Nothing Is Ever the Same As They Said It Was

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The street shines glossy black after the rain. Pavement cafés are crowded, and vehicles hiss by  their roars constantly approaching, breaking, receding. I watch them holding my breath, forgetting to blink. I am alert, but null. The restlessness of the city mirrors mine tonight, and slowly tempers it.

I’ve always enjoyed lights, noises, explosions. They came to me like divine permission to sit back and enjoy the ride. The world was happening. I wasn’t in charge of holding it together. What a relief — for an hour, not needing to be in control.

I sit in the dark and hold time in slow gear. Either the experiment, or my sanity, will fail. They are eyeball to eyeball, waiting for one another to blink. I bet on being mad. It’s late, so very late for this. I should have started earlier. I should have started sooner.

I’m not surprised how many insomniacs are out here, I’m actually pleased. And I’m not worried either, because this switch reminds me how young I’m getting and I’m almost, almost close to seventeen again; when the ice was melting and I was gently growing from its underneaths.

Raised by the street, with the sky blue and new above me, I knew how to roam free when I had to, and lie on my back in tall grass and dream in the present tense when I wanted to. Nights were dark and long and hot, like the future I was both scared of and couldn’t wait to run towards.

Troublesome, perhaps, but intriguing, surprising and refreshing all at once, I was in my captain-of-her-own-rocket days; sweet days of stitching myself together out of desires and needs, with oil-burning eyes and a heart still owning the right to the future.

When the temperature dropped and the power of inertia became tangible, I surprised myself turning into this shadow of a person sitting together with her ghost in the car, wishing she could reverse or, at least, slow time enough to figure her way out without wasting all of her young years.

Here I am, wishing it would all end tonight. It’s a compulsion, a series of quiet, desperate attempts with occasional flashes of rightness. I’d always do it  fighting to gain more time to make things better  it’s just odd that it’s become my life.

I know; somewhere along the line, the pressure sent cracks up and down my psyche and I simply fell apart. I feel bad. I feel bad in every place and part of me. I have no comforting thoughts to fall back on. Life has become days sitting in a chair, staring.

But the magic is in the hard. Hard is the new black. I talk to myself in a low, kind voice. I know that I’m still worth it. There is a fire inside me still longing to be fed. That fire is worth it. There is nothing else worth more than that fire.

How many times has it been the first time? How many times has it been the last time? Bent under the burden, I can still sniff freedom. I have not given in. I owe it to myself, despite not being that anymore.

There she comes remarkable, slightly eccentric, with her bizarre hat and toothpaste advert smile. She’s crossing the street hand in hand with a slim, hip young devil in ripped jeans and an oversized shirt. Her cool is almost tangible. She does not bleed through another’s wounds. She owns the street. She owned the night.

I, too, would have eaten those hours of being in love whole. I squeeze my eyes shut, imagining what I’d be like innovative, unconventional, romantic still. It doesn’t come natural. All I’m getting is a cynic craving to be loved, turbulent skies and the sad, numb calm after the storm. The images are grainy, monochrome and dark. I can’t think of textures. I can’t think of sounds.

My attraction to her is ambivalent. She has the power of hiding who she is while, at the same time, advertising how she wants to be seen. It makes me jealous of the god-like heights she came down from, and tragically aware of the unknowability of another human being. I can despise her intense hedonistic lifestyle all I want, but I will never know if that’s what she gets in bed with. Security blankets don’t always function as protective screens around those who sew them.

I trace him with the corner of my eye. I am not his type of girl, but near enough his type. He would give me speed. I would give my all, but there isn’t much left of it. I’d trade him what I don’t need for whatever it was from him that I wanted; that’d be fair. I do not blink when I look at them, who are no longer significant but only there, and them. My hate is mine. It belongs to me. She is merely there. A click in my head cancels boredom. I know what I’m doing, because I’m always doing it. Ah, there goes it. I lost tonight. I’m always losing it.

After a heavy sigh, I allow myself to step into the vision. I am good at projecting myself on the outside. All my friends eat sunshine, and I train in speculative fiction. Sometimes I think I could be my own imaginary friend.

I open it like a window and climb through. Inside it is home, after being gone for years. I left in search of some ideal, but reality had failed, time and time again, to come up to the mark. I will always return.

It’s suddenly me who went to a jazz concert with him and spent the night nodding along to soft tunes with eyes closed, sipping on cheap whiskey. It’s got to be me. I am the girl who lives on air and intensity alone, and I’d never stray away from hotter nights or bigger feelings, whatever turn they took; I’m with my madness all the way if I’m getting my buzz, my fix, my life.

It’s summer and soon after dawn, strands of orange all across a turquoise sky. I’m up in the mountains, sitting in the front of the car singing along with the radio, my hair blowing in the wind and my heart still harvesting my baby goddess energy. The ride is pretty, right alongside the river the whole way. I’m going to drink the ocean, again and again, and celebrate being madly alive. This has got to be me, too.

I’m reading paragraphs over and over again, because it’s too delicious not to. We have worlds we want the other to see. Somehow these very different worlds fit together. Writing down about all the things he finds on restaurant napkins, under car seats, in her refrigerator, in between, in your wallet, by accident, too late, he makes up a world of details without frames and limitations. I spend hours getting lost in it. It’s beautiful and crazy, like a miniature of life minus all the big problems. If you’re stubborn enough, you find something good to do on the way down; but the bizarre repetition in your eyes betrays your madness to others. Whatever. It’s me who sits long moments in silence with him. No one else comes near enough. It’s always me.

I’m moving forward through the day by small explosions of will and I take my hand up to my heart. My brain, too, wants to play this game and stay lost in the dream. It’s utopic to find myself again, although so far from shore. I’ll rock any boat on my way here. This is the last thing left that makes me happy-hearted, warmth ringing true inside these bones when I come for it. It’s like all is right in the world because one heart managed, despite all the chaos, to get it right. And not any heart, but my heart. Mine. It’s got to be mine.

We lie on our backs, intertwine our fingers and hold on tight once more, as though consistency can substitute for stability. I missed the girl I almost still am, the girl I will never be again.

The words come out much slower than I want them to, but I say them out loud this time; papers and devices have only ever stopped my train of thought. There’s so much left to say when you think you know how to say it all  and ah, how we turn our unsaid things into our life’s work. I’ve cleared my desk and climbed onto it. There’s only my breath left now, fogging up the window. There is no her.

Ageless and gorgeous, she is, one by one, 17, 27, 37. It does not matter. Whoever the girl crossing the street with her lover was, there is only me, and smoke, and mirrors in this world. She is just the end of the rainbow I never followed, the person I haven’t become, and I hate, because I can’t love. And it would be so very ironic if I tried to love my neighbour as myself; because, of course, most people hate themselves and I am no exception to that.

X marks the spot where I took the other path  travelled or not so much, it does not matter. It lead me astray from the plans I never even knew I’d have for myself. My anger has since turned from hot and quick to a lingering coldness. I see myself in other girls, imaginary and, occasionally, on nights like this, made out of skin, flesh, bones and stories of their own. What’s odd is that they never remind me of the person I see when I look at myself these days. They are always so very different.

I drink hot tea under cotton candy skies and think of the fleeting nature of me. I think I like that. Maybe in another life I will live roof-raisingly loud. In this one I am sane, painfully sane and aware. From behind quiet eyes I stop and pat every monster. I get them. Putting love where there is none is a hard job. Slowing down time is ever harder. I can only be bad, in the dark, as seasons go by.

Epilogue

I often wonder how much of the people I make up is me. I don’t believe my everyday self defines me. There are much crazier worlds on the other side of me; some still unexplored, some still works-in-progress, and some already used, abused, stretched to limits. Fiction gives me the second, third, millionth chances that life, real, fleshy life denies me, and there is nothing in this that makes me sad. I can’t take every path, but I can play hide and seek with mine.

It was never my intention to create a new person in whose skin I could have then quietly slipped into, and be a million times better at last. I was simply creating; I still am. I’ve still got it. I’ll never lose it. I have no reasons, no intentions, no master plans. I learned to feel by writing about feelings, not the other way round. I learned to love by creating characters that belonged to me, so I could love them without fear. This is how I learned intensity; first-hand, from myself, in my bedroom, in the car, in the classroom, at night, at 16, at my own pace.

I don’t like it when people get bored easily and frequently. This is an interesting planet  and, when you have no more attention to give, you are a luminous, playful, interesting person. I am who I am because of my imagination, and because of it again I am so much more.

And, like all the best quests, in the end I’m doing it all for a girl: me.

Getting Ready to Meet the Devil

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from a work in progress

Towns at rest, people going home, intermittent patches of glitter and dark everywhere – life, dear life was happening all around her, dancing restlessly through her lashes. Head leaning against the car window, Kara felt wide awake with fear and curiosity. Houses rolled past her like a tracking shot in a film, blurring and disappearing from view the very next moment – as if reminding her not to bother, because everything was difficult, and everything was also fleeting.

The houses didn’t hold her interest for long. The passenger seat – the safe haven, and speed – a delicious break from the reality of the moment, were half-assing their jobs too. On the other side of the car Tomás kept giving sighs of helpless irritation, distracting her from her attempt to stay distracted.

‘Damn you,’ she mouthed silently to herself, and threw an arm over her eyes.

He wouldn’t look at her. Driving fast without saying a word, he only huffed and puffed now and then at his own seemingly unpleasant thoughts – she wouldn’t know, he wouldn’t tell. The car was saturated with him and she still couldn’t tell a thought from the other. Like a mausoleum they were shut up in, it was dark, musty and cold in there, and terribly lonely. If only she knew what he saw her through those quiet eyes of his.

If only he’d stroke her hair and said it was alright.

But his eyes were nothing like silence. Bright and alert, like a small animal that’s just realised a much bigger one is close, his mind was racing around her, circling but unable to confine. Now she knew, and she wouldn’t keep quiet. He had to show her things he was not allowed to show anyone, because now she would go back and question everything out loud. Ah, if only he could drive fast enough to lose himself in a vortex. Anything bigger than him would do, because for once, Tomás did not want the blame, the trouble, the girl.

Fidgeting in her seat, she finally turned to him. He looked tormented. She did not like real life complications much, and would have been happy to forget about this story if only he asked; if only he asked for anything at all from her. Life in the New World was simple, and that quality got to her in time. Her mind was a myriad of thoughts – all revolving around the insane things his mind seemed to believe, and whether they were due to heavy drinking or never receiving the treatment – but she’d have pulled down the blinds and shut them out if he wanted. After all, she was sick enough with storytelling to carry yet another’s burden. From life, she had picked a few things to like, but they did not have tormented faces: highways, rooftops, public swimming pools – all at night, houses with big gardens, flats up high on the last level, oranges, tea, red flowers, rock & roll, coloured lighters, sitting by the fire, large windows and larger beds, sundown, sunrise and sometimes, not going to bed at all, electric people, soul shakers and the lives she could live in five minutes, if nobody loved her enough to tie her down. But a sad man, she did not know how to handle, for she had never seen one before.

She finally let the alcohol kick in and her thoughts disperse, and shut her eyes.

Later and sobered up after the nap, Kara realised they weren’t up in the mountains anymore. They were driving across a vast, windy field with no trees or houses on either side of the road, at what seemed like speed of light and straight into nowhere.

Her lips were wine-dark and dry and she craved a glass of water and an explanation for where she was being taken, and if it wasn’t too much to ask, why. She had barely muttered a few words when she remembered he would not tell a thing. That was what it would be like. He would not talk, and she could not fight. To hell with it; he was breaking every other rule anyway.

‘Pull over!’

‘Oh no I won’t,’ he said as if he had had the answer ready for her the whole time. ‘There is nothing to do here. If you’re going to report me, I might as well drive you all the way up and let you have a good look at what you’ve done first.’

‘Up where?’

‘Kara… you’ll have to trust me on this one, alright?’

‘Listen, I wouldn’t… why would I report you, if you actually stop driving like an animal, and putting me at risk?’

Unconvinced, he slowed down. This was her moment, now.

‘Damn your professionalism, Tomás! Just tell me what the heck is going on! Listen, I’d be crazy to report you for having a couple of beers with me! Now stop this stupid car and let me catch my brea –’

‘What?’

Tomás stopped the car as he spoke, and looked her up and down with wide, inquisitive eyes.

‘Thanks for stopping the car,’ she smiled.

She was frightened as all hell. He would not know that.

‘Cigarette?’

He waited a couple of seconds before nodding slowly in her direction, and taking one out of her pack.

‘Why do you think I’d’ – she lit up, then passed the lighter, watching his every move in hope for clues – ‘report you? You didn’t take me out drinking. I sneaked out on you. I wouldn’t report on my own bad behaviour.’

Tomás laughed to himself, shaking his head slowly in disbelief.

‘If this is the case, what if I reported you, then?’

‘Roles reversed?’ she smiled. ‘I’d lie and say you lied, I guess.’

Tomás took a deep drag and opened the window to let in the crisp, cold night air. Smiling his sad little smile, but visibly calmer, he was the most good looking man Kara had ever seen – partly because of his gentle, melancholic ways, and partly because she hadn’t looked at many men like she looked at him before they met. There were troubled waters beneath the surface, and she would never swim in them, and neither would others, ever. But he would dive deep. She knew, because despite the hide-and-seek games, there was more depth in Tomás than she could make sense of. That in itself was incredibly exciting for somebody who had imagined people like him their entire life while devouring book after book.

She felt slightly shy and self-conscious, yes. After all, it was his job to dive deep into her world and not the other way round – but the whole thing was whirling nicely round in her head, for it meant she’d get to see him a little while longer.

He seemed to think about it for some time, but eventually put his arm through hers. She could feel him shivering.

‘Radio on?’

‘Please.’

His voice, like everything else up there, was chilling and unfamiliar, but surprisingly moving. ‘Love at first listen,’ she thought.

Rearranging herself in her seat, she let her head back and closed her eyes. Hell or the closest to Heaven she’d ever been, she was in for the thrill, for this was one of those moments she read about in her grandmother’s books from what seemed – no, was – another world, the Old World. It was her and this man and their complicity and their bodies, and fingers, and thoughts intertwined in the night, the cigarettes and alcohol and the lies they’d just promised each other to tell to save their skins; the bad and the badder, the sense of being alive with each other far away from home, a place that felt home to neither, last night, tonight, tomorrow night…

A wave of warmth washed over her, then a cold shiver, then more, many, many more. To no surprise, smoking his cigarette in perfect silence, Tomás was waiting for the moment to come. His dark eyes watched closely as she suddenly jumped from her seat, coming to where he was. ‘I’ve been waiting,’ they seemed to say.

‘My God, you weren’t joking. I didn’t take you seriously back there. I should have – right? Oh, please tell me that I shouldn’t have.’

The night walked in, dark powerful, magical.

‘Well, if I knew you couldn’t tell when I mean something, I wouldn’t have bothered driving you all the way up here. But now that we got this far, what do you say – shall I show you what your imagination has given birth to?’

The principle the New World worked on was very simple, yet it proved to have countless unexpected implications: the bad had to be eradicated. It was a very noble idea and it had been around ever since Eve ate the beautiful apple – except, of course, it never worked. The bad could be swept under the carpet, no doubt, but the carpet was still in the house. As the good flourished, the bad was only just around the corner, the shadow on the wall in the dark, the bump under the covers, the one thing nobody would have guessed from under the cleverly layered, multi-stranded stories. In Kara’s case, the bad was – surprise, surprise – not inside her, but out there. Up there. Upper. ‘There we go,’ his eyes confirmed.

She gasped in horror when he put his hand on her knee.

‘Welcome to everything the world has kept from you.’

How to Be Your Own Story

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When you fictionalise your life you have to make up some of the words yourself — the way they taste, the way they sound in the air — and twist them until no one can tell what hell you dragged them out of, but see them for the engineering marvel they are. When they ask, you tell them you read a lot as a kid, then you let them poke at your surface thoughts to give them better clarity and fill in their doubts about the meaning. They don’t need to know how you encouraged yourself to leave the mind and step onto paper, with all your words held tightly in your arms, careful not to drop them and break the memories they inspired apart. How long you spent rearranging them, until they looked nothing like the story underneath the story. No. They don’t need to know the words are you. You must tell them you were inspired by books and talks and general knowledge, and carry on with your life as if art was merely an insignificant slice of it, and the first time you tried it you ate it whole. No big deal.

The process can be excruciatingly slow. Either no fire makes it out, or not enough fire goes in. In the centre of it all you find yourself completely alone, your existence becoming clouded, strange. You keep quiet and still to conserve mental space, waiting to put together the new pieces when they’re ready. They talk in low voices about you. You seem calmer, more assured, they say. The spark in your eyes has died out, they whisper. Parts of you are burning. The party is in your honour, but none of them was invited. You hear them through windows partly open, damp air leaking on your face. You hear them through thick walls. Sunlight pours across your skin, your shadow flat on the bedroom door. You have soft eyes and long hair that you wear loose and keep stroking smoothly as you listen. There is shame. There is fear. But then there is dizzying freedom. Your heart beats messily everywhere but outside yourself and in their hands. It beats in your mouth, ears, nose, and toes. It’s a delicious sensation. Peace for you will come later, when your imagination isn’t so vivid, and your spark hasn’t lit up so much inside you that you let it die out a little before you could start typing, or you would have bursted into flames. You let them say you’ve matured and you smile, but your smile is a secret.

This is the map of my heart. My name is the capital, and this up here is the moon. This is the sun. I’m still naming the stars after people I know, but I change the first letters and stir together the remaining ones. This way nobody can connect the dots when they read me and wonder. I guess playing God has always been my thing, what attracted me to literature in the first place. I like to define, then colour outside the lines. I limit myself, then I rebel against it. I burn the forests – here, and here – down. I am the forests. These cities are made out of graffiti, rock & roll and tree-lined streets. At night headlights shine in all directions, and I spill dark blue ink and sprinkle star all over them. Boys wrap their fingers around necks of beers and girls standing by the windows in yellow towels, holding hands and breaths. When the day comes my sun splashes it like water, and the brilliance spreads among people. They go for long drives under freshened skies and have orange juice and toast parked in the sunlight, breadcrumbs falling into their laps. There’s a thing in my stomach about telling a brief history of my heart without having to confess anything. I don’t romanticise people out loud, but I sprinkle them with writer dust and lower them into my writings. My face no longer has the helplessness of someone who isn’t believed in, my hands are no longer an afterthought. I know how to make things come true, advancing upon them like holy cities, pushing aside everything that is not them.

Wide, soft moments keep growing outwards, at the edges of the map of my heart, like an oil stain. They resound in me like waves, so powerful that I can hear them beneath the cliffside, no matter what form the cliffside has taken this time. I let them live up until they come down like hammers, demanding to be written down and into my cities. I keep writing because they keep coming, long after I’ve lived them. I can’t resist them – they are strange and full of promises, temptation at its finest. They allow me to set my story in order, long after it happened. I grin. I am invincible. Lying on the sofa with my eyes closed, I lucid dream while I’m awake, and need no other form of escapism. It is here, in between the spaces where no one roams but me, where I find my tranquility, and inspiration follows like the loyalest of dogs. Isolation makes life feel cinematic, and the quality of stillness gets me high, and the intensity it holds builds up until it turns into creation. From here on, it is easy. I feel my heart begin to harden and my words begin to form, put everything in a cone of light, then pick my pieces. This is the place where I start to write, they start to see me. They praise how integral imagination is to me. Art blends with life once again. I can breathe easy. I know this will happen again, and again, and always all over again. Biting my lips, I try to steady myself.

This is what being your own story feels like, for all I know – taking what has happened to you and turning it into whatever you wanted it to be, but never was. It doesn’t work quite like it should, but it does feel terribly nice. I don’t have a clue about what it’s like not knowing this trick, but I can imagine it if I try really hard. Correct me if I’m wrong –

Picture this: there is an empty space next to you at the table. You make it the shape of everything you need. Now you say hello. This is you at your best, commonly known as your strength, but you haven’t been properly introduced yet. You don’t know what it is, and you don’t know it’s yours. You let it vanish as you keep doubting your power.

Then: you walk to work, heels echoing on the pavement, still a bit of warmth from the bed clinging to you. You take a seat on the bus and fall asleep to the sound of traffic. The night before you were at your desk, hoping it would knock at your door, take off its wet clothes, and sit with you by the fire. You craved its hand around your waist and a new story over a glass of red wine. You were tired, but couldn’t fall asleep, so you waited and you waited until dawn. You feel frustrated. It was only just starting to reveal itself to you and you couldn’t grab it and make it your own. You don’t know that finding your superpower isn’t like dating, that it’s already in your hands. You don’t have to wait for it to find you, you find it by creating it. That’s your superpower.

Or: a beautiful man keeps smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow. He has perfect teeth – square, white, even. He becomes your lover and soon you are making out in the corner booth of a bar. The light is dim and smoky, and he lets go of his secrets into your mouth, and you learn what his thoughts taste like and what he is afraid of, things you thought you had guessed before you first sat down and started writing, but surprise – you knew nothing then, which is why you couldn’t write. It is only when he gently bites your neck and you open your eyes and see him in the near-darkness and your heart falls out of you that you understand you had only just scratched the surface before him. He seems to walk through every door you’ve ever seen marked shut, and know everything you’ve never even known you needed. Steam rises from both your cups at once and you reach for your cigarettes, and even though your world doesn’t make sense anymore, or it’s only just beginning to make sense, when he says, ‘Look, baby, these tornadoes are for you’ you watch, because there is nothing better than finally meeting somebody who speaks your mind and beyond, especially when that somebody is you.

But you don’t know that, so you fall for the closest thing to your own reflection, because you’re wearing a smile and the sun in your eyes in this mirror. Those tornadoes are not for you, and you’ll know it when they pass you, one by one. The only ones you can play with without losing parts of yourself are your own. Every other kind is the destructive kind, the kind that will shatter your windows and blow away your roof if you get close to the eye. Create your own. Then recreate to your liking. Being your own story, that’s your only superpower.

Log 02. The Storm Before the Calm

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Takes a deep breath and exhales. Pauses for a moment. Then begins to type.

It’s been months now. It feels longer; like this has always been my life. If you knew what rages inside me you, too, would see the flat cloud formation at the top of the storm. I rain over myself, pull up the rotten roots, violently sweep everything out of my heart. Something’s got to give. I’ve always been the kind of girl attracted to darkness like mosquitoes are to light. I’m not proud of it, but I am painfully alive because of it, so I learnt to embrace and confess my affinities. There’s something sexy about fighting the elements, creation, this life, if you ask me. You can never win, but you can’t get any closer to sharing the reins with God either – even if you know you’re going in the wrong direction and eventually you’ll have to give them back. 

It might be wrong, but the voice of reason is soft, and my heart is so fucking loud.

This year has been the hardest one. Days blurred into one another. Pick one, pick every single one and you too can laugh at the pattern. The more I stare into it, the more my field of vision shrinks until I feel I’m looking at a narrow band of light that’s burning my eyes. The pain is real, only it doesn’t take place up there. It’s the pain of possibility, vulnerability, and risk. ‘Once you stop feeling it, you’ve lost your best chance to make a difference,’ said Stephen King. I read those words three times, then turned out the only light in the room and go back to bed. My mind keeps racing and trying to tie so many different strings together; ‘what difference?’ and ‘how do I make it stop?’ and ‘do I want it to stop, if this is the case?’a

And ‘yes. yes, I want it to stop. I want it so bad, my heart must be glowing in the dark.’

I find myself up at all hours of the night, tired of dreaming about the past and the future that never arrived. I keep catching reminders of the woman my 13-year-old self always dreamed of becoming, and spend most of my time wishing I could empty my whole self into her through a shoulder, through clasped hands, through an electrical discharge. I wonder if my prayers are valid, when I only come back with emptiness. I pray, nonetheless. What else is there to do? All that can be done has been done. Now I just sit here and wait. Next time you hear from me, I will hopefully be elsewhere. The anticipation leaves me unfocused and weak at times, no less than the uncertainty. My body is here, but my mind is dreaming of a new chapter. I am too exhausted to pick up the pen, but too eager to start to fall asleep. From the outside I must be damn good at juggling fire torches; inside I’m burning like a bright flame on top of the very last bit of melted candle. Maybe it’s just the type of fuel I run best on – myself, to get to the spark I will end up writing for – myself.

Ah, the deep calm is still just a concept. I don’t just sit in the storm. I am the storm, coming from all sides.

The last few months really were pages flipped by the wind. I hold no memories dear. I remember them like a single, immeasurably-long paragraph, with a single sentence running across it multiple times. It goes something like this: ‘The air is damp and the sky is pitch black, and I’ve been dreaming every night of warmth and a place to call home, and I’ve been waking up every morning with cold feet in other people’s houses.’ Yet dark and wet as they might have been, the texture of my days felt softer than ever. My world was easy to mould. People tugged at it and I let them. I should have known every road on my map by now; every shortcut and every detour. This year, I forgot what shape my country should have had. This was a map with my name for a capital, a map I let others draw because the capital was on the verge of collapse under thunderstorms and flash floods. I only tell the truth on here – so here I go: this year, I didn’t know how to rule. There, I said it. I had nothing of the magnificent beast of a girl I set out to be, with a fire within enflaming my mind to build myself an empire; none of that.

This year I sat around, fantasising spirits one could hire would come in and give myself a complete cleaning; millions of brushes scrubbing white effervescent foam into every obscure or hiding corner of my soul.

But the cloud casted over me for the past months is breaking now. I hold on to my storms, because they make me just as they break me, yes; but there is nothing left to fight and nothing left to fight for. I can feel it breaking, its last words drifting slowly across the skies like well-made paper aeroplanes. They remind me that I don’t need its chaos anymore, that the chaos taught me all there was to teach this year. I’m becoming bizarrely temperamental. I can’t put my finger on one good thing I was left with, but I know that time will teach me what my ruins mean. I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t fight the universe any longer than he wants to put up with my fight. I have to keep reminding myself that I wanted it all to end, that I want to honour and own my dreams and my world again, and even though I don’t yet know how, I’m just as capable as I was before and after every final episode.

I look around for the map, but the map is gone, so I start looking around for where the wilderness is. I’ll build castles again, as soon as the last raindrop has had its way with me. I’ll let it rain, and I’ll let it shine again.

Log 01. Writer Girl, Interrupted

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When they take me by the shirt and try to pull me in, I push the words back into their not-now cages.

Nobody wants to read them, I make sure I remember.
You don’t need to any more vividness to it, I urge myself as if I were another.
Don’t amplify the voices in your head. Let them die down, I insist.

From the height of my balcony the world seems smaller, easier to tame; easier to love. I talk quietly, late into the night. I feel like an episode of my life, one that can only end if I am strong enough to fight the urge to hear myself typing it alive over & over.

Sunlight lay across my knees and I pray it protects me from the thirty flavours of fear knocking at me. I’m feeling everything everywhere. Not everyone can feel things this deeply. I love with both my hands and all of my fingers. When I hurt, I hurt in every colour, from every angle, in any lighting. Other feelings are bland, beige, tasteless. Mine grow into a thick, coarse darkness I have to keep kicking until it bleeds daylight all over again.

Fiery, roaring, breath-snatching, red hot soul. Bubbles deep in your stomach and your head spinning and your heart pounding kind of soul. I feel and I feel and I feel, like I am banging at the insides of a cage. I lay down by the window, exhausted at best, empty at worst. I find comfort in knowing that the opposite of coherent is interesting – just enough to get back on my feet and let it start again.

My loved ones often tell me to let it all out on paper, as if I should want to conserve it. Yet there would be too much effort to put into the white spaces, the dead spaces, the moments in between. Why save what I’m living, if I can’t love it? This past doesn’t need to be reused in the future.

These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb, I laugh to myself, and cry to myself, and speak to myself in the same voice that would promise smoking more cigarettes and staying up another night with you on a sleepy dead end street, if only you’d ask. Instead, it tells itself stories. It tells me my stories. I didn’t ask.

I sit in the dark and listen to myself. I sound delirious, quick, and disconnected. I wish I were the girl who says the right thing, rather than the raw thing. I wish I could run my own fingers through the knots of my soul. I wish that, when I spread my heart thin like butter on toast, I didn’t wish for someone else to come along and snatch it off my plate. I wish I could learn to love the skies I’m under. I wish I were the thunderstorms I hide from.

I still fall asleep with beautiful scenes from my memories in mind. I still won’t write them down. I am always told I am too much. I am as much as I am, but I’d feel guilty if I added any more to that. I’m sorry I am all of this, I tell the girl who can’t be kind to herself while blooming, whose soul doesn’t seem to fit these days.

I wish I could forgive her.

In Praise of Blood and Noise

Converse C3/C4 Spring 2014 Southern Graphics ISM & Online

The morning was only growing colder. The streets were still dark. He crawled down roads, staring, as if looking through a window; drenched with past and haunting images of days that now seemed to never have been. But the minutes wouldn’t stop.

He stood waiting, coughing. The chill of the night had entered him. The lamp by the bed was broken so he lay still all night, counting the hours until dawn. There was a strange rage inside him and it was fascinating being so angry.

Then the morning came, with its pure air and the things that spoil it – like bicycles going past the train station, their parts creaking, as if on a mission to ease him into the day. He knew the storms would come, and he knew to always let them bend it. His rage was better than breaking. It was a gift.

These were dreams he shouldn’t have had. Nobody should ever have to clean up their mornings like that. But it was impossible to control them. They took place while he was awake, and they were incandescent, burning through him, radiating through him for days. They were, in a sense, the skeleton of all reality. They seemed the work of a sick man, a work of great patience and simplicity and sadness. They were his masterpiece. He knew he could never let another touch them.

But in the mornings, in his shower, in the walk out the door, as he reached for them, turned them around and wondered if, by any rearrangement of events, by any accident could they be slipped into real life, the whole concert fell apart in his hands like old newspaper. There was nothing tangible to stitch together, only memories of things that screamed in his dreams at night. If only he could pull it all out, long and connected like magicians’ scarves hidden in magicians’ sleeves. But there was nothing left but reality, and reality couldn’t give him what he wanted, and he didn’t want what reality was willing to give; so they began to ignore each other.

The early train started rocking along, rushing through villages. Rain was beating against the window. He sat in silence, going ahead only because of some sort of curiosity, to discover where it would all vanish. The world outside was no longer mysterious. There was nothing on the other side; there was no other side. He was living in hell and hell was all there was, daylight to midnight.

Hunched over his seat, listening to the rain, he thought of how what didn’t kill him only made it all much harder. What didn’t kill him kept him up all night. What didn’t kill him made him want to kill it; but he wasn’t all that brave. He sighed, feeling a moment of great loneliness rushing to meet him.

Then the train stopped, and The Day started.

*

When he left the office the clouds had melted like ice, the air was lucid and sweet, and the skies were unexpectedly freshened – all things that did not matter at all. He was battling monsters, pulling himself out of burning building. Back in his silent house, he would spend maddening hours inside mint green walls again, altering past dreams in order to form brighter future ones. He might as well start now.

Certain things he remembered exactly as they were and nothing could be done about them. These fragments entered him, able to part his flesh, a story of things that almost happened and made a world that almost did what he said and almost loved him back before the sunlight plunged everything into the darkness again. They were merely discoloured a bit by time. Most of them, though, had long since been transformed or rearranged to make his insomnia bearable – just like one alters his past memories to better deal with their real life.

Then the light changed and a new quality appeared in it, an intensity that meant aliveness had found a home. Somebody was keeping it from passing through with bold, brusque movements. Somebody was living out loud next to him. Somebody was still living out loud. He brushed his hair behind his ears and coughed hard; he knew he’d thrown something away and he was mean, but he was going in for one last chance at redemption.

A fiction for which a place already existed in his heart turned into fact. Images of her were flashing in front of him, dripping like extra paint onto extra walls. She was a cup of universe, dancing, turning in the orange light with both hands full of life, almost spilling herself laughing and dancing and throwing her head back, letting her hair shake down her shoulders – but never quite.

The future didn’t surprise him. Much of it existed already but she did not exist until then, and she was magnetising and intoxicating. She had quiet and soft-eyes, but her manner was lively and decisive. Equal parts old soul and starry-eyed child, something about her was straightforward and reassuring. It seemed to him that she was the paint brush and the world was her painting.  He knew what she was, and he was ready to fall to his knees like a believer.

It was by glances, exhausted glances from across a crowded place that he discovered her, the flashes of her eyes through the night promising to be his newest, most haunting dream. He confirmed her only in the silences that came after, when they sat next to each other with their arms touching and their legs overlapping. He saw the tender way she touched things and knew that she, too, was soft and alive; sometimes a still day, and sometimes a hurricane. Her power was flickering, sometimes present and sometimes not.

‘I don’t know who you are,’ he looked into her eyes and said to himself, ‘but I’ll dive into you. I’ll get to you, from your lightest shades to your darkest.’

His curiosity was going down the rabbit hole.

The book was in her lap.

‘What is it about?’ he asked.

‘It’s a brief guide to recreational time travel,’ she answered, and her voice had a sensitive, magical, calm quality. ‘I keep it with me always. I must never be without it.’

He smiled; she didn’t. He fell for it, hard. How she seemed to believe her own fantasies eliminated all noise and blocked all escape routes. He knew he’d hold the image in his head for a long time after the moment had passed. It was his own warm, still thriving with life kind of memory to preserve now, as if he had collected an object he loved dearly and grown too fond of it to put it away.

‘I like your stories,’ he said, flickering through it.

She weaved words like a vivid tapestry in her stories, the kind one thinks of when it’s breakfast and they’re standing in the shower for over an hour, bar of soap in their hand, soaking in the light, wishing they could crawl inside a second skin and relive them reborn, wild-eyes, free.

‘Good, you’ll likely be in one,’ she replied, struggling up, smiling strangely.

She said this quietly but to him it sounded like the ticking of a bomb. She now looked like the edge of a map, the place where things are uncertain and dangerous and make little sense. ‘Here be dragons,’ her face read, and he wanted to be in her every town, on her every street.

Alive. Alive was what she was, through her running, gushing, swirling blood and amongst all the noises of the world.

*

Clinging to her arm he followed, along the dark roads. It was night for many miles, but she insisted to walk. Then she put one hand to the knob and he kept toward the sound of her voice, wild-eyed and sleepless, going up the stairs of the building, in her rooms, amongst her drawings and all her things. He liked existing with her; everything else was sealed up, labeled Not Now. He wanted to swim in the way she made him feel, until his clothes were soaked and it would all go straight into his bones, altering his essence and – who knew? – his reality. Anything, but the sighing back to reality. Her, her, her.

He hoped the intro would read ‘This has been created inside her walls, last Wednesday, in memory of life’. In the first paragraph, she would put her head in his lap and closer her eyes, like lying in the middle of an empty highway and listening to the road, and she would like his voice and he could hear her breathing. He smiled; he knew there was no fiction without fact.

‘You sat on my counter, on my couch, on the piano bench. You asked me to play for you. You called me your “girl” and said every song was about us. I was tired and you wanted to stay up and talk. You laid with me on the couch, our faces almost touching and told me you were in love with me. Then you took off your gold-rimmed glasses and slept beside me and held my hand.’

He shook his head; not now. Reality and dream couldn’t blur together tonight.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

‘They want you to love the whole world but you won’t, you want it narrowed down to one fleshy man who knows what to do with his hands, with your body. A man with almond eyes and a long jaw and a serenely contemplative, kindly mischievous air, who cuts you open until your light streams out between the stitches, no matter how soft, how scar-free you think you are.’

She narrowed her eyes, much to his despair.

‘Nothing,’ he said, cold sweat streaming down his spine.

He could smell them and hear them and touch them and see them. He wanted to cry out loud. The dreams were coming to him.

She came closer, too.

‘Talk to me,’ she said, gently touching his leg. ‘I will listen, and I will write it all down. You and I will make a damn great story out of this.’

On Fire, But Not Burning

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from a work in progres

Melanie is the product of somebody’s imagination, a character in a story still being written. As she develops – as she is being developed – she begins to question her existence in between her maker’s writing sessions. Why can’t she remember her childhood? What do the blank spaces mean? Who put her in this scenario, why does it feel like she’s being controlled, and what if she wrote a book revolving a character much stronger than she could ever be?

Melanie didn’t like her name. She thought it sounded too much like ‘melody’ and she didn’t like music either. She had no idea why. People are often told that their likes and dislikes are strongly connected with their fears, but she didn’t buy it. She couldn’t name anything she was afraid of that came with a soundtrack.

It all went through her like white noise, a slightly irritating sound – like a mosquito buzzing in the dark – that she wanted to push away as quickly as she could. Melanie thought of herself as strange for lacking the refined sensibility and liking for musical complexity that everybody else possessed, and did her best to hide it. She often thought that she should have studied music harder when she was little, but she couldn’t quite remember herself as a little girl; and this was another thing she did her best to hide.

Most of the time Melanie’s expression said ‘I am still here but I am already gone’. Some found her mysterious and provocative and learned to like that stare, like a dark hint. Others found her gentle-souled but didn’t take her stare for a hint; there was nothing behind it. No inner force of the mind shaking the thunder from the skies, no creative courage of the young heart, no play in her eyes, no fire; just dry logs. Poetic as it might seem in retrospect, in the moment it was just ugly and exhausting to be Melanie.

The tiredness only made room for more of the same. She wanted to detach herself from her body often, fast and loud, like a car crash. Run out of her skin and bones and muscles and fat and nerves and let it all fall out on the floor like a piece of clothing she’d been waiting to take off, fold up and never put on again, so rough it felt and so badly she wanted to scratch it off. Most people looked comfortable with how they’d turned out, but Melanie’s body felt like a strange thing she seemed to have picked up in a hurry on her way to becoming, in the wrong size and dullest colour.

But her emotional landscape – ah, that made for a whole different story – was a minefield. Vivid like colours and juicy at first, the enormous monsters crept in at times and broke her inner mechanisms and ate her heart alive; it was the only way she could make sense of the seizures.

Melanie couldn’t decide if they were friends or if she wanted them dead on the floor like they deserved, choked with chunks of her heart stuck in their throats for trying to take over like that. But what difference would it have made by that point? She could never tuck away the visions because every time she woke up her extremities were still ice-cold, her mind razor-sharp, and the strange flavour in her mouth was real. It impacted, in one way or another, her sepia-tone of being.

It began with someone reaching inside her and tugging at all the wires, then moving the whole party there. The first kind of pain was liberation, which barely felt like pain at all, but more a lightness all through her body from the blows. At the bottom of her body there was a little girl in a tall transparent container, no lid. She was always little and always being reached into during the quick, sharp moments. She was screaming at what Melanie could somehow swear it was the same monsters. Her arms hugged her knees, her knees kissed her chest, and her entire body rocked back and forth like a carousel horse in an abandoned park.

Melanie came toward her in full speed from above the surface and didn’t stop until on all fours, fumbling on the floor for a way in. She could peer through the fish bowl, watch the little girl circle herself, wonder at the strangeness of it all while her pulse accelerated. Next, it would get dark and moist and sticky all around, and she would desperately try to flip a switch, cut a cord, break her skin, let it all float up so she didn’t feel this drowned anymore; then she’d fall through, every time, no exceptions.

The intensity of it all made it hard to put two and two together once on the other side. Melanie was usually just glad she made it somewhere else.  She got used to seeing the little girl in agony and she usually just shook her head, chin in her chest, smiling to herself. The little girl was not real and she knew it. One knows when the reality they almost believe in is merely a product of their imagination. Her only fear was that one day she’d struggle to tell the difference, so often the seizures took place. They weren’t scary at all apart from the beginning. The dreams they brought to life – or the life they brought her to – were always the same. She was stuck in some kind of a sweet short coma, carried away to a place where life hadn’t blossomed yet but was going to any minute. The near-emptiness and sense of possibility made it a nice experience, after all.

You know that place between sleep and awake where you’re still dreaming but it’s slowly slipping? That’s how it all felt. Melanie felt light but connected, like the one drop of water on the side of the hurricane slowly dissolving into the storm. There was no fighting, no resistance. She wanted it all for as long as she was there. It was only in real life, dear life, that she reflected on it and despised its force, because she couldn’t understand it. While on the hurricane’s side, she was one with it. Almost one with it.

It was always hazy and covered in floating ice in there. In fact, Melanie was probably floating too, but she couldn’t see a thing in sight. She couldn’t even see her own body – which made for a nice change and thus, despite the ice, Melanie was never cold. Whatever she was made of in these strange dreams was completely invisible and blocked out all feeling. The only thing coming from her was the occasional smoke rising from the spot where her heart would have been, but strong winds coming from every direction at once seemed to put out the invisible fire.

Melanie, too, doubted its existence in real life; but in there she loved her fire with the fiery force of knowing that everything is impermanent. She knew she was going back to hating its absence soon, but for a little while she could delight in knowing it was only dormant. She might have been small and smooth with soft edges and a tired look, an obedient lapdog in her ‘slap-in-the-face’ life, but in the bizarre dreams her creative lunatic self seemed to have created she was the magnificent beast. Almost one with the it.

When she came back her memories of the dark side of the world were like dreams fading at the edges when you shake off the night. She spread silence on toast, thick and crunchy and spiced with nostalgia, ate it with big bites and waited patiently for the damned devils to turn the magic on again. Much as she wanted to battle the uninvited guests forcing themselves onto her, she always fell asleep on a prayer. ‘May they never give me peace…’

For peace meant tossing and turning, living and bleeding until the secret chamber of the heart was opened once again, a monstrous, merciless ocean wave of nothingness washing over her existence. These breaks from life taught Melanie the importance of elsewhere, of ‘something-like-this-but-not-this’, of how losing her religion could feel so much like coming home to a different time and a different space where she could go to be whom she couldn’t be anywhere else.

And there was another thing. Melanie didn’t believe in the little girl, but what if the little girl believed in Melanie? Melanie would have shaken her head in disbelief again, only it wasn’t so easy in the real world. The visions had claws here.