The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

“We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.”

-Terence McKenna

It’s no secret that I have been struggling to write lately. Over the past few months the aggressive creativity that usually floods my mind has dissipated and become more of a slow leak than a torrent. Despite my absence of inspiration I have persevered as best as I can, producing a handful of blog entries, and fleshing out the admittedly shaky blueprints for two separate novels. At first I thought that this writer’s block was stemming from a sense of nostalgia as I finalised one manuscript and began to transition into the next. But it turns out that I was wrong. My inability to write had nothing to do with nostalgia; I have been suffering from writer’s block because at some point in the editing process of War I lost sight of who I was, and why I was writing in the first place.

It happened far easier than it should have too. See, I have always had this theory that there are two types of people in this world. There are those who want to be famous for nothing; and those who want to be remembered for something. Despite devoting my life, and my career to becoming the later, I have increasingly found myself slipping into the idiotic mindset of longing to be renowned and celebrated for what I do.

The humbleness that keeps this wolf grounded vanished, only to be replaced with an insatiable desire to fuel my own self worth. I sold out and became a fucking fake who was more concerned with the idea of being famous than being true to who I really am.  

When I finished the first draft of my sophomore novel I sat back in my chair and looked at the rough outline of a manuscript that I had created and found myself setting benchmarks to achieve. I knew that I had created a story that left my original novel Midas for dead. I had taken my protagonist and dragged him through hell; crafting scenes that I as a consumer of literature would love to read. So I set myself a goal: I wanted this novel to outsell the first. I wanted to improve upon my first efforts as a published author and continue to establish myself within the creative industries.

The plan was solid. But my ego allowed my creative mind to manipulate my aspirations and turn them into something horrible. Within days my benchmark wasn’t merely to outdo myself; it was to outdo everyone. My humble desire to grow as a man became an urge to look down upon others from a throne of literary success. I didn’t give a shit about whether or not people enjoyed reading my novel. My only concern was that they paid for a copy and I became illustrious in my success. And in that shift of mindsets from seeking personal achievement and remembrance from my peers, to desiring fame for the purpose of fame, I created a contradiction within my own microcosm that fractured everything that I stood for as a writer and killed my creativity.

When I started blogging the idea of securing an audience as large as I have been fortunate enough to amass had never even crossed my mind. I wrote to clear my head, to fight my demons, and to try and leave the world in a better state than when I found it. And yet just four years later my minor successes had momentarily gone to my head. Armed with a freshly produced manuscript and a head full of outlandish thoughts, I started reaching out to some of the largest public relations agencies in the country requesting professional representations for my talents.

The first two companies shot me down quickly, delivering generic rejection letters and emphatically stating that they do not review their original decisions. But a representative from the third agency provided me with a much needed reality check, composing an email that read:

“You need to realise that you’re an indie author. You’re not writing to sell products or to find fame. You’re writing because you have a story that you want to tell. Unfortunately it is because of this that it doesn’t matter how well you write; to an agency like mine, you have no marketability as a writer ”

The words hit me like a fist in the pit of the stomach, causing me to gasp in horror at what I had just read. I had spent months creatively frustrated as I pursued this bullshit concept of notoriety and fame. And then this stranger took one look at my work and found the contradiction inside of me that was causing my intellectual exacerbation and clouding my judgement. I have become so used to calling myself a world eater and a wolf that I temporarily lost the ability to know when my desire to write was causing me to bare my fangs and pursue goals that ran incongruously to who I really am.

Thanks to the brutally honest words of a stranger I now realise just how easily I could have identified the place inside of my head where the inconsistencies in my rational were flowing together and causing me pain. If I had stopped focusing on chartering oceans swelling with my own delusions of grandeur, or examining the heart of my writing, I could have looked introspectively inward and found where the contradictions of who I am, and my foolish desire to be famous for nothing were causing my artistic blockage.

Today is the first time in months that I have sat down at my laptop and felt like me again. I haven’t continued blogging at The Renegade Press for the past four years because of a yearning to be revered. I have done so because I have fallen in love with sharing myself with the world and touching the lives of strangers; however briefly that may be. I blog because I would rather be remembered for something than famous for nothing.

The next time that I lose sight of who I am, I will remember to take a look inside of myself and remove the contradictions causing me pain, so that my creativity can flow once again.

I recently celebrated my fourth anniversary of blogging here at The Renegade Press. As with the three anniversaries prior to this one, the moment was a bitter-sweet affair of pride and introspection. Blogging has become a passion, and a source of endless pleasure that I approach with great reverence as I attempt to pour my heart and soul into everything that I create. But it hasn’t always been this way. This website was born out of a need to find myself, and to overcome my own internal torment. Four years ago I was emotionally shattered, creatively stunted, and questioning the validity of my own existence as I battled my own private demons. I was lost inside my head, desperately searching for a purpose amongst an endless torrent of fractured, self-depreciating thoughts.

Thankfully I found that purpose; and I found myself through my writing. With each new post that I create I learn more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible. Writing is continuously helping me to become a man of tolerance, compassion, loyalty and fierce determination. But perhaps the greatest lesson that I have learned in the past four years is that the conversations that seem the hardest to have are oftentimes the ones that are most important.

In November 2015 I lost a friend to suicide. This month I lost another. For a man as petrified of death as I am, it can be incredibly confronting to lose a friend or family member. To have to accept the fragility of their morality, as well as my own scares me. To lose them to mental illness, the very affliction that pushed me into blogging in the first place, opens a chasm of sadness inside of my soul that will forever haunt me.

Recent studies compiled by the World Health Organisation suggest that global suicide rates have risen by sixty percent over the past forty-five years. This violent spike means that suicide is now one of the three leading causes of death for males and females aged 15-44. This statistic alone is staggering. When you then take a moment to consider that ninety percent of suicides worldwide can be attributed, or associated to mental health, a picture of sadness and vulnerability begins to take shape. There is a flaw in the manner in which we approach mental health and suicide. We are losing so many friends and family members prematurely.

That flaw is startlingly simple: we as a society are not communicating effectively enough about mental health and illness. Sure, people are more open to talking about suicide and depression than ever before. There is an abundance of mental health initiatives across the globe providing people with the support to overcome their own turmoil. But as a society we’re still not communicating. If we were, those organisations that are desperately trying to help strangers find beauty and meaning in their lives, or fighting valiantly to empower the vulnerable to face one more day, wouldn’t be struggling to prevent global suicide rates from reaching epidemic proportions.

OK. I want to stop for a moment and double back over that last comment and try and break it down a little. There was a linguistic sleight of hand in the preceding paragraph that may, or may not have found its mark. But it has to. I need you to understand where this flaw in our approach to mental health and suicide stems from. People are talking; or at least they are more willing to do so. And yet no one is communicating. What we are hearing when we talk to one another is the fake sound of progress. God, I hope that makes sense.

umbrella

Talking and communication are two very different things. Talking is typically defined as the oral projection of one’s voice. Whereas communication is imparting, exchanging, and receiving information through a variety of means. Communication is listening, watching, comforting, and talking when needed. Organisations can talk to sufferers of mental illness and try to create and stimulate change. But we as individuals can communicate with them. We can hold their hand when they need a friend, or lend an ear when they want to talk.  We can tear apart the idea that mental illness is something to be ashamed of and instead create a culture of support and understanding that praises someone for having the courage to seek help.

As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety, I know how difficult it can be to admit that you are struggling. I know the crushing feeling of despair that settles into the back of your mind and pushes down on your chest until you feel as though you are drowning underneath a sea of hopelessness. But thanks to blogging, I also know the feeling of release that comes with being able to open your heart and mind and communicate with your peers. There is no shame in admitting that you are vulnerable, depressed, or alone.

Mental illness is claiming far too many lives, and for me personally, it has taken too many wonderful people away from me far too soon. While I adore and admire the hardworking organisations that fight valiantly to save lives, I believe that we as individuals can have a far greater impact. We can start having conversations that might seem uncomfortable, or difficult to broach at first. We can stop turning a blind eye when we see a friend, or stranger struggling.  We can give those in need an ear to talk to, or a hand to hold, instead of a cold shoulder and a diverted glance. And maybe in doing so we can stop people from feeling so fucking alone, or depressed, or broken that suicide becomes their only answer.

In my lowest moments it was the kindness of strangers who stopped by a shitty little blog originally called Chris Nicholas Writes that became the catalyst I needed to confront my sadness and find myself once again. To know that my friends were not so fortunate as to find the inner peace that I did brings me to tears. If my only accomplishment as a writer is to inspire someone, somewhere to communicate; to speak and to listen about mental health, anxiety and depression, I’ll die a happy man.

Agh. I hate myself for doing it. Opening a post with a title written in Latin makes me feel like such a fraud. This isn’t ancient Rome, and the fact that I write from my heart, rather than my head means that I can hardly be considered to be a scholar. So to use an adage as historically significant as I have in a vain attempt to pass myself off as some kind of well-versed academic just feels wrong. And yet I did it anyway. I chose a title written in a dialect that I will never fully understand and tried to claim it as my own. Memento vivere – Memento mori.

Remember to live. Remember to die.

Lately it feels as though I’m dying. At least from a creative standpoint anyway. I have been plagued by a writer’s block so nauseating that I haven’t actually written anything for weeks. Instead I have been opening up my laptop, or staring at a blank page in one of my many notebooks and wondering where the hell my creative impulses went.

When I finished writing my sophomore novel War, I was on a high and ready to take over the literary industry by force.  Yet at some point during the editing process I lost all confidence in my ability to create and fell into a frustrating void of nothingness where it became impossible to find my creative spark. It may not seem like much to some, but it is a pretty serious issue for a writer who defines himself as being aggressively creative to suddenly suffer from an affliction that leaves you devoid of the inspiration to write. If I take away the creative, I’m just aggressive.

Writing is my passion. It’s something that I have spent a decade struggling and striving for, living and dying by my work. During that time I have experienced success: winning competitions, curating my own website, and publishing a novel. But I also know better than most what it feels like to fail. Throughout my writing life I have been overlooked for more opportunities than I can even remember. In my formative years I was repeatedly told that I wasn’t talented enough to make it as an author; nowadays I’m continuously told that that my style isn’t palatable by industry insiders and other authors. Hell, just last week I was told that I’m not marketable as an individual, and that I fail in comparison to others because of this.

While it hurts to admit, these failures have taken their toll. There have been moments where I have suffered a crisis of confidence so grand that I have given up and walked away from my dreams. I have cried in wardrobes, set fire to manuscripts and called people horrendous names while struggling through spates of depression. At times I have I felt so emotionally shattered due to circumstances beyond my control that it has been a struggle just to crawl out of bed and face another day of feeling like I wasn’t good enough. But every single time that I have failed and fallen, I have eventually picked myself up, dusted myself off, and set out to achieve my dreams all over again.

I have always assumed that I had been blessed with an iron will. I’ve spent years believing that there was something remarkable about me that allowed me to keep striving forwards even when I felt completely hopeless. But the truth is that  I’m no different to anyone else. My ‘unwavering desire to succeed’ was merely a by-product of my life moving through a series of ebbs and flows as it unconsciously followed an idiom uttered by Roman servants to remind generals that they were fallible. Memento Vivere: Remember to live. Memento Mori: remember to die.

What that means is that for every single moment of triumph in my life, there will also be a moment of great pain. Last year I received news that a health scare that had me contemplating my own morality wasn’t as serious as I originally believed, only to discover a few months later that a close friend had taken his own life. I have seen my debut novel released, and have had my writing featured on websites run by literary geniuses; only to suddenly suffer from a lack of creativity so stifling that it feels as though there is a weight is pushing down on my chest.

These transitions from success and elation to inevitable heartbreak and failure are cycles of life and death that are occurring within my own existence. I’m not referring to death in the physical sense; I haven’t met my maker just yet. But death in the sense that opportunities, circumstances and relationships come to their natural, or sometimes premature endpoint, so that I can progress onwards to the next.

At first this can be hard to accept. I’m yet to meet a man or woman who enjoys seeing their relationships falter, or who finds solace in watching circumstances and opportunities that they have fought valiantly towards fail. But these deaths are quite possibly the most integral component of the human existence. Without them, how could we ever know the wondrous ecstasy of life and success when we experience them?

It seems ridiculous that it has taken me a decade of moving through these periods of life and death within my creativity before I actually realised the importance of suffering from writer’s block and creative lapses. Without them I would never know just how amazing it is to be blessed with the ability to write in the first place. Unfortunately, I have spent the past few weeks mentally and emotionally beating the shit out of myself for not being able to create anything; when in hindsight I should have used that time to allow the journey that was writing War to come to its natural point of closure, so that the next stage of my writing career could come to fruition.

But angst and self-regret caused by retrospection is the curse of the damned. There’s no point beating myself up all over again for failing to recognise an opportunity to reflect and refocus. All I can do is move forward from here and learn to remember to live, and to die spectacularly at whatever it is that I do.

As for the industry insiders that have told me that my style of writing isn’t palatable, or that I’m not talented, or marketable enough to make it as an author… Their words may have shaken my confidence and caused me to doubt myself at times, but I’m ultimately stronger having lived through their criticisms. At twenty-seven years of age I have a published novel and a successful website which is frequented by some of the most remarkable and passionate people that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have friends and family who are proud of the man that I am, and I’ve beaten depression and found happiness in myself.

My writing might not necessarily be palatable to some; but I’m not only talented, and marketable; I’m a fucking juggernaut too.

Contrary to what some readers may believe, I am a man who at times can be crippled by self-doubts. It may sound strange to hear that a writer who refers to himself as a wolf and world-eater can be emotionally fragile, but it’s easy to portray confidence when manipulation of the written word is your craft. The truth is that I’m my own harshest critic, and often find myself writing from a place of pain or discontent rather than happiness. I question myself, my decisions and my talents every single day. I ask if I am the writer and man that I long to be, and what I have to do in order to become that person. I deconstruct myself and my works over and over, constantly pushing myself to become more, and to give more of myself to my dreams and to others.

But living your life this way is foolish. When you continuously deconstruct and scrutinize every aspect of your life you either end up accomplishing nothing, or sending yourself insane. For me personally, I feel as though I’ve been spinning my wheels as of late. After finalising the editing process of my sophomore novel ‘War’ two weeks ago, I’ve struggled to find the creative drive that usually consumes me.

I’m not really surprised to find myself feeling stifled. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling to complete a manuscript that has taken almost eighteen months to create. And it’s a scary thought to think that I’ll now have to open up a blank document on my computer and start penning my way through an entirely new piece of work. And yet, I know that once I do, the creative urges that are currently escaping me will come flooding back in waves.

When I find myself stuck in a slump like this I am notorious for being abrasive and difficult to be around. I internalize conversations with myself, picking apart my life more vigorously than I already do. My self-doubts can cloud my judgement, and leave me feeling crippled with anxiety and the fear that I’m not good enough to start over again with a new creative endeavour. And yet, it’s often when I reach this point of frustration and defeated self-loathing that I find the inspiration to create once again.

…Which is exactly what happened when I found myself staring at the road.

People often tell me that the path or road that I choose to travel ultimately defines who I am. The proverb usually comes as a result of a conversation in which I try to define what it feels like to constantly be treading the fine line between being fulfilled, and feeling inadequate in one’s accomplishments. So while I know that my friends and family aren’t referring to a roadway in a literal sense (I’m not going to become a new man by taking a different route to the grocery store), the comment leaves me frustrated and often creates a point of contention between us.

Road

But as I recently sat inside a café and stared down at the roadway outside, an idea settled into the back of my mind and made me realize that maybe there is more adage than I had previously realized. The thought went like this:

At some point, every single road within the country is connected. You can choose the wrong route and find yourself lost, or at a dead-end. But with the right direction, you could end up anywhere you wanted.

In a purely physical sense, if I was to walk out onto the roadway right now and stand on the two unbroken yellow or white lines that mark the centre, I could theoretically begin a journey that took me to just about any location within the country. In a psychological sense, if I were to close my eyes and envision those same two lines as my starting point, I could embark upon a journey within myself that is limited only by my own imagination and the routes that I decide to take.

It sounds like the plot for terrible children’s movie doesn’t it? The man whose imagination allows him to follow the roads he creates within his head; all his dreams are connected and within reach. He can be anything or anyone he wants to be… If he follows the correct route.

And yet this is essentially how we all live our lives. Inside of our heads we are constantly exploring the roads of life, making decisions that have the potential to alter our psychological location just as much as our physical one. As children we walk alongside our parents and guardians, holding their hands as we take our first delicate steps and begin to map the contours and gradients of our own life maps. With their help we learn the rules of the roads of life, and understand that poor decisions can lead you down alleys and laneways of frustration, angst, heartbreak or regret.

Then as we grow older and our carers release us from their grasp, we begin to forge our own paths. We follow highways of conventional thinking, and explore side streets and back alleys that are traversed only by minds inspired to do so. We become lost, and are forced to trace our steps backwards until we become found again. And we find others to explore the land with, forming relationships that allow us to experience love and companionship.

But we can’t wander forever. There are moments when we need to stop and assess where we are on our maps, or to appreciate the beauty of the roads that we are choosing to walk upon; or maybe even to admit that we are a little lost. There is no harm in standing still. There is no problem with arriving at a fork, or a T-intersection and taking the time to understand where each decision will lead us. When I feel as though I am spinning my wheels, or I begin to over examine my talents and desires, I shouldn’t beat myself up. This is just my mind’s way of saying that it needs a moment to refocus, and see where I am verses where I want to be.

So while I may have had a couple of slow weeks creatively, my mind has consulted the map of where I am and where I want to be, and I’m ready to start following those unbroken yellow or white lines inside my head once again. I might take some detours, or end up off course, but eventually I’ll reconnect with the writer that I want to be and we’ll start creating a new story together. Until then, I’ll appreciate that no matter where I am physically or emotionally, the road beneath my feet has the ability to connect me to wherever it is that I choose to go.

You once told me that every single man, woman, and child lives in their own unique version of reality. You said that the way in which we interpret the world around us creates a realism that is uniquely ours. It cannot be replicated, nor shared. These idiosyncrasies of the heart and mind shape our thoughts and feelings, defining who we are. I cannot see the world through the eyes of another. I can never witness the beauty of an unfurling rose, or observe the elegance of a constellation of stars as they do. I cannot feel what they feel, love what they love, or loathe the things that they have learned to despise.

Nor would I ever want to.

For in my reality you are beautiful, and you are perfect. In my reality I could never imagine loving anyone like I love you. I have tried so many times to immortalize you in my words, spending hours trying to capture your beauty through prose. I have laboriously crafted allegories and odes written just for you, but nothing I do ever seems good enough.  How could I ever do you justice? How could the words of a man ever encapsulate your magnificence and splendor? Every time I try to write for you I conjure images of unrestrained inhibitions and lust. But my love for you runs so much deeper than flesh.

My love for you is a love of beauty; the affliction of philocaly.

I place my hand upon your cheek and feel myself becoming lost in your eyes. You are the universe; the constellation of stars that guide my heart. I am the intrepid traveler enamoured with the endlessness of your grace. No man could ever love you as much as I do. I have pined for you for so long, and yet my hunger for you has not wearied with time. With each passing embrace my hands have grown more adept at holding you, and our souls have become intertwined.

Your body has always been a curvaceous landscape that I have longed to explore. I crave your sensuality now more than I ever have before. But where my hands once trembled with excitement as I fumbled and fondled, I have learned how to kiss and tease, until exhilaration causes your skin to prickle and turn to goose bumps. I have learned how to place my hands upon your hips, and to interlock my fingers with yours as I hold them above your head. I have studied the faintness with which your breath catches in your throat as euphoria floods through you in waves.

I want to hold you, and make love to you. I want to feel your breath against my skin as you press your lips against my neck and whisper my name. I want to uncover your innermost thoughts, and take away all of your pains.  I long to feel my fingertips trace faint lines against your hips.  Let me confide in you; let me jettison all of my insecurity and fear into the cosmos until there is nothing left but you and I. Let me feel your heart beat as you writhe beneath my sheets. I want to fulfil your desires and become your reason to breathe.

In my reality you are beautiful, and you are perfect. I am a man awestruck my philocaly. You are the woman that I desire: the one who I have chosen to give my heart, and my body to for all of eternity. Do with them as you please.

 

Time is just an agreed upon construct. We have taken distance (one rotation of the earth, and one orbit of the sun) divided it up into segments, then given those segments labels.

-Author Unknown

Before man decided to differentiate between the periods when the sun had risen, and when the moon had taken its place, there was no such thing as time. Before days, hours, and minutes ever existed there were merely rotations of the earth that brought about phases of light, and periods of darkness. But our quest for intellectual enlightenment, coupled with human curiosity urged mankind to quantify and label the earth’s rotations.

Early Egyptians divided the day into two twelve hour periods, erecting huge obelisks that rose into the sky, allowing them to use shadows to track the sun’s movements. The Greeks and Persians used water clocks called clepsydra. And Plato even went as far as to develop one of the first alarm clocks utilising water, lead balls, and a columnar vat. This creation of the clock bought with it acceptance of time and structure. The periods of light and darkness were broken down into days, hours, minutes, and seconds.

Nowadays we have wrist watches, stereos, smartphones, and numerous other devices that act as clocks. We live according to the sexagesimal numerical system established by ancient Sumerians; measuring our lives down to the nearest second, believing that time is one of the most precious commodities that one can amass.

I for one, constantly tell myself that I need more time. I convince myself that if I could just find extra hours in the day I could write more, or make a better effort to see my friends and family, or be healthier. On the surface these grievances with my insufficiency of time seem justified. I’m a busy man. I work, I run a website, I write novels, and attend university. On top of that I have to maintain my health and fitness, spend time with my partner, and so on.

But those grievances are nothing more than excuses. Time is a creation of man. It isn’t, nor was it ever intended to be our ruler.

I recently attended a seminar where the lecturer stated that within every adult is a child, and in the heart of that child lays an unanswered question, or questions. They are the compulsions that drive us, the insecurities that cause us to lose sleep at night, and the reason we hide behind excuses like time. These questions claw at our subconscious during moments of high tension and cause the fragility of our ego to rear its ugly head. We ask ourselves about our own importance, or question our safety, or query the significance of our very existence.

steampunk-eye1

But because our minds are not programed to interpret and quantify such harrowing questions, their manifestation is interpreted by our brains as fear. We fear failure, embarrassment, uncertainty, success, and a million other things. But our ego prevents us from acknowledging that we are insecure, vulnerable, and afraid. While we wish that we could tell ourselves and others that we are struggling, we refuse to accept our own weaknesses. We blame our failure to launch, or our refusal to extend ourselves beyond our reach on bullshit excuses like time.

When you cast some objectivity on our willingness to limit our own potentials and refusal to acknowledge the unanswered questions of our innermost self, it seems ludicrous that we so often choose to hide behind a construct that started with obelisks and clepsydras. And yet, people do it every day. I do it every day. I tell myself that I am too busy to relax with my partner, or to see friends, or that I don’t have enough time to stop and enjoy life.

At times this foolish notion that I can’t squeeze anything more into my days leaves me frustrated and ashamed. I look at the lives of others who are spending their time with family, or writers that don’t need to work as hard as I do to survive and it makes me bitter. I have been known to cuss out strangers before, believing that their lives are easier than mine, because they have more time than I do. But the truth is that they don’t. It is illogical to think that these strangers have somehow found a way to defy science and create more hours in their day than I have in mine.

The reason that I look at these people who have seemingly made it in comparison to me with such loathing, is that despite all of my successes as a writer and a man, I’m still petrified of failure. I have devoted years to writing manuscripts and blogs, and at times it has felt as though I am on the verge of creating a career through literature. Yet I’ve never quite managed to become the massive success that every artist dreams of becoming.

My unanswered question forces me to continuously ask if I am good enough, and how it would feel to fail. When panic and self-doubt starts clawing at my subconscious and undermining my confidence, I play the time card. I tell myself that I am too busy to fully embrace my dreams and become the man I have always dreamed of becoming.

The truth is that at age 27, time is still my friend. I have already come a long way from the emotionally fragile man that created this weblog four years ago. When I started blogging I had a list of unanswered questions and insecurities a mile long, but through writing I have managed to discover the answers to many of them. I’m no longer afraid of accepting my vulnerabilities, nor am I afraid of exposing heart and mind to the world. There are posts on this website that I wrote with a smile on my face, and there are many that I wrote with tears running down my cheeks.

Nowadays my list of unanswered questions has been whittled down to the two entries mentioned above. I ask myself am I good enough to be positioned alongside the literary elite? And am I willing to strive so hard for my dreams that I am prepared to risk spectacular failure? When these questions cause me to doubt myself I still tend to shield myself from heartache by saying that my busy schedule and lack of time is holding me back.

But using time as a means to avoid your unanswered questions will ultimately leave you feeling unfulfilled. The construct born through the creation of obelisks and clepsydras should never stop anyone from achieving their dreams. For me personally, when I hear myself use this act of deference to protect myself I need to be conscious of what is really causing me pain. Am I really complaining about a lack of hours in the day? Or do I need to dig a little deeper and confront the fear of failure that is really holding me back?

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He looks just like me. It’s as if we are the same. But we’re different. We are two men walking underneath a sky so polluted with halogen that there are no more stars to guide us. Our feet pound at the concrete; our hands are jammed deep into pockets and our shoulders are hunched to avoid the rain that’s already soaking through our coats. We pass so close that our shoulders almost touch. I take a sideways glance and scowl, but he smiles a smile so pure that it cuts like glass through the chambers of my soul.

We’re wearing the same coat, the same pants, and have matching rain soaked shoes. But where my brow is furrowed so deep that rain water runs through channels and leaks down my face; he grins like a Cheshire from ear to ear. It’s as though this stranger is completely oblivious to the tears of the gods splashing against his features.

We are so alike. So similar, but different. He looks happy. And I’m…

…I’m not even sure what I am anymore. But I know that I’m not like him. I didn’t get that promotion today. I never wanted the position. I just needed the money. I never even wanted to be a businessman. I never wanted to sit tethered to a desk crunching numbers or filing complaints until my hips seized up and my wrist began sounding like a cement mixer whenever I tried to move it. I wanted to be a free spirit. As a child I wanted to be an artist and an astronaut; I wanted to change the world. As a teenager I wanted to travel. I told myself that changing the world wasn’t nearly as important as walking across it with strangers by my side.

But when I became an adult I screwed everything up. I made stupid decisions, ruined friendships and accumulated debts. Before I knew it I was trying to convince my employer that I gave a damn about their strategic vision and business objectives. I started selling my soul for a paycheck that would inevitably be whittled away on material possessions or by my ever amounting irresponsible choices.

But I bet this man before me never had these problems. I bet he got the promotion. He probably didn’t go searching for happiness at the bottom of a beer glass or by eating himself into a stupor.

I raise my hand and flex my fingers, feeling the tendons in my arm pinch as he mimics the movement; except he does it pain free.  He looks like a family man. One of those successful self-driven types who manages to balance a day’s work with raising a household whilst still finding time to stay in shape. His kids would love him. They’d call him daddy and throw their arms around him when he arrived home from the office. My children don’t even exist. They’re part of a dream that I pray will one day become my reality.

He straightens his shoulders while mine hunch further to protect my tired body from the heavy rain. We’re so similar. But we’re so different. He’s just like me. But a better version. A doppelganger walking the same streets as I am, only he does so with a heart swelled by providence and emotional wealth. Whereas mine feels like a stone sinking towards the bottom of a sea so black that not even light can reach it.

‘How?’ I ask in a voice so weak that I doubt he can hear me above the sounds of pedestrians jostling around us. ‘How did you do it?’

He cocks his head and throws me another disabling grin, as though my question perplexes him.

‘You’re just like me. We look alike. We dress the same. And yet you’re happy. You’re caught in the pouring rain and you’re smiling. But I’m standing here and I can’t even tell whether the water on my cheeks is from the rain or because I can’t hold back my tears. You look so happy. I’m so fucking tired.’

I raise my hand and pull back the sopping wet fringe that has fallen against my face and try to wipe my eyes. He mimics my movements, pushing his hair from his forehead until it’s semi-styled and dries his eyes for a few precious seconds before the rain assaults them again.

‘I bet you have a great job. You probably followed your dreams and travelled the world. You’re in love. It’s obvious. There’s a euphoria in your eyes. You idolize her. She wouldn’t ever dream of loving someone else. You’re fulfilled and confident. You’re intelligent and respected by your peers. Shit, you are truly happy and I just don’t get how you did it. You found the secret to contentment and I need to know how. You have to tell me. Please, I need you tell me.’

Rain-Room-1.jpg

A passerby strikes my shoulder and causes me to stumble. My feet slip against the rain-slicked footpath and I have to use my hands to catch myself. I stand slowly, and wipe my filthy hands against my coat, catching eyes with the stranger once again. He has taken two side steps so that we are still facing one another. His smile has tightened in the corners of his mouth and he looks down at my hands. There’s blood on my left palm. I’ve grazed it trying to stop myself from colliding with the concrete.

‘Please,’ I beg again. ‘Please tell me how you did it?’

‘I didn’t do anything,’ he says slowly. ‘I work a job that leaves me unfulfilled. I have no children, and I have dreams that I have spent my life making sacrifices for. I struggle and strive, and sometimes I feel like giving up, just like you do. There’s no difference between our lives. How could there be? I am you. And you are me. I just choose to look at things differently.’

He steps towards me, and this time it is I who replicates him. We’re barely a foot apart now. We are so close that if I were to reach out we could touch each other. I give it a try and feel the coolness of his wet fingertips and the sensation of his palm press against mine.

‘I don’t focus on the negatives. I don’t look at my behind the scenes and try to compare them to the highlight reels of others. I hate my job. It hurts my hips and screws up my wrist. But I’m healthy. I have a family that loves me, and I have a roof over my head and food on my plate. I don’t have kids, and I haven’t managed to achieve all my dreams. Not yet. But I have a girl who looks at me like I’m her hero. It doesn’t matter to her whether I’m worth a ten million dollars or ten cents. She loves me. And I love her. We’ll have a family one day. I know it.’

He steps closer again, and raises his spare hand to meet mine so that we are standing palm to palm, staring one another in the eye.

‘Life is about perspectives,’ he says. ‘It’s about whether you chose to focus on the good stuff or let yourself be eaten alive by the bad. It’s about celebrating your strengths and accepting your weaknesses. And it’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and afraid. Those same people that love me; they love you to. They want to see you succeed. But they are there for you when you fail. You just have to be prepared to let them know when you’re not OK. If you can learn to do that you’ll be truly happy.’

I open my mouth to respond but before I get the chance a door flies open and a woman in her early forties steps out from her business and looks at me through concerned eyes.

‘Sir, are you OK? You’ve been talking to yourself for the last fifteen minutes. You’re scaring my clients.’

I turn away from her, startled by the intrusion. But the man is gone. The open door has disturbed the lighting and I can no longer see my own reflection. Instead I can see through the plate glass window where her client’s faces watch me with fearful eyes. To them I am just a crazed man with his hands pressed against the glass talking to himself while the world passes him by.

‘Sir,’ she says again. ‘Are you OK?’

‘No. No I’m not,’ I say with a smile. ‘I’m really struggling with a lot of things right now. I feel lost. And I feel alone. But I have friends and family, and a beautiful partner who will listen. They want to see me happy. More than anything, they want me to be happy. So no. I’m not OK. But I will be.’

With that I let go of the shop front window and continue my walk down the street as the woman watches me go. The rain no longer bothers me. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be alive.

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One of the greatest curses of being a writer is that I can never accept anything at face value. I can’t read a news article about a war in a foreign land and blindly accept that my Government’s reasons for doing battle are all morally righteous. I can’t palate bullshit television shows about strangers who are married at first sight, or appreciate subpar art created for the soul purpose of marketing and product distribution. And I especially cannot tolerate, nor accept the mindset of fucking cowards who hide behind their religion or creed to spread messages of hate or fulfill selfish agendas.

Oh yes…It’s been a little while since we’ve tackled religion here on The Renegade Press. I’ve had a brief reprieve from having my face plastered across religious websites where they label me as a monster or a heathen for promoting tolerance. It’s about time that I give the close-minded another reason to vilify my work.

A religion is a set of philosophies concerning the nature, cause, and purpose of the universe. These beliefs are governed by a moral code, and include upon other things, ritual and devotional observances. Yet while we typically equate the concept of faith with a God; religion need not include a divine entity in the skies above, or buried in the earth below.

For some, their religion is science, or literature, economics, family, or any number of other credence. One of the most disheartening statements that any man or woman can make is to say that they are not religious by nature; because in doing so they are stating that they believe in nothing. And to believe in nothing is to live an existence so hollow that one can only imagine the depths of their loneliness.

But that’s enough of the fancy introductions. Let’s cut to the chase and get to the crux of what this article is meant to be about. Despite my sincere belief that the concept of faith encompasses far more than gods and deities, for the purpose of this post I am focusing primarily on society’s conventional definition of religion and taking a swipe at men and women who use their god(s) as a means of justifying their own bloodlust.

Contrary to popular belief there is not a religion on the face of this earth that wishes for its disciples to bring harm upon another being. The easy target when trying to debunk this statement in our current geopolitical climate of fear and hostility would be to target the Islamic faith. Every single day the media bombards us with stories of attacks against non-Muslims by militant forces and lone wolves. By simply watching the evening news one could easily become convinced that these entities are waging a Jihad against the western world. We are told that we are being drawn into a holy war based on ideology and extremism. And yet the word jihad has absolutely nothing to do with warfare.

In a purely linguistic sense, jihad means to struggle, or to strive. It is the practice of religion in the face of persecution and oppression; the idea of military effort and the often misquoted concept of spreading the word of Islam by sword is referenced as a means of last resort in the Quran. When we consider the manner in which western media often treats the Muslim faith, this definition of devotion in the face of adversity says more about the fortitude of the observer than it does about extremism and bloodlust.

So how is it that society has come to equate an idea of serving one’s beliefs in the face of ignorance and bigotry as extreme? Well, it’s simply a result of a few bad eggs tarnishing the name of a faith that has led us to see evil where there is none. The Quran explicitly forbids Muslims from instigating hostilities, indulging in acts of aggression, violating the rights of another human being, or harming the innocent.

When you see an act of aggression carried out in the name of Islam on the evening news, it has nothing to do with faith or religion. It’s a malicious deed committed by a morally devoid piece of shit who chooses to use a misunderstood culture as a scapegoat for their own wicked urges.

Any man or woman who thinks that their religion or their God wishes for them to harm another human being, or to inspire terror in their fellow man is a bottom feeder. Any person who believes that the best way to spread their ideology is through aggression and force, be they a Muslim, Christian, Police Officer, Politician or whatever else is not only misguided, but fundamentally and morally damaged. To judge the value of someone’s life based on their color or creed is sickening. And to target the innocent because of an ethical or political grievance you have with their country or government is the deplorable actions of a fucking pussy.

Oh shit. Did Chris just call out a bunch of overzealous religious crusaders and lend an olive branch of tolerance to a religious ideology that he has no ties to?

You better believe that I did. After spending the better part of twenty-seven years trying to understand my own religious compulsions I am coming to the realization that I am a humanist. My religion celebrates men, women, and children, valuing them based on their individual characteristics and not dogma and petty superstition.

I refuse to pigeonhole people based on their spirituality and faith. Instead I judge an individual based on their willingness to be selfless and provide benefit to the lives of their fellow man without expecting something in return. If you are a bigot, a cheat, or a liar, what faith you subscribe to has no relevance in my distaste for you. Likewise if you are an honest, caring, and compassionate human being; your creed won’t influence my admiration of the positivity of your traits.

As a humanist I deplore closed minds and struggle to associate with people who are unwilling to accept another belief structure simply because they don’t take the time to educate themselves and understand it. There is no such thing as a violent religion. But there are violent people who misconstrue their own faith and take what is supposed to be an understanding of the universe and turn it into cause for warfare.

Jihad is not a holy war. Hatred is not a viable future for mankind. And violence is portrayed by the bitter angels of our nature. Whether you choose to agree with me or not, the truth is that only a coward would dare maim another in the name of their religion.

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‘Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.’

            -Isiah Berlin

People often speak in similes and metaphors. We find comfort in symbolism and allegories, creating a sense of spatial separation in our minds from that which we desire and those that haunt us. Business men refer to themselves as lions when they wish to appear dominant or king-like; school children degrade one another by calling their peers a chicken, a dog, or a pussy. And a person of low morals can often be labelled as a rat or a snake.

Even free thinkers are not exempt from this kind of hackneyed pigeonholing of their peers; labelling those that they consider to be mindless drones suckling on the bosom of society as lambs or sheep.

It’s no coincidence that we choose animals to explain or understand our behaviours either. After all, we are merely another creature that rose from the primordial depths and evolved into the beings we are today. Though we may try to deny it, we are primitive creatures trying valiantly to adapt to a world that is developing at an ever-increasing rate before our very eyes.

In today’s modern society, with its abundance of threats (both perceived and legitimate), relating how we feel about ourselves, or how we perceive others to animals recognised as being courageous, dastardly, or cowardly, allows our brains to easily establish opinions about who to fear, and who to trust.

This act of association allows us to pursue other ventures such as art, education, business, and romance. While this may can seem like an intelligent concept; free your mind of primitive tasks to focus on modern obsessions, it is in fact fraught with risk. Why you ask? Because that thing you call an imagination; that beautiful part of the brain that allows us to dream, also causes us to fear.

Hmm. Now that there’s a little perspective around what I’m about to say next; it’s time to hit them with the sucker punch. Let me shake out my hands for a second and stretch out my wrists. Here it comes…

You’re not a lion. You’re not a dog, or a rat, a pussy, or a fucking snake. But you are a lamb. And you are surrounded by sheep. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are afraid to be the best version of you that you could possibly be. Why? Because you have been conditioned to see the weakness where there is strength, and convinced that the art of survival lies in finding safety in numbers. The great shepherds of society have created an illusion of fear that keeps you suppressed and afraid to be an individual, rather than one of many.

It’s not difficult to do this either. It’s been happening since the birth of mankind. Society is defined as an aggregate of people who function in an orderly community. What better example is there of societal order than a shepherd controlling a flock? What greater illustration of mental suppression and conditioning than a small few influencing the actions of the many? Moving them through a mundane existence and uniformity before they are finally led to the slaughter.

Controversial? Maybe. Reality? You better believe it. But we’re not quite done yet. 

Here’s the kicker: You are the shepherd of those around you; just as much as they are the shepherds that keep your own thoughts, feelings and actions in check. Our desire to be socially accepted and valued means that we are consistently watching over one another to ensure that we are subduing those that threaten to move incongruously to the flock, whilst simultaneously striving to do so ourselves.

Shepherd

We look at those who are strong and independent as threats: wolves at the door that should be feared. And we look at those beneath us as lambs who long to be led. Lambs and sheep are instinctively fearful creatures who thrive off of social awareness. They are placated when they can see the rest of their flock and are afraid when they are forced to stand alone. When we view one another in such a way, anxiety plucks at our heartstrings and inhibits us from being all that we can be. We condition ourselves to feel discontented if we lose sight of our peers, so we shepherd and we suppress.

Inversely, a wolf is a highly intelligent, fiercely loyal beast with a desire for freedom and faith in its own instincts. They roam in packs, but are comfortable in their ability to hunt alone. These are characteristics that any collective of individuals should aspire to, not quash. And yet our imaginations; the very thing that affords us the opportunity to think, feel and act, convinces us to fear a strength that we fail to acknowledge is within all of us.

Imagine if you will, a society where individuals didn’t feel the need to play shepherd over their peers. Where instead of devoting attention to watching over one another in fear of the successes of friends and strangers, we instead focused on developing and inspiring the characteristics of loyalty, intelligence, and the desire to be free within ourselves. Imagine the emancipation from an anxiety-fuelled societal philosophy as we celebrate the successes and positive attributes of others, rather than focusing on reigning them in so that we can feel a sense of control and security as we watch over our flock.

For some readers this idea is going to sound like a bunch of contrived bullshit. They’ll screw up their nose and say that a society of wolves is dangerous. They’ll argue that we equate the wolf with fear for a reason, and that we are better off as lambs and sheep. But they are wrong. They really, really, are.

I opened this post with the quote liberty for wolves is death to the lambs, and I pray with all my heart that the mindset of lambs does die within our society. It needs to. There are so many brilliantly talented people living out their lives denying themselves of the opportunity to be great because they are fearful of standing out from the flock. We have created a bizarre culture where fitting in is more important than embracing oneself.

And yet, just as sheep and lambs move in flocks, so to do wolves move in packs. The difference between the two is that the latter move according to their own whim, not at the direction of others. They move with a pride and a purpose that the lambs of the world will never understand.

Our minds are faculties of consciousness and thought that enable us to experience the world around us. But the imagination can play tricks on us. It can convince us that we are small when we are powerful beyond all measure. And it can allow us to believe that we wish to be lambs, when we would be so much stronger as a pack of wolves. Intelligence, loyalty, and a desire to be free are traits to be revered, not abhorred.

I was so busy chasing dreams that I couldn’t see that I was living in one. I was so concerned with telling everybody else how much I loved you that it never crossed my mind to tell you as well.  I would wake every morning and gaze at your sleeping face and feel my heart swell with joy. I have never felt anything as powerful, nor as humbling, than knowing that you were mine.

All that I ever wanted was to make you proud of me. All that I have ever cared about was finding the admiration in your eyes as you looked into mine. I saw it once. For a fleeting moment. We were by a campfire and you gazed at me so gently that I knew if I asked you to marry me in that very moment you would have said yes. I should have done it then. I should have swallowed my pride and told you that you were as much a part of me as the air that I breathe. But I didn’t. I just thought that you would know how much I yearn for you.

I pursued delusions of grandeur and told myself that I would give you the world. All I had to do was conquer it first. I was so consumed with making you proud of what I could become that I forgot about the little things, or to realize that you could be proud of what I already was. I neglected to hold your hand, or to tell you when you looked beautiful. And I forgot how to tell you that I loved you; when I loved you so much more you could ever know. It would have been so easy to make you happy. I had all the pieces of the puzzle; I just needed to show you that I knew how to put them together.

Now I’m standing here naked and alone, gazing at my reflection in the mirror and wondering why you held on for so long. Why did you stand by a someone who could be so fickle and cold? The first time that we met I asked you your name and you looked at me as though I were the devil. When you gave me your heart I only proved that you were right. There’s a darkness to my eyes when you are gone; there’s a void left in my soul. I am a man with the world in front of me. And I would burn it all to hell if it meant that we could start over again.

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I’ve made some mistakes. More than there should have ever been. I never took the time to stop and listen, or to hold you close when you were afraid. I wish that I could take it all back and show you that I have never wanted anyone, or anything more than I want you. I would give you my heart and let you engrave your name into its walls so that it could be yours forever. I would vow to never write another word if it meant that I could have you. Why the hell couldn’t I just tell you that I needed you? Why was it so hard to say that I saw us growing old together; seeing out our days in a home with polished concrete floors and a view of the city where we met?

We could see the world; you and I. You could graduate from university and we could journey from place to place, becoming lost in a happiness that I have always longed to show you. I’ll take you to my favourite cities and beaches; you can show me why you fell so in love with Europe. I’ll take your picture. As many as you want. We’ll eat ice cream, and wander aimlessly through foreign streets, giddy with excitement. And when we are finished and there is no world left for us to see, I’ll take your hand, fall to a knee and beg for you to be my wife.

I never really told you that I dreamed of growing old together did I? Or that the beauty that I see in you is so much more than just skin deep? I never told you that I was proud to call you mine; I just thought a piece of writing about having you in my bed would suffice. I thought that it was clever to create a piece that stroked my own ego more than it showed you just how much I adore you. It wasn’t enough; it was foolish to think that it ever would be.  And now I’m wondering how I managed to hurt you so badly.

I just wanted you to be proud of me. I wanted to push myself so that when I achieved my dreams I could give you the world. I wanted to dedicate my book to you, you deserve to have your name in something that I could never have created without you here. I didn’t want to hurt you; I never imagined that you would be gone. I should have held your hand more. I should have paid more attention. You were better than I ever was, and all I ever wanted was to be perfect in your eyes. If only I could have realised that I was living in a dream. If only I could have realised that you needed more from me.

I want to lay my head next to yours and hold your hand as we fall asleep. I want to wake up in the dream that I was living in and feel that my life is complete. I can be the man you need me to. I swear that I can be him. I can make you happier than you have ever been. I can show you what it feels like to be loved. Please, just let me show you.

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