On Fear, Success, And Wishing Stars

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Sometimes, some days, some nights, out of nowhere, my throat chokes up. My stomach heaves. The world, a moment ago bound by the walls of the room, balloons outwards; the sky is too wide, the streets are too long, the world is too big, too big, and I—

I am scared.

I am always scared. Why don’t they ever teach you in school how to deal with the nameless fear that comes with existing in so large a universe, in so cold and faceless a society, where your economic worth determines your destiny? Why don’t they ever teach us how to deal with death, to love, to live? Those things aren’t found in textbooks, and perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps they’re the kind of things we’re meant to figure out for ourselves, when we are all alone at night, sick with fright.

I am scared, of a lot of things. Too many to list. I can’t remember the last time I felt secure, safe; perhaps it was back in the womb, when my tiny universe was red and warm, and comforting. I can’t even pinpoint what exactly it is that has me so spooked, and I think it is both everything, and nothing, all at once. It’s everything, but it’s nothing. I am just scared, the way a sun just shines, the way a rat just scurries. Fear is woven into the fabric of my being. It’s been a long time in the weaving. For some, there is no home, no place to rest your head, except in books, and one’s imagination, and perhaps that is better than the false comforts others have, that of friends and family, for words and ideas last longer than flesh and blood.

I am afraid of failure. Everyone with ambition is. Those who end up achieving success make it look so easy, when, in truth, they had moments when the fear rose up in them like bile. The only difference between them and those who did not succeed was that they kept on working, through the fear and the self-doubt. Rain or sunshine, you must tend to your crops, or die. That’s a good way to look it. Sometimes, I don’t want to write. I don’t. I don’t want to sit at my desk, and write bad words which form bad sentences which then make me feel bad about myself. It’s like slapping yourself repeatedly, and willingly, in the face. But if you look at your work, and think of it as crops you must water and look after in order to have food to eat and thus survive, self-discipline, no matter the task, becomes a breeze. Using my imagination, I tell myself, if you don’t write today, if you don’t sit down in your chair, put the pencil in your hand, and put the tip to paper, then you will starve. And eventually, as I begin to slip into the flow of the words, it becomes less difficult, and I feel glad I bullied myself into the chair.

Inspiration is a myth. A complete myth. It’s like a wishing star. You wish on a star, chances are, even if it does come true, it wasn’t the star that brought your wish to fruition in the first place. Chances are, it was just yourself, or random forces. That’s what inspiration is like. Inspiration is when you fool yourself into thinking you need a burst of fervor to rock your gut to get to work. You don’t. Lawyers, teachers, plumbers, policemen—do they wait until they’re “inspired” before they go to work? No. Neither should writers or artists, if they’re serious about it. It’s a job, like any other, and thus has to be treated like one, even if you’re getting paid for it yet. Only then can you sharpen your skills, chip away at your craft, produce work on a steady, consistent basis to meet deadlines, self-imposed or not.

For me, discipline is a good way to fight against the nameless fear. It brings order to the day. It structures your time, allows you to focus on the moment—because, hey, you have to, otherwise you can’t finish the job. Allow me to let you in on a secret: all the highly successful people in the world forced themselves to work to get to where they are now. They gritted their teeth, even when they were sweating, their eyes tired, their feet sore, their brain fried, and kept on playing, writing, singing, dancing, practising for hours and hours, until they collapsed. Then they slept, rested, got back up, and did it all over again, and again, and again, and again. They found the strength to continue, even when they didn’t want to, when they saw no sense in it, when they were certain it was hopeless and they were wasting their time.

And you know what? Even after all that, all those hours of work, all that success, they’re still scared. Eventually, what you figure out, sooner or later, is that the fear will never go away. Like inspiration, security and certainty is a myth. The only thing that is real is how you spend your time, and what you make or create or do during your lifetime. So stop wishing on stars. Make your own light. That way, even though the darkness is still there, you’ll at least have a little brightness to see by.

Yes, You’re Going To Die and Rot In the Ground—So Here’s What You Should Do

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I think it is healthy for the soul to visit a cemetery every now and then, just to remind yourself of the briefness of life.

Or, if you do not live near a cemetery—I myself do, in fact, but I can’t access it—then I recommend searching on Google images for photographs of skeletons, in graves, in museum display cases, excavated, propped up on stands in clinics. Granted, it’s a macabre way to spend your Saturday afternoon, but it’s worth the perspective it brings. Better yet, for the less easily disturbed, watch a documentary on burials. Recently I watched one about the rising costs of burial in Greece, which were leading many to choose cremation, with some even opting to ask medical schools to accept the dead bodies of the relatives because they could not afford to have them properly buried or cremated.

You see, sometimes, in life, we fall asleep. It happens to everyone. We forget what is important in life, and what is not. Our priorities tilt out of balance. We slowly slip into a groove, whereby we push death to the back of our minds, and ease into comfortable forgetfulness, the days vanishing one after another like used wishes. Letting the reality of your own mortality pierce your consciousness, then, is rather like giving the lenses of a pair of glasses a good rub before putting them back on to see the world and life a little clearer than you did before.

Some people go through their entire lives asleep, on auto-pilot, doing what they must do to work and get money, then spending the rest of their time devoted to empty pleasures, sex, food, entertainment, and soon, before they know it, they are lying in a hospital bed, staring up at the white ceiling and wondering where their life went.

And there is nothing particularly wrong with that. For some, a life devoted to short-term pleasure is what will bring happiness. But for most, a greater purpose is needed to feel fulfilled in life. Otherwise, the act of living becomes the dull business of dragging a bag of skin and bones from one senseless task to another, and if that goes on for long enough, people end up perishing by their own hands.

Though you might disagree, I don’t think having children, a family, a loving spouse, is enough to truly satisfy a person, give them the reason to wake up each day and go on living. Perhaps it’s just me, but I believe that anything that exists or comes from outside of ourselves can never make us happy, and that includes loved ones, no matter how perfect they are. Like most important things in life, fulfillment is a personal affair, soft and silent. Often there are no accolades, no external affirmation—after all, someone can be showered with praise by the world yet still feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled in life. To truly gauge whether you are engaging yourself in fulfilling tasks, at the end of each day, as you lie in bed on the verge of sleep, listen to your heart. If it is quiet, satisfied—not necessarily content—then you are living a path in alignment with who you are, and if not, then there is no better way to swerve back onto this path than by reminding yourself that one day it will end.

I mean, we’re all secretly or openly terrified of death. I can’t stand the thought of the flesh rotting on my bones, nor can I stand the thought of the same happening to anyone in my family, anyone I know, or, well, just anyone, really, even a stranger walking by on the street. It makes me want to scream. I don’t like the mystery of death, the feeling that it seems to neutralize all the meaning gathered up by humans over the course of their lifetimes, reducing it to a matter of carbon, calcium, animal-flesh, empty of the soul, the wit, the spirit. I hate Death, in fact, because the thought nags at me, no matter how hard I try to bat it away, that everything we do to draw a curtain over the abyss—creating Art for joy and for prosperity, helping people, doing wonderful things in order to be remembered—is illusory, made up by humans to protect themselves from the horrific business of existing and then not-existing.

But it’s not, I think. In the end, it’s not meaningless. It’s not, because you and I exist, and every second we benefit from the efforts of people who existed before us, from the appliances we use around our home to the books we read. Human civilisation lies on a great mound of corpses, there is no doubt about that, but without those corpses we, today, would not be so close to the sun, bathing in its light and the warmth. Meaning and happiness comes from doing what benefits others but also brings joy to and pleases you. Scientists and writers and inventors and engineers and artists throughout history did not work only to help the species; they toiled because they liked and wanted to, and were curious and inspired, the benefits conferred upon humanity merely a by-product of their passion and determination.

So, yes, unfortunately, one day, you and I, and everyone who exists in this moment, will die, and be nothing more than corpses, bones, flesh, skin, hair, organs, meat, just like everyone who has died before us. Thus, if becoming a corpse is inevitable, you might as well be a useful one, and contribute to the pile of bodies, lift humanity a few inches higher for you having existed, instead of being scattered around the mound’s base to be picked clean by the vultures, useless bones baked brittle in the sun—even if, in the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do. But it’d be nice if you did do something. If that makes sense.

Therefore, play your part, sing your song, dance your dance, do your job, and then exit the stage. That is all there is to it. More will spring up into being after you, and they, I believe, are you, too, all of us one gigantic consciousness, falling and rising; so would it not be wonderful for them to benefit from the work you did when you lived, just as you benefited from the work others did while you lived?

Feel the sunlight. It is warm, and bright, and beautiful, and we will rise, higher and higher, towards the sun, our arms reaching for a golden eternity while we trample on the bones and flesh we will one day become.

You Are Miserable Because You Are Controlled

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I figured it out.

Today, when I woke up this morning, I figured it out.

One of the main reasons why people in our society feel so miserable a great deal of the time is because we are not in control of our lives. Instead, we are controlled by many other forces, money being the cardinal one. Money is needed to survive: it is needed for food, shelter, water electricity; all the amenities of a modern existence; and those who reject this paradigm, the necessity of money, are left homeless and to fend for themselves. In the end, all it is a method of exchange. You work for your food, your house, your electricity—people grew your food, built your home, take care of your water and electricity. As long as we are reliant on society and other people, and their efforts, and cannot build our own homes, grow our own food, harness our own water and electricity, the basic necessities of life, we are slaves to money.

How so? We take jobs that corrode our very essence. We smile, and pander, and grovel, at supervisors and superiors, in the desperate hope that we can get into the good books of someone in a higher position of authority. We have to live in conditions where we are unhappy, with people we find hard to spend time around, because we rely on them financially. Everything we do that makes us miserable, eventually, someone along the line, boils down to the necessity of transferring numbers into your bank account so you can use those numbers to purchase goods and services.

The thing is, to survive, and prosper, and be happy, there are few goods and services that we need. A roof over our heads. A bed. A desk to sit at so you can work, depending on what you do. Paper. Pens. A source of clean fresh water. Food, fruits and vegetables, and grains. Electricity for light to see by and heat to cook with. Enough clothes to keep warm. A library nearby where you can borrow and read books. All the appendages of modern existence—holidays, cars, decorations, treats, clothes, gadgets, why, they’re all entirely superfluous, and unnecessary.

Therefore the key to happiness for dreamers, and to anyone else who feels miserable when they are controlled by money, is to regain control of your own life. And that, my friends, is the crux of the issue. It is difficult. First off, unless you have seeds, and your own patch of land, a steady source of water, you can’t grow your own food. Which then means you need to buy it from the supermarket, where the food is often packaged in environmentally harmful plastics and injected with all sorts of chemicals. Building your own house, in a city, is sheer impossibility; not only do you need your own land, but you need to have the skills, material and time to connect it to the municipal water pipes and electricity grid. Clothes, paper, pens—those perhaps can be asked, or begged, from people, if they are absent. Very quickly it becomes clear that there is a reason people are such slaves to their jobs, even if it makes them feel miserable to be controlled in this way, because, well, if you think about it, what are the alternatives?

That is why everyone desperately wants to start their own business. To have your own business, and to be self-employed, is one step up from having a job, as you are more in control of your income. You determine, based on your efforts and the value of your product and how you market yourself, how much you earn. Many people do achieve this. I think, if someone could make it work, it could be a good, if not perfect, solution. However, I do believe the ultimate form of control is not require money altogether, spending part of your time gathering water and growing food and maintaining your shelter, but devoting the rest of your hours to hard work that is meaningful to you.

I don’t have the answers. Just a tiny revelation, that struck me when I opened my eyes this money. I asked myself, “Why I am I unhappy?” “Well,” my brain said, “you are unhappy because you are financially dependent on your mother.” “And why am I financially dependent on your mother?” “Because you can’t earn money. And because you can’t earn money, you feel as though you have no control in life, buffeted by wherever the dollar signs take you. You are afraid of homelessness, so you will bear being abused just to keep a roof over your head, just like millions of people across the world, who work in jobs that are pointless and not meaningful and not in alignment with who they are but which they keep because, well, they need the money.”

Misery stemming from slavery to a method of exchange is not a new suffering. Money runs the world; it is the oil that keeps the gears running and working, even if some of the cogs are turning for no reason at all except the sake of turning. From this point onwards, I see four options for myself and other dreamers in regards to regaining control in my life.

One, is to work part-time, at a job that we can find relatively bearable, and have our bodies live on less so our hearts can live on more.

Two, is to somehow use our skills and talents to provide a service or product that other people might want, and therefore become self-employed.

The third is to live in your car or a homeless shelter—living in one’s car, is frankly, more preferable, as it is safer. That way, you eliminate one of the greatest drains of money in life, rent, or mortgage payments, thus freeing you up to devote the rest of your financial resources on food.

The fourth is for all INFPs and dreamers to get together, somehow, and somewhere, lots of kind souls working together, in a commune, using our intelligence and creativity to get by. Perhaps living in an apartment we share, where some people cook, other people work a couple of hours here and there, some gather water from park taps or grow some food in the backyard, the bills are all shared and we all live frugally, and spend plenty of time working hard to pursue our interests. Sort of like a modern-day tribe of ten or so people, where everyone works together to survive. And I have a feeling, if the right people are chosen, we will feel comfortable around each other, even me, because we’re all kind and empathic and soft-hearted and hard-working.

Now, each of these, compared to getting a traditional job, save the first option, seem particularly difficult, hard or complicated. Living in your car means you will have to be parked near a gym for water and showering facilities, and finding an electricity source, to charge your phone, or to cook or boil food, will be problematic, not to mention the safety hazards of essentially sleeping out on the streets in the night.

Self-employment is far from easy, too. You have to get very good at something, enough good enough for people to want to hand over their hard-earned cash to obtain it—and that is hard. It’s also, let’s not forget, risky: some months you might earn enough to sock some money away, and some months barely enough to live on. That’s probably the reason why people who seek financial independence have multiple income streams, wherein they work at a traditional job, perhaps part-time, but also have a website where they earn money from advertising, a side business, another job online etc. Online friends of mine have also suggested working on selling items on sites like Etsy, or online jobs like freelance writing, or being a virtual assistant.

As for the INFP commune, well, why not? Some part of me feels as though it might be more of a fantasy than a reality, and perhaps the reality of living together, with lots of other people, even if they are also dreamers, won’t match up to how I see it in my mind. There’s also the fact that INFPs tend to be scattered all over the world, so we can’t get together in the first place. I live in Australia, and so far have only spoken to one Australian INFP online, and two individuals is hardly enough to make up a proper commune and spread the duties of survival.

The thing is, when something is very meaningful and necessary, like growing and tending to crops, or gathering water, the people who undertake those tasks actually feel happier doing them. To do them means they are surviving. Whereas the office worker, trapped in a cubicle working at meaningless reports and spreadsheets, is much more unhappier, as her work is disconnected from what is truly meaningful and necessary, even if it leads to the same result, which is survival. In essence, the problem of modern society is that there are a lot of “bullshit jobs” we have fabricated, where meaningless tasks are engaged in by millions just to keep the system running and the financial elite in a position of power. So much of the world is in a bad state, artificial and forced. No matter what we do, it is best if it allows us to connect to nature, to Mother Earth, and our deep desires, such as to create Art or help others; that will bring the power back into our own hands, and therefore, happiness.

It’s hard. I mean it: it’s really, really hard to find an alternative to surviving in society, and living a meaningful life, apart from simply slotting yourself neatly into the system. But I think it is time we started listening to our guts, and our hearts. If something is making you depressed and miserable, then obviously it is not good for you. As humans, we are the only species who willingly poison ourselves—dependence on companies and other people for food mean we don’t know what goes in them, what pesticides were used, etc.–and willingly put ourselves in situations where we are unhappy and miserable for hours on end, thinking we have no other choice.

No other creature on earth lives this way. A bird will peck at a piece of food, and if it doesn’t like it, instinctively move away from it. A bird, if given the opportunity to leave its cage, will fly out in a jiffy; but if the bird, like humans, have been conditioned to stay in the cage, even when the latch is open, then it will never be free, because it will have created its own cage, and those take much more effort to break open.

I don’t know what I will do, but I do think that identifying the problem is the first step towards solving it. There is a solution, somewhere, somehow; it may not be easy, but it certainly exists. There is always a solution. I am tired of the lack of control in my life, tired of having to depend on my mother, and the world, and society. Taking an unconventional path may be more frightening and unsafe, the way barred by brambles and crowded with lurking beasts, but at the end there may be a beautiful garden, more wonderful and luscious than one can possibly imagine. As an INFP, as a dreamer, and most importantly, as a creative person, a writer, using my creativity to find other ways to live and survive is just as important as employing it to write books and stories.

After the altercation with my mother yesterday, I realised just how precarious my position is as a financially-dependent daughter who has long overstayed her welcome, and how, in the end, we often have no-one to turn to except ourselves, our own will, and our own grit. All I know is that I want to be in control of my own life, without sacrificing my integrity or being forced to engage in meaningless tasks that make my soul recoil, and that if I find the key to unlock this door, on the other side lies, if not happiness, then at the very least, peace. Do you?

And I think the community that has built up around my blog, although small in the larger scheme, is still meaningful, and important. We, as dreamers, as introverts and sensitive creatures, the odd and the offbeat, the misfits and misunderstood, who understand each other, should put our minds together, and comfort and reach out to each other, in order to build unconventional yet personally satisfying lives. We can’t live the life society has set out for us, not if we want to be miserable and anxious and unfulfilled; we simply must at least try find another way, another path. We are in control of our lives, our every thought and word and action determining our future and who we become; and if have lost some of that control, then we simply must regain it. We can. I can. You can.

Being Sensitive And Having An Insensitive Mother

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Sometimes, I dream of running away.

And then I remember that I would not be able to travel more than a few blocks without a panic attack setting in, and be forced to find either return home, tail between my legs, or find some other means of shelter, perhaps a public bathroom cubicle with a door that can lock.

So I stay in my room, and instead dream of not being conscious, which in itself is counteractive, as dreaming itself is a conscious act.

My mother is not a kind woman.

In fact, for someone like myself, who is highly sensitive and scatterbrained, I cannot think of anyone under the sun more unsuited to being my parent.

She screams at me. She screamed at me today. If you have Asperger’s, having someone screaming at you is a full-frontal assault, both emotionally and sonically excruciating. I curl up and cannot take it. I curl up, and wish I was dead. And still she goes on screaming.

Often, I am in the wrong. I can’t keep our apartment clean, and that is a fact. I am messy. I try to be neat and tidy, but sooner or later it all becomes disorganized again, and then I get screamed at for being the most disgusting slob to ever walk the land.

I daydream. Often my physical surroundings are often nothing more than interesting wallpaper. I live inside my head. I am introverted. So my mother screams at me for not socialising. I am sensitive. So she screams at me for using my sensitivity as an excuse for not wanting to deal with any that is unpleasant and stressful, like getting a job and interacting with people. I am empathetic. So she screams at me for refusing to eat meat, and is horribly scornful when I tell her I can’t put flesh, most likely from an animal who died in agony, into my mouth and swallow it. She tells me that she loves her two other nice and sensible children, and that I am deadweight, a burden; the sight of my face is abhorrent to her; that sometimes she doesn’t want to come home just so she doesn’t have to deal with me.

My siblings watch on, cold and unsympathetic. They are tired of my emotional outbursts, and tired of mother’s screaming. They are tired of having an older sister like me, useless and housebound, and perhaps that is the guilt talking, and perhaps that is not. My sister barely speaks to me anymore. She is getting a job soon, an after school job, to help my mother with the finances. And look at me. I am lucky not to be out on the street, as my mother likes to remind me. One of these days, she says, I’ll throw you out, and shut the door in your face, and it doesn’t matter how much you cry or beg, I won’t let you come back. You’re nineteen almost, you’re an adult. You’ll be on your own. I’m not working all these long hours just to feed and keep someone so inept and abnormal, who seems to float through life as though she were lost in her head.

All I ask is for a room of my own, where I can be alone, and read, and write, and work. I always work, even when I am miserable. Writing, and working, is all I have, and I know, given enough time and practice, I can get very good at it. I’m just not enough good enough yet, not by a long shot. I’m too young, too inexperienced. Any career in the Arts takes practice, long years of strenuous and constant effort. I don’t ask for much. Just a room. I can live on rice and beans, I don’t want any new clothes, just enough food to live on and pen and paper and a room of my own where I can live and write and not be disturbed. I wouldn’t mind if the room was small and cramped. As long as there is enough space for a desk and a chair, it would be fine.

It’s as if all everyone sees are the horrible parts of me: how awkward I am, how defective, disabled, strange. No-one seems to see the sensitivity, the empathy, the creativity, the imagination, the soul behind the stuttering mask. And because no-one around me seems to see my gifts–least of all my own mother, who laughed scornfully when I once made the mistake of telling her I would be a successful writer one day, before proceeding to tell me, her voice hard as a hammer knocking against my skull, that very few people succeed at writing–I begin to doubt whether they really exist. Once, my mother told me that I thought I was so “special”, her lips curled back in a sneer, that I needed solitude and to be undisturbed by people like some princess, and that, well, it was a big world out there, filled with talented people, and I was nothing in comparison. Go comfort yourself with that, she told me. When you have nothing to eat and no roof over your head, we’ll see whether you continue these dreams and delusions. If you can’t work and earn money, the world won’t care about you. Society has needs, and you need to fulfill one of them to survive. Who needs books? You don’t need books to survive. I never read. It’s too much reading that got you into this mess in the first place. You got lost in fantasy worlds, disconnected from reality, and now look at you. You’re a coward, you just want to escape into your imagination, where everything is fine and good, and ignore your duties and responsibilities.

Again, my siblings watched from the sidelines—there are no spare rooms for them to escape from the sideshow into, after all—and again, they remained silent. I think they hate me, too, for being who I am. I think they’re irritated with me.

I cried and screamed when she yelled at me today. It was my fault. I forgot the keys. I forgot where I placed them. I am always losing things, and I don’t know why. My mind doesn’t co-operate with the concept of physical location, doesn’t pay attention to my surroundings. I couldn’t open the door to let my siblings come in from school, which is a task allocated to me because my mother is afraid they will lose the key while at school. They were stuck outside until my mother came back early from work so they could be let in and do their homework at their desks.

She was boiling with rage. I could feel it through the front door, smoldering gushes of it. I was so scared. I hid in the bathroom. She came inside the house and banged on the bathroom door until it felt like my skull would break, screeching for me to come out. I didn’t want to. The screaming would be louder then, without the door acting as a physical barrier. But I did, because I knew she would get angrier if I didn’t. I I didn’t even have time to get fully-dressed; I was changing when the key cracked in the lock, signaling my mother’s return, and then I was running, half-dressed, wearing nothing but a long singlet. To come out, half-naked, and have her scream at me, felt so humiliating I think I could have died.

Now she is gone, back to work, to the grocery store, to do what I cannot help her to do. She left me to my tears, and my rocking, and my crying, in a cold fury. It is her anger that hurts me the most. I sense emotions as if they were physical rather than psychological, so her anger felt as though someone was repeatedly pummeling me in the stomach until I was coughing up blood. But my mother is right about one thing: I am a burden. More than a burden. And to place all your hopes on success in the Arts is a risky move. Besides, I am not disciplined enough, not talented enough—she is right, she is right. That was what my brain told me, as I rocked on the floor a few minutes ago. I don’t know if it is true. I don’t think it’s true. But I don’t know.

Loneliness set in soon afterwards. My family does not treat me like one of them. Half the time my sister doubts everything I say because she is convinced that I am crazy and delusional, insane. I am a tolerated pet whose unruliness is no longer amusing. I can’t turn to anyone for help: not my father, not the Government; I don’t have any friends in real life, who I can call and ask for help. After dropping out of university, any educational institutes could not care if I lived or died. I once called a Helpline number, desperate, and the man on the other end of the phone was clearly bored and rattled off a series of generic questions, and I couldn’t stand it so eventually I hung up on him, and then felt bad for being rude. Later that evening, I was scolded for using up the remaining credit on my phone.

Only through this blog have I met other like-minded people. Some of you might think, seeing as I can be quite wise and mature for my age, that I cope well, but the truth is, I don’t. I am stuck: I want to be financially independent, yet cannot due to my psychology. Thus all I can do is suffer in my family’s home, and suffer in silence, and be grateful for it, because at least I have a roof over my head and most nights go to bed without feeling too hungry. These days, I feel guilty even eating any food in the house. It’s the energy that radiates from my mother whenever I eat. Like I am a beggar from the street come to sit at her table, and steal her food, food for which I did nothing to work for to get. Some nights I go to bed hungry just so I don’t have to stay in the kitchen around her, and have her eyes on me as I eat.

I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know why it is that the outside world hurts me so. It’s the noise, it’s the sounds, the lights, the people—but it’s also the energy. Out in the noisy city streets, there is a lot of bad energy, and it gusts against my skin like skittering sparks from a flame. It’s too rough, too cruel, no kindness, no love. It makes me want to shrink down and down, into a mouse, and scurry away into a tiny cubbyhole inside a wall, where I can have my own miniature doll-sized bed and drawers, a tiny firefly coaxed into acting as a lamp, a niche where I can store nuts and berries, a wardrobe holding clothes stitched using spidersilk, and miniscule books on little shelves, their pages patterned with rows and rows of miniscule writing. There, in that quiet, tiny space, I would be safe, and happy, and not be hurt by anyone or anything.

And so it goes. When reality becomes too painful, I disappear into my mind, a turtle retracting back into its shell. It heals me. It lets me escape. I write, and I imagine, and am happy, if only briefly, and I hold tight to the hope that one day, my books will be published, and they will exist long after I am dead, to provide comfort and joy to others who need to escape or to forget, or who are sad and suffering. That is the power of fantasy, of literature, of Art. The world does need books, no matter what my mother says. And I will write them. No matter what it takes, or how long it takes, I will. As long as I can still breathe and think and communicate, there is hope.

Being An Imaginative Person

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By nature, I am a creative and imaginative person, and once, when I told a someone this, many years ago, she reacted as though I had bragged, out loud, that I was some particularly intelligent creature, a genius.

Well, yes, in a sense; but everyone, I believe, is a genius in some respect, whether it be the ability to decorate cakes with intricate swirls and curlicues of icing, philosophize, unplug a toilet with deftness and skill, or write brilliant newspaper articles at lightning speed, each one succinct and structured—and mine just happens to be the possession of an overactive imagination. This encounter with a past friend was one of many of the downfalls to being imaginative I have encountered over the years.

Since as far back as I can remember, imagination has been the backdrop of my life. Playing by myself, I pretended tiny flattened seeds fallen from a tree in the school playground were the teeth of rats, collected by a tooth fairy who had been exiled and turned wicked, and that if I placed them under my pillow, she would arrive, dark wings flashing and nails extended, to retrieve them. In imaginary games played with my siblings, I came with a host of exciting scenarios: our beds were boats, the carpet around it sea, filled with ferocious sharks and octopuses. At age seven convinced myself that I was a fairy trapped in a human body so thoroughly that any glints or sparkles I saw out of the corner of my eye made my heart beat, as I thought the confirmation of my true ancestry. Even today, when I look or see or read anything, my mind probes for the stories; an abandoned train track lights my mind on fire, and I begin to wonder, and wonder; or some passing mention of a fact transforms into a creative concept.

Any books without the slightest dab of fantasy—which is much of “proper” literature, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, John Banville, Charles Dickens (except for A Christmas Carol, that is)—bore me to tears and bring upon the urge to disembowel myself to bring an end to the suffering. Books that employ conventional fantasy, populated with quests and romances and goblins and dragons, are also dull as heck. What lights my imagination is the strange and the unique, the more fantastical and wondrous the better; give me insect-headed creatures who visit stores to buy colourberries to make art, worlds where insects are large as dinosaurs overrun the land, children who fall into an alternate universes where spirits are given baths heated by the aid of a boilerman with several arms that can stretch and contract as far as he desires to reach drawers.

When I come across anything mind-burstingly original, my mind gives a little euphoric leap, like an excited beetle, and I occasionally even let out, while glued to the book or screen, an actual cry of delight. Imagination, for me, brings about a drug-like high, allowing me to transcend the reality of this world into some higher realm, and is, whilst immersed in it, the closest I have ever come to happiness.

I am allergic to reality. The sting of it is salt rubbed in an open wound. It is almost as though I was born with an invisible hole in my head, through which magic spills inside my skull to marinate my brain. I am a completely internal creature, lost inside myself, worlds inside worlds; it is something that is very hard to describe, yet I feel as though I must do it, if only to shed light on the creative personality, and allow for the chance of some validation.

In fact, I would even go so far as to day that writing is purely a medium for me to exercise my imagination, to distill its efforts into something tangible, liquid dreams for others to drink. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I am the worst artist under the sun, and cannot draw to save my life, for if I did, I would most likely be making fantastical animations set in mind-boggling strange realms rather than writing. In my mind, the stories are so clear, playing out as though in a film—and writing is a very difficult medium to tether it down with, not to mention limited in its scope and detail by the reader’s own imagination and the writer’s skill.

Being this way has led to its own share of problems. I am a loner, extremely averse to extended periods of social contact, and would be very content being alone for months on end with nothing but my own imagination to entertain me. In addition, because my internal life is so powerful, the force I exert on the external world is very weak. I am housebound, after dropping out of university earlier this year, experience every sensation from emotions to sounds to an excruciating extent so that the faint rumble of a car outside on the road vibrates through my skull as though I had my cheek pressed against a washing machine, and only truly feel alive at night, when the boundaries between what is real, and what is not, melts together—and, if you were ever to meet me in real life, a little odd. But all that, I think, painful and awful as it is, just comes with the territory. If I weren’t so sensitive and handicapped in some ways, I wouldn’t be highly creative; everything is linked, and if one end of the scale is very high, then the other end has to be lower.

This, however, has led to extensive problems. For one, the fantasy I read, and sometimes the fantasy I write, too, is never enough: I always want to be more immersed in the imagination, for the highs to be greater, for the concepts to be stranger and weirder and therefore more wonderful. It is rather like a man who loves food desiring to taste something that, when he places it on his tongue, sends him straight to heaven, and keeps him there, only every dish he comes across, delicious though they may be, just doesn’t have that special “something”. It is a situation that leads to a perpetual state of dissatisfaction and frustration, and sometimes I feel, frighteningly enough, that only by dropping down the hole of madness, wherein fantasy replaces reality entirely, would I truly be satisfied.

Another downfall is that people find it very difficult to understand me, the way I see the world, and some of them are often downright disturbed by my quirkiness, sometimes even my own family, and this is become especially worse as they become nearly the only people I interact with. Like a child, I will grin, in mad delight, at the sight of a nifty bit of graffiti on a wall that lights my imagination; and in the past, I have been known to suddenly stop in the middle of the street, and squint up at a shape I have seen in the clouds, or fall to my knees and peer down at a caterpillar, crawling across the grass, enraptured and fascinated. The misunderstanding, however, is mutual, as I can’t imagine how people never seem to take a proper look at the world around them, or play pretend every now and then, and I suppose they can’t imagine how anyone could be so childish. But that is because I am a perpetual child, forever skipping ahead to look and point and gasp.

But those problems pale in comparison to getting a job in this day and age. In society’s eyes, I am an aberrant, and the irony is that in order to be truly original, I need to veer away from the pack, and be more isolated. Originality is seeing the world from an entirely different perspective, and you can’t do that if you’re own perspective is constantly being clouded by other people’s. Yet reality encroaches, as it does for my characters: I, like the people in books, must eat, must keep a roof over my head, and to do so I must be engaged in socially-approved employment in order to gain socially-agreed-upon tokens.

Now, the problem is that creative people—based on the few creatives I have met and spoken to online (two of INFPs I met through this blog, one an established fiction writer and another a woman who paints in her spare time)—are very easily bored. If something doesn’t capture the imagination, then to force us to do it, or think it, or read it, is like trying to open your mouth wide enough to swallow a rock the size of your head whole. We just don’t do it. We can’t. Our minds will wander, we will daydream, and we will be miserable. I would rather choose to be homeless and beg for paper and pens in order to write than be forced into a field like medicine or accountancy, where not only do you have to socialise, but cram facts and numbers into your brain, which is, for me, the intellectual equivalent of pushing barbed hooks into your own flesh.

Unfortunately very few jobs in the world today require imagination. They might require skill, and intelligence, in abundance—but imagination, wild, unfettered, sweet-and-sour madness? Forget it. Even the supposedly creative professions, like architecture or graphic design, are often not very imaginative, and, besides, are not suited to my particular form of creativity in the first place, which is fantasy, fantasy worlds and fantasy characters. Which basically leaves only three options. One is to take a low-paying, mindless and isolated job, where I can daydream while my hands work. Another is to make a living from writing fantastical and strange fiction, something that will take several years to achieve. And the third, well, the third isn’t really an option, but it is to become a professional Absorber of Knowledge, which is an offshoot of being a fiction writer, anyway, as the more stuff you learn and know, the more material is available for your mind to utilize when the time comes to create.

At the moment, I am looking into the first option. Now, my brother, when I told him about my plans, protested that if I became a factory worker, or even a cleaner, it would be gross waste of my intellect. Surely someone like me, of average intellect, was smart enough, if not to be an engineer or a scientist, at least a teacher or a journalist. He looked down on the idea. He told me it would be “beneath me”. But I disagree. Mindless tasks like washing the dishes have helped me stumble across ideas in the past; and after coming home from work, my head would be bursting with ideas to write down, and I would feel invigorated from the solitude, rather than exhausted as I have been in the past when I attended in the socially-approved activity of attending university.

Of course, it is unlikely even this plan of mine will come to fruition, as many other factors come into play: the job has to be quiet, in a space with dim lighting, and one in which I can work alone; in my head, I see myself in a quiet room, packaging objects, putting things into bags or envelopes. However it’s a lot of requirements, and I doubt any job on Earth, apart from being a fiction writer, would meet them. So, in the meantime, I will write, follow my imagination to its farthest reaches, severely creative but severely handicapped, and no matter where I end up, I will never stop dreaming, and no matter what happens, I will always have my own mind to find refuge in. Here’s to imagination, and dreaming with your eyes wide open.

INFPs: It’s Hard, But We’ll Be Okay

INFP woman

With the way INFPs seem to dominate the Internet, popping up in hundreds on forums, on blogs, you could almost be led to believe that there are quite a lot of us out there, and we aren’t as rare as the studies say.

But that would be an incorrect extrapolation. Fact is, disregarding the 4% statistic sites like to throw around, we are a minority, in that the way we think, feel and view the world is often markedly different from the majority who aren’t highly introverted, creative and emotive creatures—and I have yet to communicate with an INFP who has met another of her or his kind in real life. Our online presence is merely a reflection of our introverted and reclusive natures; and the fact that we tend to find it far easier to form a relationship through written rather than spoken words.

Though we’re not the only special birds in the flock, and there are other rare personality types, like the ENTJ, no other type possesses a combination of traits so wildly unsuited to survival in today’s modern society. ENTJs are highly social, bold creatures, who are energetic, assertive, good talkers, possess sharp intellects, often run their own companies and businesses, and have no trouble fitting in wherever they go. So their rarity provides them a social and economic advantage, their traits assets, not liabilities.

INFPs, on the other hand, and I speak this from my own experience, as well as the experience of other INFPs I have communicated with, have no end of trouble finding their place in the world. No, actually, forget about finding a place: much of the time we struggle not to get eaten and spat back out by everyday life. In the past, I have had people tell me that my descriptions of INFPs were too soft and weak, and that they, as INFPs themselves, were nothing like what I described. But there is a very clear reason for that. Your MBTI is a matter of percentages. For instance, someone who takes the test might straddle right between extroversion and introversion, and feeling and thinking, yet still come up with “INFP” after taking the test. Sometimes, if they were only a few percentages more extroverted, or more reliant on thinking, they would have tested as an entirely different personality type—say, ENTP. So when you take MBTI tests, percentages are a good thing to keep in mind.

It almost goes without saying that the higher your percentages when you receive your INFP result—and there are different percentages for each letter, Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving—the more difficult a time you will have in life. Just for a quick break down of each of the functions: “Introverted” means you like to spend time alone; “Intuitive” means you trust your heart and gut rather than your head and eyes; “Feeling” means you see the world, and make decisions, from an emotional rather than intellectual viewpoint; and “Perceiving” that you favor spontaneity over rigidity and like things vague and open-ended instead of closed, final, concrete. Mix these four functions, in high concentrations, together in a big, old cauldron, add in a dash of pixie dust, and you get an INFP: a loner who compulsively daydreams, is full of intense feelings liable to burst out at inopportune moments, and disordered and messy by nature. Sounds like just the sort of person an employee would jump at the chance to hire, doesn’t it?

I mean, come on, we can make ourselves cry, on the spot, just by imagining a tragic scenario for long enough, which must be the stuff of nightmares for the sensible and pragmatic. We are the ones with disheveled hair and pencils or paintbrushes in our hands who stare out windows and mumble melancholy phrases to themselves whilst standing in a room that looks as though a hysterical raccoon rampaged through it. We lose and forget things on an astonishingly consistent basis; in the middle of sentences we often trail off, caught by some other fancy; and we see everything through rose-colored glasses, so oftentimes we are unsure whether what we know and see is real, or entirely fabricated by our imaginations. Even though I disagree with the sentiment, let’s face it, to most people, if we showed our true selves while out and about (which we often do not; minorities unconsciously try to mold themselves into the majority in order to fit in), we would seem like slightly insane and unruly creatures who need to get our act together, and “grow up”. The lucky ones among us are dubbed “absentminded professors”, while the rest of us get sidelined into all sorts of unflattering categories: too emotional, too sensitive, too quiet, too fantasy-dependent. To the rest of the world, we are never enough, parts of us always needing to be “fixed”; and being so sensitive, we take all these subtle yet constant denigrations to heart and develop low self-esteem, feel self-loathing, which are then amplified by our powerful emotions, which we then react to very strongly because of our sensitivity, often expressed by weeping in solitude due to our introversion– and as we all know suffering undergone alone is often worse than with someone else–which is why I am certain a disproportionate number of INFPs, male and female, find themselves crying into their pillows late at night around the world, wishing they were someone stronger, better, more thick-skinned and capable.

As I said before, this kind of description will not match all INFPs, and the “more” of an INFP you are, the more you will suffer, because you will be more introverted, more sensitive, more disorganized, more emotional, all traits society, or at least Western society, does not value. Your suffering is multiplied if you are a male INFP, possessing as you do traits conventionally considered feminine. I, myself, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, am a severe INFP, calculated at over 85% for each of the functions; and INFPs like me, on the farther end of the spectrum, are often at a greater risk of bipolar disorder, which is basically a condition where you have no emotional skin, and every little thing bothers you and scrapes against your heart, as well as social anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Mental illness among INFPs, in general, is disproportionally high; the combination of strong feelings and strong introversion does nothing for our psychological well-being. 

Another problematic trait of ours often overlooked, both by ourselves and personality websites, is that we tend to be quite self-centered creatures, despite our high levels of empathy. This is in part due to our idealism—after all, what is idealism but a focus, facilitated by imagination, on the way you want things to be?–and in part because we use Introverted Feeling in dealing with the outside world, and are thus highly internal, focused on our own feelings, our own reactions, opinions, internal landscapes and fantasy worlds.

So on the one hand, we are creative, highly empathic, kind and intelligent people; but on the other hand, aloof, melancholy, scatter-brained creatures, lost in daydreams and hurt and bloody from the emotional wars playing out across our hearts—and unfortunately, it tends to be only the negative traits people see, or that we, due to our private nature, show to others. More than any other type, INFPs belong to another age, an era when artists and writers and poets were lauded and appreciated, when Art and ideas were at their flux; the Renaissance, perhaps, or some long-forgotten dynasty.

Thus, here we are then, butterflies trying to maneuver our way through a world run by spiders and hulking beetles. We get squashed. We get caught in nets, in webs. We flutter, here and there, fragile and frantic, so full of zest for life, constantly plumbing the depths of emotion and philosophy, yet almost too delicate to withstand our own uncontrollable enthusiasm.

And of all the dissatisfying aspects of life, the problem of work, of earning a living so you can eat and keep a roof over your head, is the most taxing for us. Our personality simply does not fit the modern workplace. The only jobs I can think of which suit our temperaments perfectly (once again, not applicable to all INFPs), are solitary artistic professions, like writing, painting, sculpture, the skills of which take many years to master before one can hope to make a living from them, and sometimes, in a world of instant entertainment where Art that takes commitment and time to savour is less appreciated than it was in days of old, not even then. Many of us, out of necessity, take on jobs harmful for our souls and psyches in the long-term, unable to find an alternative. Others struggle to finish degrees with rigid course guidelines and involving extensive memorisation, and have trouble dealing with insensitive peers, teachers and co-workers. 

What keeps INFPs going, however, what forms the backbone of our being, is a goal, meaningful to ourselves. Without it, we would die. This might be our desire to help people or animals, to create beauty through our Art, to share our imaginations and bring joy, kindness, love to the world; whatever it is, it acts as a talisman against all the pain that assaults us in our daily lives, spurring us on when we would have otherwise already fallen.

A lot of INFP self-help advice centers on us changing ourselves. Sometimes this advice is good, such as the reminder to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, instead of only seeing things from our own perspective, or to lower our unrealistic expectations. A great deal of it, however, concentrates on becoming more objective, less mired in our own imaginations and fantasy worlds, to see the world from a more “realistic” perspective and, in doing so, fit “happily in” with the rest of society–all advice I vehemently disagree with, as they involve changing yourself to make your personality more conventional. And why should you have the obligation to make yourself more palatable for general society (that is, unless you must, in order to maintain a job)? What is wrong with being lost in your imagination? Or daydreaming? Or retaining a child-like, pure view of the world well into adulthood? What is wrong with seeming eccentric, and being avoided by others for seeming strange and odd, if it means you remain true to yourself?

As far as I can see, what we cannot give up, even if it is difficult being who we are, is our own individuality and authenticity. We should never, for the sake of acceptance, give up our own creativity, our unique perspective on the world. Butterflies may be delicate, and hurt and die more easily than other insects, but they are one of the most exquisitely beautiful creatures on Earth, and, as evinced by the faerie folklore present in cultures all around the world, by the power of their delicate wonder, lit the imaginations of thousands of humans throughout history.

We are, in short, the faeries of the world. Faeries might have it tough, their habitats ravaged by demons and other unworldly beasts, their senses easily influenced by negative energy, by hate and destruction; but they are the healers, the purveyors of magic and delight, and the world would be a much duller place without them. So it is with INFPs: despite, or in spite of, our suffering, we are often the ones who bring kindness, joy, love and boundless creativity to the world; and the people who appreciate what we have to offer, eccentricities and all, are the only ones worth bothering about. Our hearts are very, very strong—and that is all that matters.

Life Is A Prison, I Think

prison

Life is like being born and dying in a prison, without knowing what crime you committed to put you there in the first place.

So a constant, low-grade frustration permeates your life; it’s there when you traipse into the cafeteria and eat the slop from the plastic trays; it’s there when you clutch the prison bars and stare out between them, the bars throwing lines of shadow over your face; and it’s there when you’re lying on your hard bed, alone in your cell, staring up at the ceiling.

By the end of it, when they declare you guilty, and force you to drink a vial of poison, to atone for a crime you did not commit, the cold draught slips down your throat dark and bitter as bewilderment.

The thing is, the whole business of living is so puzzling, so disorientating, so strange and unfathomable, that you can’t even muster up any anger. All you can do instead is walk through the corridors of the prison, going along through the motions of the day, in complete confusion, like a sleep walker.

Two things comfort you as this terrible situation slowly wears you down. One is that you are not alone; there are hundreds and thousands and billions of other prisoners suffering along with you, new faces pouring in every day, who all do not know the crime they committed, and all must trudge through the daily drudgery of their days, swallow the poison at the end.

The other is that the prisoners who came before you, who have already swallowed the poison, left behind notes and mementos scrawled on the prison walls, voicing their own despair, confusion, often packaged in words of comfort and humor. Thus, if you scrawl your own little message, somewhere, for someone after you to read, as you read this or that person’s scrawl with your still living eyes and still living brain– that is, if other people swallowed the poison and now you exist, to one day swallow the poison also– then perhaps there is some meaning to being in the prison, after all. It’s a repeating cycle; they’re in your shoes and you’re in their shoes and when you’re gone, there will others in your shoes and their shoes who will one day have others in their shoes.

And so we just keep on going, doing our best to distract ourselves until the time comes, rattling the bars and crying out into the emptiness when it gets too hard. Though no prison guards are coming to save or help you; for, in truth, even the guards don’t know what they’re doing, and perhaps not even the ones who dish up the poison, either.

O, The Miserable Reality Of Our Days

faces

Is it just me, or is there, oh, I can barely explain it, it’s just one of those things that exist but you can’t express them because words are inadequate and in truth you’re not sure exactly what it is in the first place, only that it’s there, and awful, and ruining everything.

The gist of it is this: the anticipation of eating a cake, seeing all the lovely candles aglow, the tiered layers dripping with icing, is a thousand, trillion, bazillion times better than actually sitting in front of the cake and getting ready to eat it.

And it’s the same with, well, everything. Whatever experience you are having right now, in the moment, no matter how exciting it is, becomes banal by virtue of it existing in the present. And what is the present? The present is what people call “reality”, the thing that likes to stick its face in your face, with all its gnarly noses and overgrown eyes and gnashing teeth, impolite and awful and unforgiving. Reality is a beast, a monster, abhorrent. It is boring.

That’s the curse, I think, of having an overactive imagination: you become allergic to reality, repulsed by it as though it were a sickness, a dead corpse in the room’s corner you don’t want to touch. This sense of the eternal inadequacy of reality, and the present moment, has only really started to rear its head in recent years, as I have grown older, wiser, more jaded, seen through the spells and the illusions and the sparkles to the rot and dust.

It’s just awful, there’s such an awfulness to the limitations of reality, and the worst part is that awfulness can bleed into safe havens. Like books, and films, places where once you could lose yourself entirely, the magic unfolding across the page or screen as real to you as the smell of your own bed, or the taste of toothpaste in your mouth in the morning, all peppermint and chemicals. Somewhere along the line, something dies. That’s it, isn’t it? Something dies. Santa Claus is only magical when he is real; when he transforms into your parents, sneaking in presents under the tree at night, the show’s up, the magic is gone. You’ve seen the smoke and the mirrors, know the sleight of hands, dissected the chicanery. No longer is it pretty skin, and smiles, but skull-grins, the intestines and veins and guts pulsating beneath the skin. Game over.

Recently I re-read a worn children’s book that I’d adored and found to be the most delightful and magical piece of writing as a child. And I could not enjoy it, not one bit. I couldn’t fall into the magic anymore, as I used to. It’s like a witch losing her ability to fly, a singer losing her voice; it’s gone, age has stolen it, and very awful it was.

What we’re all searching for now, as mature teenagers, or adults, is a whiff of that old childhood magic, when everything was fresh and exciting. We want to be delighted, bathed in wonder. Problem is, the books and films on the market today don’t offer that. Perhaps it is because of the strange brand of quirky creativity that I possess, but most of the books scattered through literature, wonderful pieces of work they may be, are, well, boring. The level of escapism within them is not high enough; they’re just not imaginative enough, you still find reality smiling up at you slyly from the corners of the pages, when what you really want is for it to be banished entirely.

How much is enough? When is a work of art considered “imaginative” enough? I think when you feel yourself to be transported into another realm entirely, free of cliches, of banalities, tropes, a place that makes you feel like a child again. Books like Harry Potter don’t cut it: the link it has to the real world is still far, far too strong. An example of a piece of art that has come close to the strange and wondrous is the film “Spirited Away” by Miyazaki, which is gorgeously weird, and fun. A witch wraps a cloak around herself and turns into a great bird, her big nose acting as a beak; a bathhouse caters to spirits; a boilerman has several arms which lengthen and contract as needed, and scores of tiny lumps of soot working for him; enchanted flying paper birds; an odd and terrifying spirit who swallows people whole using a great big hole filled with gnashing and slavering teeth on its stomach. Something like that comes close, very close, but it’s still not enough, not for my tastes—and not for lots of other people, considering what an epidemic boredom is in modern society.

Maybe the kind of fantasy, wherein the real world is displaced entirely, and every page or scene is a blaze of surreal wonder, is unattainable. Maybe nothing, in the end, cannot be tarnished by awful hand of the present, of what already exists, already is, not even fantasy. I am trying to break free of a bubble that will not pop under my fingers. I am trying to search for a beyond beyond the beyond, an impossibility.

But that won’t stop me trying. So if anyone were to ask me why I write, what keeps me going, it is this: to inject my little bit of magic into the world. Proper magic. The more surreal and fantastic and strange, the better; when people one day read my books, I want them to forget themselves entirely, forget the world, caught up in a whirlwind of pure imagination, blossoming in a thousand colours and branching off in a hundred directions. Most of all, I’ll say, I write to escape reality. To live is to stare at a blank wall, and I want to paint over it, all over it, again and again, even if each time what I paint fades away and the blankness returns, until the day I die, and I won’t have to stare at it anymore.

The Tribe’s Too Big, Folks–So Be Nice

alone ball

Yesterday, I visited the grocery store, “all by myself”, as a proud five-year-old might say after knotting her first shoelaces together with a gap-toothed grin.

It was not a large grocery store, the kind with long bright aisles that seem to stretch away to infinity, but a small one, just down the road from where I now live, owned by two young men who, judging by the language they spoke to each other in, may be Arabic. Instead of rows of gleaming, brightly-coloured goods, towering shelves lit by dim fluorescent lighting are crammed into a small room, lines with mostly dried non-perishable goods, spices and herbs, instant noodles, beans and nuts, rice, canned food. There is a musty, spice-scented smell to the air that hits you when you walk in, which I have yet to decide if I like.

Nevertheless, no matter how tiny and small a place it was, it was still a visit, carried out by Yours Truly, an achievement I shall give myself a pat on the back for because:

a) I left the house and did not have more than one panic attack.

b) I walked into a public place, willingly placing myself in the company of strangers, without my anxiety cresting my self-consciousness to the point where only one thought registers in my mind, namely, FLEE.

c) Not only that, after scouring the shelves, which tends to disorientate me after a minute or so as my oh-so-sensitive noggin goes into overload from all the colours and variety, for what I wanted, I went and paid for it. By myself, just so we’re clear, handing over the package to be scanned, handing over my coins, whispering a “Thank You” mice hiding in the walls would have been hard-pressed to hear, and then I left and walked, by myself, back home.

One small step for most folk, one gigantic leap for this dreamer. Let the trumpets blare and the nightingales sing, the confetti fly and bells ring, for I, today, conquered my myriad sensitivities and managed to perform a task most people do so without batting an eyelash. Incidentally, in my nervousness, I did not check my change, and only found out later I was short-changed fifty cents, most likely by accident, which is irritating, but it’s unlikely I’ll return and ask for them. For one thing, it seems a “cheap” thing to do; and for another, the main reason, is that, after this accomplishment, due to which I am still feeling exhausted today, I probably won’t be able to leave the house for another century or so. I’ll be like the female equivalent of that Rip Van Winkle fellow, except my curse is to be blessed with an oversensitive nervous and neurological system—the very stuff of fairytales, I know.

That was the good part.

Yes, there was a bad part. Experience has informed me there usually is one. And it was so bad I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and could not, for the life of me, roll over and fall back to sleep, which is not unusual. Most anxiety sufferers tend to be overly-neurotic creatures, prone to rumination and obsessive thinking, and insomnia is often a byproduct of those wonderful traits. So instead, I got up and decided to write and tell you about it. What else are words for, except to share the stories we see, real and imagined?

Three other customers were shopping as well when I went, remarkable considering how early it was (I had deliberately gone early, so as to minimise the number of people on the streets and in the shop I would encounter as much as possible). While I was figuratively chewing my nails down to their cuticles in the check-out line, two customers were in front, while the third was still nosing around somewhere in the back of the store. Standing right at the counter was a short, yet slim man in a suit, without a suitcase, buying three bags of prawn crackers. Behind him, and in front of me, was another man, much older, middle-aged, grey-haired, slouched over in his baggy jacket.

I tend to, unfortunately, feel more anxious around men rather than women (make of that what you will; fertile ground for social commentary that does nothing but go around in circles, that is), so I was concentrating hard on reminding myself that were, in all likelihood, very nice, ordinary humans who just to wanted to purchase some food, like me—which they were. However, as the man-in-a-suit went to leave, he dropped one of his prawn-cracker chips. Down the red packet tumbled, crackling, tipping off the edge of the counter onto the floor, where it skidded to a stop between myself and the slouching man, who turned around. Both of us stared down at the chip packet, smack-bang between our feet.

An overwhelming urge came over me to pick it up and hand it to the man-in-the-suit, and yet, where due to my anxiety, or stage-fright, or my “dazed” feeling after scanning the shelves for so long, I didn’t, and neither did the slouching man. Instead, we simply both stared down at the chips as the man-in-the-suit doubled back over, bent down between us, picked it up, and left, the door swinging behind him, a new disheartened slump to his shoulders. I could sense what he was feeling: oddly upset, alone and abandoned, because two strangers did not lend a kind, helping hand when they were able to.

I wish I had picked it up. I could sense the loneliness wafting from him in a grey cloud, this lack of kindness the final decayed cherry on the rotting cake. I dearly wish I had. But I froze up. I didn’t, and the moment passed. And, for some reason I have yet to entirely entangle, I regret it most bitterly, and it has bothered me enough to take me out of bed at another ungodly hour to vent my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

This one incident is, in fact, related to a phenomenon I have noticed for some time now, on the few occasions I have left the house, which is that many people these days, in particular those walking on the streets in human streams past each other, seem depressed, and very often lonely, too, their heads bowed, or their eyes distant, trapped in the cage of their own worries, shopping and eating away their pain—it is almost as if, in cities, the human species has grown to such tremendous numbers, that our primitive brains cannot cope, and we are unable to reach out and form a connection with anyone anymore.

On the bus, at the grocery store, on the streets—all you see are silent people, ignoring each other, plugged into their phones, their own minds, their own pain, fatigue, despair. Granted, some may simply be withdrawn, or even anxious, like myself, but the majority are not. Instead, this is a consequence of people being conditioned, in modern society, to be indifferent rather than to care, to be selfish than kind. There are simply too many people to care about, too many struggling, too many squabbling over the same limited resources, the same bus seat, job, for things like love and kindness to have any elbow-room (and some people just don’t have those twin blessings in their heart in the first place).

Plus, it’s awfully difficult to be kind and make a connection or help people when you are miserable, and loathe your job, a common phenomenon in our modern-day capitalist society, because depression and unhappiness (you can take this from me) is the perfect breeding-ground for selfishness and self-absorption.

Faced by this barrage of lonely, lost and scared souls, I am lost myself; it constantly feels as though there is something very wrong with society, and the way it is run, only no-one else seems to notice, or those who do know they cannot change anything, and simply trudge on. The healer in me rises up, desiring to help, somehow, in someway. I feel like a wizard who has to nullify the zombie-status of endless ranks of the half-dead and shambling, and, put simply it’s impossible to do so. I don’t know how to eradicate capitalism and replace it with a more human-friendly economic model without humanity devolving into anarchy; or extricate people from occupations they dislike, seeing as I, myself, will one day most likely be, forced by financial necessity, to do the same, depending on how my mental health improves (and if it does not, well, that does not bear thinking about; there is no “cure” for Asperger’s, but many coping techniques which I am currently exploring), or how to make people feel happier and more connected with one another, short of cutting up society into hundreds and thousands of little self-sufficient communes (which, on some days, does not sound like too bad of an idea, frankly).

But, I mean, who knows? Perhaps loneliness and misery are an inalienable part of being human, present in the hearts of even those belonging to the most warm and friendly communities. Perhaps man, or woman, is destined to lie awake at night, no matter who is lying next to them, alone with the abyss. What I do know is that there are things we can do, can control, in our everyday lives, to inject a little happiness and kindness into the world. We can smile at people, radiate warmth, care, concern, lend a helping hand when none are available, and reach out to our fellow human beings and sufferers. At day’s end, all we have is each other; therefore, we must cherish other people as best as we can. Though I cannot perform these little acts of kindness myself due to my anxiety, spreading love does not have to be limited by psychological issues: with the internet, I can now lend a helping hand, through my words, to lots of people who are hurt, along suffering, lost or sad, and make a difference to their lives, no matter how small or insignificant.

To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world, as they say; and thus, I implore you to be kind, to make a difference, in your own way—even if it means doing something as simple and insignificant as picking up a chip packet someone’s dropped.

When Everyone Seems To Have Their Place In The World, Except, Well, You

lost

Perhaps it’s the warm summer evenings. Or the fact that I moved homes, and am still trying to find my footings, re-gain the familiarity that comes from living in the same place for an extended period of time. Or it could be just hormones. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is, recently, I’ve found myself growing more and more melancholy about, well, myself. And, well, life, and stuff.

It started with a seed of inadequacy, sprouting from a book I was reading filled with illustrations by the author. The illustrations were exquisite. Not only was the man talented with the pen, he was also a dab hand with a paintbrush. And I just thought to myself, sitting there in the room I now share with both my mother and sister, removed from them in my own little bubble, I just thought to myself, over and over, “I can’t draw to save my life.”

Which was true. I can’t. Only pens answer to my hand. The few times I’ve tried have been a complete and utter failure; it’s simply an inability to create size, detail, three-dimension, to translate what you see in your mind onto paper. Words are thousand times more easier to construct than pictures, at least for me. This then led onto a score of inadequacies: perhaps my imagination was not powerful enough, seeing as I couldn’t draw anything I saw through its lens, perhaps I was a writer deluding herself in regards to her talent, perhaps I was wasting my time, and would continue to waste my time, for years to come, penning stories no-one would ever read…

Down the whirlpool of thoughts continued to spiral, until I felt sick to my stomach. Literally sick. My own thoughts had somehow transformed into a physical reaction. I wanted to throw up. Nothing of the sort had ever happened me to before. I went to the bathroom, bent over the sink, and dry-heaved, but nothing came out. And then I went back to my room and sat down. Here I was, all alone in my room, scribbling away as the days fluttered away too quick for me sometimes to even examine them, writing terrible story after terrible story, unable to inject any life into any character, trying to make plots fit together like a blind man trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle—who was I? What was I doing?

You see, the awful thing is, it feels as though everyone else has their “place” in their world. They have found their little niche, within which to secrete themselves, safe and happy as a chick bundled into its nest. Either they have a job, or they’ve found success in their calling, or they have their own spouse, their own children, their own family, their own successful, beautiful, little lives. And every time I read about them, about this artist or this writer or this somebody, who is married and established, showered with literary accolades, my insides turn grey. I feel acutely alone, actually lost and adrift. Everyone has something, everyone has somebody, everyone has some place to call home, somewhere where they can lay their head and smile, while I sit here, writing and thinking in the dark, with only the voices in my own head for company.

In a world so filled with talent, how can you not doubt yourself? In a world where everyone seems to have their own little lives, all packaged and tied-up, even if they’re a little lopsided, what do you do with the junk scattered across your own desk? To keep on going, when you are lonely, wracked with self-doubt, destitute, unloved by people who actually understand you, and, frankly, a little depressed, takes a mammoth leap of faith, a mountainful of grit and determination. I always thought the idea of the starving artist slaving away in her little garett and every now and then traipsing out onto the roof to look over the city and watch the sun set and feed the pigeons was a lovely, romantic notion. But now I realise that to chase your dreams, and believe in yourself even when every part of you screams to do otherwise, is a path riddled with potholes, covered in shadows. It’s not fun. It’s dark, and it’s scary, and it’s hard.

What if this gamble doesn’t pay off, in the long run? As much as I adore writing, adore the imagination, what if it’s a case of loving-something-but-it-doesn’t-necessarily-mean-you’re-good-at-it-or-will-succeed-at-it? Plenty of people enjoy books without feeling any urge to pen one themselves. Maybe I am one of them, caught in a cloud of self-delusion.

Nevertheless, I can’t give it up, not even when the overwhelming sense of inadequacy gives me the urge to bash my head open with a rock, or at least crawl under the bed for several centuries in a dreamless sleep. Writing is all I have, all I am; it is as much a part of me as my own physical body, my veins words knitted into sentences, my blood flowing dark with ink. When I cry, letters trickle down my cheeks, and each time I wake up in the morning, the world inside and outside is splotched with stories, stories for me to read, to remember. To write down.

I’ll just write, I guess. I’ll just write.