press it: If there were a button I could press, which switched off the anxiety but also caused me to stop questioning, would I press it? The answer is still a resounding “No”.

So, I’m on benefits: I’ve proven my entitlement to them. They are what they say on the papers: Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Once they’re coming in, they do what it says on the tins.

But I’m not just sitting on my arse. I do have a job and it’s the only one I can do, with my conditions: The judge recognised this. I’m not pissed but I’m an alcoholic: If I drink to excess again, it will all go wrong. I’m happy and content but I have depression and anxiety. I’m sad but I’m happy: Isn’t it ironic? I receive benefits but I’m a professional writer. I’ve got one hand in my pocket but the other one is giving a peace sign.

Everything can change at any moment, suddenly and forever. You can’t put your feet on the ground until you’ve touched the sky. There’s hope for everyone. That’s what makes the world go round.”

(Paul Auster).

The clacking keys in my head

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Image from Sheila Glazov, Personality Expert

I’ve sectioned myself. That is to say, I’ve successfully compartmentalised my brain into my constituent personalities. There are three things I’ve learned to like about what goes on inside my head: My mind. Talking to oneself is perhaps a sign of madness. It may be true that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity. My IQ has been measured at 147, so go figure.

I figured out that what was holding me back was the merging of a passion into a profession. I love to write; to create. It’s become clear that I can make money from something I’m good at. Writing has been my life for a while now and although I enjoyed the freelance stuff, I needed a separator between work and pleasure writing. That said, the paid stuff is great fun when it’s so varied.

As a freelancer, I get to choose what I take on from the various agencies and my main regular client is certainly fun to work with. They’re a media company in Eastern Europe and they have a constant need for blog entries and articles for their own clients. Just today I’ve written copy about mobile phones in the near future; and Facebook / cafe culture. The work is varied, interesting and fun. I get to choose how much I do, when I do it and how long for. With this particular client, I can message them through an app and let them know my availability for the next day, then arrive at my desk in the morning and have work waiting. With a coffee and doughnut next to the laptop, I’m a contented writer. If I have the odd bit of time to spare, I can fire off a message and get an assignment by return. And it pays.

It took a while for me to accept that I’m a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve always wanted to be, now that I know. It just took some time to work that out. I had to have arrived at the point I did where I had nothing, in order to be able to start from scratch: That’s my life, summed up. The biggest personal hurdle though, was realising that I’m good at what I do, because it’s all happened relatively suddenly. But having won prizes, been published and now working as a writer for hire and gaining business, I feel fully qualified to introduce myself as what I am: A professional writer.

I can’t share any of the writing I do for my clients because I’m contractually forbidden: I’m paid to write for them and what’s published is what “they” wrote. With permission from individual clients though, I can use pieces from my growing portfolio to send to other prospective clients and demonstrate what I do. I really am in business and I love it.

My pseudonym ghost writer (me) is about 1000 words into the next short story to be published under my name, with a final working title of “Cardboard sky”:

…Like 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…

For the second time in as many years, last week I proved to a judge that my mental health adversely affects my life. Thus I am recognised as being disabled, through alcohol dependence, PTSD, depression and anxiety, and entitled to the relevant benefit payments. So although the plastic police will never leave it, that’s the end of the conversation as far as I’m concerned.

The system may section me one day but for now, it pays the bills and allows me to earn a little with the therapy of prose, narrative and making dreams come true.

Books in bags, bags in books

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Having completed a few individual writing projects as a freelancer, I’ve gained a new regular client. I feel much more justified calling myself a professional writer now that it’s not just selling my own stuff. But I do sell myself, baggage included: Baggage full of books.

The pay is poor in a very competitive marketplace but as a freelancer, I can choose the projects which most interest me, and it all goes to building my writer profile on the out-sourcing agency sites.

I’ve found my feet quite naturally as an active freelance writer because it really just boils down to simple business acumen. I’ve run businesses, I hated them and I fucked them up with my drinking. Now that I’m effectively able to run myself as a sole trader, I can think of that as a separate entity. With a brain as fragmented as mine, it’s easiest to just separate the parts.

So in the last few weeks, when I’ve been a little unsure of where my life was, I’ve cracked it. I’ve won battles, mainly with myself, or the various parts of me in conflict. Whereas with previous ventures I had partners, this one I’ve had to do alone, as a team. I’ve achieved my current position by dividing myself up: The pseudonym who writes the work I publish under my own name, and the freelance work I do for clients, where I’m just a ghost.

Then there’s the third person: The one who manages it all. And I’ve found that to be the real me. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written profiles of the writer; I’ve made changes to my website, my social media pages and how it all links up; I’ve arranged everything on my laptop in the same way I would a small business.

I’ve produced an entity, which is what a business is. I’m marketing and selling that writer, gaining work, referrals and all the things I hated when I had a limited company. But this is just me (as a team).

Of course, all of this doesn’t necessarily fit with the professional profile which I try to convey with my writer entity in other media. But that entity is me, however fragmented. I firmly believe that people buy from people and if clients wish to hire me, they get all the luggage. This game is about personal relationships anyway. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it’s a job which suits me. And this is my blog after all; My personal diary; My sounding board, when I have no-one but myself and my readers around. If my frankness motivates anyone, that’s a bonus.

Right now, I have some articles to write for freelance clients. One is about learning Spanish through Spanish music. Another is a blog entry for a romance author: I love the variety. And it pays.

Later, my pseudonym will continue to write the next short story to be published under my name, provisionally entitled “The box we made”:

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 somebody’s debt. When he gave something, he expected nothing back…

The third person in the strange trinity which makes up me, is me. I won my benefits appeal today. A Pyrrhic victory perhaps but recognition of my brand of depression as a disability, after a long battle. The tribunal panel were aware of me being a writer because I’d have a pretty tough time keeping it a secret with the online presence I’ve built. I have permitted levels of earnings whilst in receipt of benefits and my writing is recognised for the therapy which it provides.

Writing is in my heart. It has been said by a sub-editor of a publishing company that I write from the heart; That I have an incredible authorial voice. And that’s what’s made me what I am. Whether I’m any good is subjective but the proof of what I’ve done is the public image.

All in all, I’m back in charge of my life because I know where it’s going: I’m a writer getting paid, partly through state finance to manage my mental illness in the most cost-effective way: Self-therapy.

I’m a writer, a copywriter and a ghostwriter. My work is being praised by private clients and I’m only able to write in the way I do because I’m me; baggage and all.

Books full of baggage; Writing which carries weight.

Triangle beget pyramid

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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Humansarefree.com

This time of year is probably the best to be doing my job at the moment. This point in my life is probably the best chapter so far. I see the sun rise and set in my waking life, just as I’ve seen my life end in the past, then found a new dawn.

Most of the freelance work I’ve found myself bidding for has come from other countries. Native English writers seem to be in demand within the gig economy. As such, my working day has evolved even more into something which just fits around my odd waking hours, which have become stranger still.

Until recently, I was obeying a body clock which saw me rise in the early afternoon and retire in the small hours: My waking hours were typically noon to 2am. My unholy trinity of alcoholism, depression and insomnia was such that the latter was mainly driving. The alcohol has been under control for a while, abstinence just a life-long reminder. Depression is an ongoing battle, a life sentence of guilt for my particular sins. An inability to sleep was the one I could never get my head around, despite the sedative element of my prescription drugs.

It could be a passing phase: It may be because I have a lot on my mind at the moment, with my upcoming benefits tribunal. A couple of other things as well but things which I can’t speak of here. As with everything else of that nature, those troubling issues will be addressed in my fiction.

Writing has been my therapy for some time now, as I deal with life post-alcohol and with the fallout of mental illness. By facing my issues in fiction, I make them public but in such a way that only those closest to me might know which aspects of me are in those stories. My work allows me to exorcise or embrace things as I feel necessary. The people involved are protected by anonymity, pseudonym and metaphor, and everyone else gets to read what I hope are good stories. I’ve been told that my writing seems to come from something deep inside me: I’ve been rumbled.

I’ve been writing ever since I picked up a pen and paper when I had nothing else. During that time, I’ve made friends and more recently, business contacts. When I was contemplating what to do with my last short story, “Echo Beach”, I had a choice: It was good enough to sell but I sold out in the end: I gave it to my friend. He’s the editor of Schlock! web zine and he does it for the love, not the money; like me. It’s a symbiotic relationship, where I bring him readers and he gives me exposure. So Echo Beach will be published this weekend.

While I deal with other things and keep myself out there in the freelance market, I’ll always fill my time with my own writing; Addressing personal and worldwide issues, and coming up with new stories. The next one has a working title of “Necessary phantoms” and it starts like this:

The circumstances surrounding me becoming a temporary ghost were surprisingly ordinary. Because if a ghost writes the story, then they control it. If a ghost tells this story, it doesn’t hurt as much…

And so back to the working and living day: Becoming a freelancer has worked better than I could ever have hoped. It has helped me with my writing and with simply managing my life. My life is now full with writing.

With clients posting work from around the globe and the time differences involved, my day has migrated, quite naturally and by fortunate circumstance. I still get up at around noon but it’s not uncommon now for me to go to bed at 6am. I was restless between two and six in the morning when I was trying to sleep anyway.

So at this time of year, I get to watch the sun set as I sit at my desk and write. Then I do at night what most people do during the day. Before I go to bed, I see the dawn of a new day: That wonderful ephemeral first light, which sings of so many things ahead. For me, it’s as though the sun has gone around the world and it rises with new stories gathered on its journey.

A “normal” day isn’t for me. Personally, I find the hours which most people call “morning” completely dull: Like mornings at work in a Dolly Parton job (nine to five), wishing I wasn’t there and longing for lunchtime. The perfect hours in which to sleep.

I may be damaged goods but I realise I’m lucky. My unholy trinity and me seem to be working things out together.

It’s like an atheist epiphany.