The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

I once read a quote that said it is impossible to watch a sunset and not fall into a dream. But I’ve been dreaming for so long now that I can’t tell if it’s the beauty of the sunset before me, or a little arrow that Cupid shot into my chest that makes me conjure up these images of you.

I’m sitting alone on the shoreline, basking in the final rays of evening light reflecting off an ocean so calm its surface has turned to glass. The air is so still that I can taste the ocean on my tongue and hear my own thoughts passing through my head. I don’t know what you’re doing right now, if you feel what I feel, or if I’ll ever find the courage to tell you this in person. I just know that you are miles away from where I am; two hundred and forty-six to be exact. So, as I watch the sun slowly sink beneath the water’s edge, surrendering the sky to the moon and the night, I utter a silent prayer that when the time comes for me to cross my own horizon, I find you waiting on the other side.

I wriggle my toes beneath the sand and imagine the warmth of your body pressed hard against mine. I want to kiss the places where an artist’s needle has left tattoos buried beneath your skin, or hold you down and blow raspberries against your hips until your stomach cramps from laughter. I want to know how it feels to lay beside you as you’re wrapped up in fresh white sheets; I long to press my lips between your shoulder blades while your chest rises and falls with heavy sleep. I want to run my fingers through your hair in a moment of passion, and be the name you utter through breathless lips as we kiss.

I close my eyes as the sun takes its final bow and slips beneath the skyline. When I open them again, the warmth in the air has faded away and night has descended around me. The moon casts a pale yellow light down on my motionless body, as if it knows that you’re always on my mind. I’m not sure how you did it; how you found a way to bury yourself beneath my skin. But now I’m sitting here watching the endless blue ocean turn into an inky black abyss, telling myself that I would risk swimming towards the horizon if I knew it would bring me closer to you.

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I picture myself swimming hard towards the distance, my body breathless and fatigued. I imagine a storm raging overhead, turning the water’s glassy surface into a sea of violent waves that crash down upon my battered frame. My life has never been smooth sailing, nor should it have ever been. The rough waters that I have endured have made me stronger, more confident, and more certain when I say that I once I have swum across the horizon and dragged my weary body onto the shore, I hope to feel your waiting arms wrap around me, and know that I’m forever yours.

I want to hold you tight when you’re hurting, and tell you that I’m proud when you achieve your wildest dreams. I want to carry you to your bedroom when you’re exhausted, you’ve partied too hard, or in those moments when we are consumed with insatiable desire and lust. I want to explore the contours of your body and trace the curves of your hips with the palms of my hands, kissing my way along your calves and up the back of your thighs until goosebumps cover your skin.

I long to feel your heart racing in the throes of passion as your fingers interlock tightly with mine. I yearn to feel your breath against my neck and your teeth against my skin when your body trembles at my touch. If I could just spend my time with you, I would run my hand across the soft skin of your cheek and let our eyes meet as I whisper that no horizon could ever keep us apart. I would swim through waters to find you, no matter how dark, how eerie, or deep.

But I’m not with you in your bed right now. I’m still sitting alone on a beach that has been swallowed up by the hollowness of night. I’m no longer sure if I am dreaming, or if your name has been carved into the chambers of my soul. But I do know that I want you, and that when I find the strength to cross my horizon, I pray that you’re waiting on the shoreline to throw your arms around me.

I know that I would do the same for you. If I ever saw you swimming, I’d be there to watch you take your final stroke before I pulled you from the waters and into a tight embrace. I would tell you that I love you, that I need you, and that you’ve crossed the horizon and found a man who will ensure you never need to swim through such treacherous waters again.

A few days ago I suffered through a crisis of confidence while attempting to gain a better understanding of what direction I am trying to move in with my writing, and my life. During this crisis I managed to convince myself that I have nothing of value to offer a potential lover, and that I was destined to be the man who spends his life writing about love, without ever being fortunate enough to experience it for himself. Realising that I’d fallen into a creative and emotional lull, I decided to write down how I was feeling in a piece that I have since come to know as Dirt. 

I never intended to share the post with anyone. It was simply an opportunity to release some of the angst that has been building inside of me as I continue to work towards establishing myself and my voice within the literary industry. But as someone who believes in the importance of acknowledging that it’s alright to not be OK, I decided to share what I wrote below. My reasoning for doing so is simple: I don’t want pity. I want to give hope to anyone out there who resonates with how I felt. I want them to realise that they are not alone, and that negative thoughts will always come and go; but life will get better if you give it a chance. I promise…

 

An old Ugandan proverb says that the one who loves you, loves you with your dirt. But it’s not the dirt that concerns me. It’s the scars that are hidden underneath. Dirt merely clings to the surface; it can be washed away. I know that one day mine will be. I’ll find you, we’ll fall in love, and the sins and virtues of my past will become meaningless in the context of our lives. Yet I’m still so scared that when we meet and all the grit and grime of who I am is stripped away, you’ll see the blemishes on my soul and realise that you’ve fallen for a man who hides behind his words because his humanity has been broken beyond repair.

When all the dirt is washed away you’ll see the scars on my hands that were caused by a lifetime of fighting to find my place in a world that has always left me feeling lonely and afraid. You’ll see that my knuckles have been split on the cheeks of my enemies, and that I have torn skin from bone by driving my fists into brick and mortar in moments of frustration. You’ll hear the click in my wrist when it moves, and your fingers will feel the callouses that have left my palms feeling gnarled and worn. I’ll be forced to swallow my pride and tell you how they serve as a reminder of a time when I held onto a life that caused me great pain; and how all I had really wanted to do was let go.

I’ll explain that there are scars inside my head too. And that I can still see them when I close my eyes. There are the wounds caused by driving down a motorway with my eyes closed, wondering how it would feel to simply cease to exist. Or the marks left behind by the nights I spent lying awake questioning how I became a sky that no one wants to fly in.

I never wanted to be the man who was different. When I was younger I never thought that I would be twenty-eight years old and still alone. I didn’t ask to feel an empathy so strong that I was willing to sacrifice my own happiness to protect those around me. People often say that it sounds like a noble calling, but I have had my heart broken too many times by those that I have tried to save to find solace in the decisions that I have made.

All I ever wanted was to be normal; to be loved like everybody else. But as the sun sets each night and my sky turns from blue to black, I realise that even the stars are afraid to shine within me.

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And yet my head and my hands are nothing compared to the wounds that lay buried within my chest. My heart has been ripped apart and crudely stitched back together more times than I care to remember. I haven’t even met you and I’m already struggling to find a way to show you just how fragile it has become. How can I ever tell you about the marks left by the infidelities of lovers, and how they make me afraid to love again? How could you ever want me if you knew that a piece of me died when I told a woman I wanted to grow old with her and she left me all alone?

I wish that it was only my dirt that you had to fall in love with…

I wish that I could smile at you with a face covered in filth and grime and steal your heart. But there’s more to me than what’s on the surface; it’s buried beneath the dirt. Life hasn’t always been easy. But I wouldn’t be the man that I am today without the scars that I mark my skin. I wouldn’t know how to love, how to smile, or how to find that little piece of happiness within myself even when I feel like giving up.

I can’t promise that I’ll be perfect when you meet me. Chances are I will be so excited just to see you that I’ll say something stupid, or try to hold your hand. But I promise that I will always think the world of you, and try my hardest to say and do the right thing. I promise that I’ll love you, your dirt, and the scars that hide underneath.

I’ll hold your hands tightly when you’re sad. You may not have the same callouses that I do, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t had to hold on when it felt like life was dragging you down. I’ll kiss your head when you close your eyes and the scars inside your mind manifest as visions that cause you pain. You may have never driven down a motorway with your eyes closed, and maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as an empty sky. But I promise that I will fly in you if you let me. Every day; and every night. I’ll fly one of those little gliders that leaves a trail of smoke, writing love notes across your horizons for as long as we both shall live.

And when your heart hurts as the wounds of lovers passed make you question who I am, I promise to be patient. I’ll lend you my ears, a shoulder to lean on, or just give you a kiss to show that I don’t ever want to lose you. I know that I said that I never wanted to be different. I know that I told you it has caused me a lot of pain. But I’m hoping it’s all for a reason; that maybe when I find you, and you look into my eyes, those differences will be what makes you take a leap of faith, and risk falling in love one last time.

I can’t guarantee that I’ll be perfect. I would do it if I could. But I promise that I will spend every day loving you, even when you’re covered in dirt.

In August 2016, a woman broke my heart. After two years of dating, during which time I convinced myself that she was the person I was destined to marry, she left me. To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. I was inconsolable, believing that my entire world had come crashing down around me. In the months that followed our failed romance, I lost my desire to write, to eat, and even to live.

Yet for all that I temporarily lost, I also learned…

I learned how to let go of the anger and depression that had consumed me, how to pick myself back up when life had knocked me down, and how to appreciate the true beauty of human compassion. But arguably the most important thing that I came to understand in my lowest moments was what it means to truly love someone. Twelve months ago I was hurting so badly, and yet all I wanted was for the woman who had left me to be happy. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that willingness to sacrifice my own happiness so that someone else could find theirs, was love.

Love is not about expensive gifts, loading pretty pictures on social media, or superficial bullshit. Love is the desire to go that extra mile just to make someone smile. It’s holding their hand when they hurt, and it’s the willingness to support them during difficult times.

Love is about finding the one that is worth suffering for, and taking every opportunity you can to show them how much they mean to you.

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When my former lover left me, I didn’t think that I would ever find someone who could make me feel like that again. So, I wrote a love story. In an effort to mend my wounded heart, I gathered up all of my pains and spilled them into a manuscript that is now awaiting a professional treatment from my editor.

But because I’m impatient, I’ve decided to do something monumentally stupid and share a draft of the opening chapter with my readers. At the bottom of this post there’s a link to a PDF download which contains a draft copy of the opening two thousand words of You. It’s not the finished product, and it’s rough as hell, but I’m still so proud to be able to share a little piece of me with those that wish to read it.

I did find another girl too…

I never thought that someone could take my breath away like she did. From the very first time I saw her I knew that she was special; like a spoonful of honey drizzled into my soul. She was the kind of person that only comes along once in a lifetime, but she decided that she didn’t want me the way that I wanted her. And despite what many of us would like to believe, you can’t convince someone to love you, or to ignore the voice in their head that tells them it’s the wrong time.

As much as it hurts to admit, I’m 99% sure that I was the right guy; I just found her at the wrong time. But if she does read this, I hope that she knows just how wonderful she truly is.

Opening Chapter – You

Milk and honey have different colours, but they share the same house peacefully.

  • African proverb

One of the most defining moments of my admittedly short writing career came on December 20th, 2014 when I received my first death threat from a reader. The threat, received via email, was in response to an article I had written which drew comparisons between religious intolerance and a criminological model known as the Broken Windows Theory. Throughout the post, I suggested that the constant defamation of an ideology through misrepresentation and bigotry damages an individual’s perception of a subculture, and creates a rift in our society.

To illustrate my point, I spoke of the Islamic faith and the unjust insinuation that it is a religion defined by violence. I compared acts perpetuated by extremists as stones hurled through the windows of a beautiful monument in an attempt to damage its image and cheapen its perceived worth. At the time, I believed that what I had produced was ground breaking. The piece was my first attempt at blogging about issues far greater than my own, so I saw the influx of hate mail that I received from readers as a sign that I had struck a chord in the hearts and minds of my audience.

These days when I look back at what I wrote, I realise that whilst my intentions were pure, my message of peace and love was lost amongst a violent analogy of shattered glass and social disorder. The end of 2014 was a chaotic time in my life; I was treading water in an endlessly deep ocean of anxiety and despair, and I probably shouldn’t have attempted to write what I did. Nor should I have responded to the threats against my safety with an acid tongue and a willingness to protect my beliefs with bloody hands. By lashing out at those who refuted what I believed, I undermined my own message and became another wedge driven into a fracture between subcultures.

I have never been one to retract a statement that I have made on this site. I have never tried to apologise for expressing myself during my lower moments, or asked for a second chance at a piece that failed to hit its intended mark. But I’m not the same writer that I was in 2014. I’ve grown a hell of a lot since then. I have learned about who I am, what I aspire towards, and that I’m no longer afraid of being wrong.

So, almost three years after receiving a tirade of threats and abuse from readers, I’m ready to acknowledge that if I had my time over, I wouldn’t write a passive aggressive post about broken windows and intolerance like I did. Instead, I would write about milk and honey. And I would speak of how despite their difference in colour, they can still share the same house peacefully.

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When you strip back much of the hate that consumes us and examine the world with some objectivity, you begin to realise just how pathetic and illogical our prejudices towards our fellow man or woman truly are. We often hate because we fail to understand; conjuring up divergences and fears where there are none. And we disparage because we are insecure or frightened of our own position within the universe, beliving that the belittlement of others will allow us to prosper.

But the truth is that while some of us may choose to vilify or trivialise based on sexual orientation, religious creed, or ideological beliefs; we are all connected. And we are all human. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman; Christian, Muslim, Atheist or other. Nor if you are a heterosexual, transgender, or whether you have fallen in love with a member of the same sex. Or even if your skin is white, brown, yellow or black. When you take away all the bullshit labels, you are a human being; and you matter just as much as anyone else does.

Although we all have our lapses and moments of intolerance towards others; there is no one in this world who should ever feel less valued or appreciated than those around them. If someone does make you feel that you are unimportant, or that you are of a lesser worth than they are, then they’re wrong. It doesn’t matter what their reasoning for doing so is, or even how abhorrent their words or actions may be. There is no fault with who you are, the colour of your skin, or what you choose to believe in. The fault lies in the fucked-up logic and closed-mindedness that prevents them from seeing that perhaps you are the milk to their honey; or vice versa.

It’s at this point where a younger version of me would have flown into a tirade of insensitive nonsense and expletive comments about fighting against the closed-mindedness of others. I would have called myself a wolf and talked about baring fangs, tearing out throats and fighting fire with fire. But I’m not going to do that. Not this time. Whilst I still consider the threats that I received for writing Broken Windows to be some of my proudest achievements as a writer, I’ve learned that there is nothing be gained from becoming the very thing you seek to condemn.

To fly into a rage about bigotry and cultural prejudice would be to speak from a place of hate. Since writing Broken Windows, I have been called a lot of things. Some readers continue to take offence to the idea that I choose to believe in people rather than constructs. They cannot fathom that although I am far from perfect, I try to accept the idiosyncrasies that make each of us perfectly imperfect and wholly unique. Others still have accused me of promoting dangerous ideals, or questioned my sexuality for publishing posts such as Honey.

I used to be angered by the ignorance of others. When someone questioned who I thought that I was I would respond in vulgarity, believing that I had the ability to change someone’s opinions by berating them into submission. But almost three years after my first attempt at promoting cultural acceptance, I don’t carry the same anger that I once did. Nowadays I feel sadness for those who just can’t seem to grasp the concepts of equality and human compassion.

I have learned to feel pity towards the chauvinist who believes that women are beneath him; disappointment for the religious man or woman who ignores the teachings of acceptance they aspire towards whilst tearing down the beliefs of others. And to feel heartbroken for those who believe that the purity of love should be restricted to that between a man and a woman. Because when we close ourselves off to the possibility that the beliefs, ethnicity, orientation or compulsions of another person matters, we lose the piece of ourselves that could have grown through understanding their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

We shouldn’t hate those that are different. We should embrace them, learn from them, and understand that we can share the same house peacefully. Without diversity, the world would be a horribly mundane place. So, if you are someone who struggles to accept people who are different: try. Try to open your heart and mind to the idea that we are all connected, and that we are all equally important. If you do, you just might learn something new, or even help to make the world a better or safer place.

Love is love. Human is human. And regardless of what some may wish to believe; we are equal. We are all valued. And we all connected.

“Everybody gets lost somehow; it’s where we were meant to start”

  • Zachary Britt

Last month marked the fifth anniversary of The Renegade Press, as well as the first anniversary of a friend taking his own life. I had originally planned on creating two separate entries to celebrate my achievement and commiserate the loss of a loved one. But after a few failed attempts to produce either piece, I eventually decided to let the month of July pass without posting at all.

In hindsight, I’m thankful for the writer’s block that stopped me from blogging about either occasion. It seems macabre to revel in the success of a site that began as a means of coming to terms with my demons whilst mourning the loss of a friend who never managed to overcome his own.

So much has changed in my life since I first started blogging in 2012. Over the last five years I have beaten anxiety and depression, watched my father survive a health scare that should have killed him, had my heart broken, received death threats from readers, published a book and severed ties with its producer, lost friends to suicide, and found a way to connect with perfect strangers across the globe through posts just like this one.

Although many of the moments that define me have been tainted with heartbreak; I have managed to find myself amongst the chaos and cacophony of life, and right now I am happier now than I have ever been. When I look back at my earlier work, I can no longer relate to the angry young man crying out for help through posts laden with vulgarity and angst. I’ve stopped writing about masks, depression and violence. The contempt that fueled me to create pieces with an acid tongue is long gone. These days I prefer to create posts about cultural acceptance, flowers, and a girl who has been a drop of honey spilled into my soul.

I still don’t know if I’ll get to celebrate Christmas a day early with her; or if she’ll let me be hers. But the hopeless romantic in me hopes that one day I’ll be able to write another post about her. She just has to tell me that she’s ready to open her heart, and I’ll sweep her off her feet and make sure they never need to touch the ground again…

A reader recently sent me a message to say that she was struggling. She said that her life wasn’t where she thought it would be; and that she felt lost. We talked for a while, emailing back and forth about our own experiences. I told her about some of my darker days, and she shared hers. When we finished talking, I told her that although it may not seem like it right now; she’s not alone. And she is exactly where she needs to be.

There was a time when I felt exactly like she does. I was lost and alone. I was confused and I couldn’t see a way out of the sickness that was inside my head. I used to write horrible posts about death, depression and loneliness as a means of coping with a feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I thought that blogging about my despair was a healthy means of expressing myself. But it wasn’t. Because when those close to me expressed their concerns about my words or behaviour, I would shut down and become even more volatile than I already was.

I spent years thinking that I had found a way to manage how I felt through writing aggressive bullshit. But I was disoriented, journeying down a path of bitterness and depression. Eventually I became so lost that I couldn’t even see where I had come from. Chris Nicholas the young man with the world in front of him was gone; replaced by a boy so angry and afraid that people constantly felt the need to ask if he was OK.

But then something changed. I stopped barreling down that trail of heartbreak as fast as my legs would carry me. I looked around and realised that I had no idea who I was, what I stood for, or what the fuck I was doing with my life. I began to understand that perhaps I had always needed to become so lost that I was forced to start over.

I realised that maybe losing sight of who I was could be the best thing that ever happened to me.  

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When I started over, I had a chance to learn from my mistakes and become the one thing that I had always wanted to be: happy. That’s not to say that I suddenly became the best-selling author that I always believed I would be by now, or that I’ve settled down and started a family, brought a house, or seen the world. I still have a day job, I’m currently trying to convince a girl that I’m worth taking a risk on, and there’s still so much of this world that I’m yet to experience.

But what it does mean is that by becoming lost I realized what true happiness means to me. I now understand how wonderful it feels to be able to share myself with the world like I do, and that it’s a gift to have found a place in the lives of so many people. And I recognise that there is nothing more magical than the moments you spend with your loved ones, or with someone who just smiles and takes your breath away.

It’s been almost two weeks since I last spoke to the reader who inspired this post.

But I’ve thought about her a lot since then. I’ve thought about how the moments that have pained me in my life allowed me to reach out through time and space and connect with another soul who was going through what I had. I’ve thought about how alone I used to feel, and how I never want anyone to feel like I did.  And I’ve thought that maybe by acknowledging that sometimes we need to become so lost that we’re forced to start over, I could show the world that it’s alright to not be OK. And that things can, and will get better. They just take time.

If you’re reading this post and you feel like you’re lost, or alone, or that the world is pushing down on your shoulders so hard that your spine may break; I want you to take a deep breath and tell yourself that everything is going to be OK. If you’re not brave enough to do that just yet, then allow me to say it for you: You’re not lost. Not like you think you are. You’re finally at the place where you were always meant to start. Now that you’re there, it’s time to begin moving forward so that you can understand what it is that will truly make you happy.

If that’s to write like I do, then pick up a pen. If it’s to have a family, or to fall in love; then get out there and find your drop of honey and allow them to fall into your soul. Once you’ve figured out what it is that you want in your life; do whatever you must to make that dream a reality. Because even if you fall a little short of that fantasy, you’ll find contentment in your efforts. I promise.

Five years ago when this page started, I thought my happiness would come through being a best-selling author, and that anything short of that was failure. I never imagined that I would be twenty-eight years old with a day job, writing about honey to make a beautiful girl notice me, and producing books and blogposts in my spare time. But now that I’m here, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I closed out out my first ever post by saying that I wanted to “look depression and misery in the eye, and tell it to fuck off”. But I don’t need to do that anymore. When I started over, I learned how to beat depression with kindness and human compassion. So instead of beating my chest and ending this post by saying that I’m not lost anymore, I’m going to tell you that if you’re struggling like I was, it will get better. You’re not lost. You’re just at the place where you were always meant to start from.

A wise man once said that patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet. I always believed that I understood what he meant. I thought that he spoke of suffering; that one must sacrifice so that he may eventually prosper. I told myself that I wanted to be a writer, and that the yearning in my chest was the pain I had to endure in order to succeed. Because of this, I spent years fighting against a loneliness so encompassing that I could feel it in my bones. Then I met you. And I realised that I was wrong. It took my twenty-eight years to understand that the hole in my chest was the bitterness of waiting to meet someone who could take my breath away; and that there is no fruit as sweet as falling for a woman as beautiful as you.

It started with a photograph. Until then I had always considered myself a hopeless romantic. I thought that I would meet a girl and we’d hit it off right from the start. I dreamed that we’d bump into each other in the street, or meet through friends of a friend. I told myself that our conversation would flow easily; I would smile and say something clever, and as she laughed I would realise that our souls were destined to become intertwined.

I never imagined that I would stumble upon your photograph and feel a breath catch in the back of my throat. I didn’t think that I would spend weeks trying to introduce myself, before finally sending you an awkward message that just said hi. You were never meant to respond. You were gorgeous. I was just an ordinary man who felt his hands shake and his heart skip a beat when he saw you smile. But you wrote back and jokingly thanked me for not asking to see your feet. You seemed nonplussed by my awkward introduction, and as we spoke I realized that the beauty within you was even more incredible than the image that had captured my attention.

Since then we have spoken every day. With each conversation, I have learned more about who you are. I can remember your birthday, your favourite flowers, and the first time that you called me babe. I don’t think you meant it how I hope that you did. It was just an expression that you uttered without realising that it would make me stumble and fall head over heels for you.

But, while I’ve learned so much, I have said some stupid things too. I told you that I wanted to be your boyfriend; and you laughed and offered a polite no. It was naïve to say what I did. I know that I have found you at your lowest; when you are trying to find yourself. I understand that the timing is so wrong; but the butterflies in my stomach when I think about you just feel so damn right.

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I’m not writing this to say that I love you. We have really only just met. I’m just trying to find a way to tell you that you are a drop of honey that has fallen into my soul. The sweetness of your smile and the subtle touch of your kiss have stirred awake a part of me that I never knew existed.

You are a warm glow that has spread through my chest, and down the length of my limbs. I don’t love you. Not yet. But I know that I could be the single greatest thing that has ever happened in your life. If you gave me half a chance I would be the man who picked you up at 3am and dropped you home, and who carried your shoes inside when your feet hurt. I’d be the man who rubs your tummy when you’re sick, or writes terrible stories about your dog to make you laugh. And you…

…You would be my Lacuna.

I’ve been in love before. I still have the scars to prove it. I’ve never told you this; but it’s something that we both have in common. I found a girl that I assumed I would grow old with; she left me, and I thought that I would always be alone. But then came that drop of honey: the warm amber glow that lit up my soul when I saw you smiling in a photograph and realised that all hope was not lost.

I don’t know if you’ll ever read this; or if I’ll ever get a chance to buy you flowers, to celebrate Christmas a day early, or to make your next birthday the most incredible one that you have ever had. I really hope that I do. I hope that when you find yourself again and you’re ready to open your heart, you remember that awkward message that brought me into your life. I’m not asking you to rush; I’m telling you to take your time. If I can have some fun with you, and make you smile until then, I’ll be the happiest man alive.

But if I never get a chance to show you just how much you could mean to me, and what it feels like to know that you’re no longer wasting your time: I want to thank you all the same. We may have only just met, but you’ve already taught me that there is no fruit as sweet as falling for someone as incredible as you. You’re the woman that made me realise how wonderful it is to feel a swarm of nervous butterflies in my stomach. You are the drop of honey that warmed my soul.

Some days are harder than others. There are times when I barely notice that you’re not around. Some days my life can seem so busy that I almost feel complete. I have a job that despite my shortcomings, I have managed to excel at. I have my writing; I run a website, and I wrote a book. It’s a love story. I think that you would like it. I have my family and friends too. I’m trying to be a better friend, brother and son, yet I know that I don’t always tell them that I love them as much as I should.

But there are also times when I reach for your hand, only to grasp at air. There are days like today when I’m surrounded by the people that I love, and they’re all married, partnered, or engaged. Some have families; or are expecting. And I’m standing there alone, wondering when I’ll meet you. Or if I ever will.

I used to think that we had met. I found a girl who was so beautiful that I knew I was in love from the first time that I saw her. She was smart too. She taught me about flowers, about having an open mind, and how wonderful it is to feel content. I tried so hard to make her love me; and even harder to make her stay. But she left. And she broke my heart. The final lesson that she ever taught me was that true love doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work, and sacrifice. She taught me that just because you love someone, it doesn’t mean that they know, that they’ll love you back, or that you’ll get the happy ending you have always longed for.

I wish that I at least knew your name. That way when I lay awake at night and picture our life together I could call you something other than Lacuna. It’s not even a real name. It’s just a word that I found in a book. But I chose it because it means a blank space; or a missing part. I’m twenty eight years old and I don’t have a woman to love, or to hold. There’s a blank space in my life that I wish I could fill; a missing part to the puzzle that is me.

I promise that when we meet I’ll do everything that I can to sweep you off your feet. I’ll spend every waking moment trying to take your breath away. 

I want to be your husband; and for you to be my wife. It sounds crazy because I don’t even know what you look like, but thinking about the day that I ask you to marry me brings a smile to my face. That doesn’t mean I want to be hasty and ask you as soon as we meet. I want us to take our time. I’ll ask you out on a date, and try and hold your hand. You’ll look at me as if I’m insane, and my heart will skip a beat as our fingers interlock. At the end of the evening I’ll drop you home and walk you to the front door, placing my hands on your hips as we kiss goodnight. It probably sounds silly to you. I know that people don’t do that kind of thing anymore. But there’s no need to rush something that is meant to last forever.

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I promise to take care of you too. I want to be there for you during the tough times as much as I want to share our moments of joy. When you’re sick I’ll tuck you in at night and wrap the blankets around your body before dimming the lights. I’ll make you soup when your throat hurts; or rub your stomach when you turn ill.  If you need to talk I’ll listen with great patience. And I’ll buy you flowers on your birthday, when you get a promotion, or just because I can.

When we have children, I’ll be the best damn father you have ever seen. I’ll change nappies, and teach them how to count, or to read and write. We’ll laugh and cry as they say their first words, and take their first steps. I’ll make sure that they grow up in a house filled with so much love that it radiates from their smile.

If we have a little girl I’ll learn how to tie pig-tails and play with dolls.  If we have a boy I’ll teach him to ride a bike and that real men treat women with respect. I’ll be at the front row of their sports carnivals, their spelling-bees, and graduations. You will too. We’ll be hand in hand, just like we were when I took your hand on our first date. We’ll be older by then; but just as in love as we have ever been.

Eventually we’ll grow old and retire. I’ll have to give away the job that I managed to excel at; I don’t know where you work, but I’m sure that you’ll be missed. We’ll travel the world, our faces cracking into a series of wrinkles as we smile gleefully at one another. When our hips give out and we can’t travel anymore we’ll find a little cottage to live in where we can form bizarre habits, like eating dinner while the sun is still up, and drinking so many cups of lukewarm tea that we spend most our nights dashing to the bathroom.

I know that one day I will find you. My parents always told me that good things come to those who wait. I just never thought that I would be twenty-eight and still searching for the woman that I grow old with. As a child, twenty-eight had seemed so old. I thought that I would have figured my life out by now. I wish I didn’t have to hurt as bad as I have in the past. I wish that I hadn’t had to lose the girl that I thought was you, and that I didn’t have to write a letter to someone that I’m still waiting to meet.

I don’t know where you are right now. Or if you’ll ever read this, but I want you to know that one day you are going to be my wife. And that I am going to love you, you are going to love me, and we are going to be happy. I promise to sweep you off your feet so that we can create a life so wonderful that your heart never aches again. When that day comes, I won’t need to call you Lacuna anymore. You won’t be a blank space, or a missing piece in my life. You’ll be my best friend; and I’ll be yours. We’ll be in love with one another, until the day that we die.

My mother knows that I am sick, but I hate that she can’t understand that whilst I am grateful for her love; it won’t stop the shaking of my hands.

  • Tom Weaver

One of the hardest things about dividing your time between blogging and writing manuscripts is that it often feels like one body of work must suffer so that that the other may thrive. When I blog, my desire to work on a larger manuscript wanes; and when I devote my time to creative fiction, it can be difficult to transition into the mindset required to produce entries for this site. At times it can be overwhelming to try and find an equilibrium between who I am as a blogger, as an author, and as a man. This complex balancing act is what has led to the recent lull in activity here at The Renegade Press.

I haven’t given up on blogging: I still have a notepad full of half thought out entries and epigraphs that will eventually become completed posts. But I have been focusing my attention elsewhere. In the past month, I completed the first draft of a love story; a piece unlike any other manuscript that I have ever produced. While the script needs a rewrite and a hell of a lot of editing, I can honestly say that I have never been so proud of something that I have created. I often write about concepts such as heartbreak, vulnerability, and anxiety on this site, so to be able to explore them in greater depth while producing what (I hope) will one day become a published novel has been a liberating experience.

In the excitement that followed completing the script that is named after an entry on this site, I hurriedly edited the opening two chapters so that I could share them with my mum. I sent her an email that was just under four thousand words in length, and waited with baited breath for her to tell me what she thought. While she told me that she loved it, I may never really know if she did. Mum has always supported me. I can’t ever imagine her suggesting that something I had written was shit. Yet despite her bias, being able to share something I am so proud of with someone who I love, and who has stood by me through the lowest moments of my life means more to me than I could ever express.

But that moment of intimacy sparked a thought. And that thought soon led to another, which then led to many more. Before too long I realised that although my life is no longer ruled by the anxiety and depression that I have often blogged about, I have never really taken the time to say thank you to the people who stood by me when I felt as though I was suffocating under the weight of my existence. I have always assumed that people would just instinctively know how much their support has meant to me, and that their kindness and compassion saved my life.

But I don’t want to assume anymore…

I want to say thank you to my mum. And to my dad. To my brothers and sister; to the woman with the little blue hearts that I loved and lost. To my friends, and to you, the reader. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your support, and for never giving up on me; even when I was so close to giving up on myself.

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When I started blogging in 2012 I was sick. When I look back through the archives of this site I can feel the pain woven into my words. Yet even though I was hurting, it took me another four years, and to lose someone that I thought I would spend my life with to finally hit rock bottom. When I did, the anxiety and depression that I had been battling with for so many years won. I lost myself. I felt like a failure. And I wanted to die.

In the months that followed I spent hours locked in my room, crying my eyes out as I read the kind words of strangers who had stumbled across my blog and learned of my heartbreak. Although I never responded to most of the people who reached out to me, I read every word that they wrote. Had it not been for the love of my family and friends, or the compassion of strangers who shared their own experiences with me, I may never have rediscovered who I was, and learned what it feels like to be happy.

I’ve always said that I want to leave the world in a better state than it was when I was brought into it. Which is why just saying thank you doesn’t feel like enough.

I mean, shit; I wanted to die. I felt so low that the idea of taking my life played over inside my head on an endless loop for longer than I care to admit. I could have easily been another man who had their life cut short by mental illness, contributing to a statistic that is already heartbreakingly larger than it should ever be. But I was lucky. The love I felt from my friends and family, and from every single person reading this was enough to help me through the fear and loneliness that I felt.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as blessed as I am. Not everyone suffering from mental illness has that support; and some that do still struggle to find the strength to carry on. Despite the love and support of their peers, they can’t find a way to face one more day in the hope that their life can get better.

So, I want you to help them. Just as you helped me. I want you to tell your family and friends that you love them. I want you to tell your work colleagues, your neighbour, and the people around you when they do something amazing. And I want you to offer a smile, a wave, or even a hello to a perfect stranger who looks as though they may just need to see a friendly face. I want you to promise to never take someone for granted. Don’t ever let someone you care about question just how much you love them. Take every opportunity that you can to show them what they mean to you.

As a society we often state that we need to have a conversation about suicide and depression. Yet we’re too scared to open our hearts to the possibility that we, or the people around us, are not OK. We feel as though opening a dialogue means that we must have a solution, an opinion, or an insightful response that will take away someone’s pain. But we don’t. There is no definitive solution to mental illness, and you’re not expected to provide one. All you need to do is listen; to allow someone who is fighting an illness inside of their head the opportunity to talk.  And more importantly; to be heard.

You may never know the impact that your kindness has on someone’s life. They may never offer their thanks, or find the courage to tell you how much you mean to them. But a random act of kindness; a smile offered to a passer-by, or the compassion to ask someone if they’re OK, could be the catalyst that helps them find the strength to control the shaking in their hands. By offering to listen, you could be the reason for someone to keep fighting, even when they feel like giving up.

If we keep offering our hands to those whose hands tremble, and we continue to listen when their minds are filled with fear, then you and I can leave the world in a better place than we found it. We can help fight suicide, anxiety, and depression. And we can make a difference. With nothing more than an open heart, we can change, or possibly even save the life of someone close to us who is struggling. I know that for a fact; because you have already saved my life.

I hope that together, we can help save many more. 

“You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

  • Walt Disney.

One of the most universally recognised concepts of ancient Chinese philosophy is the idea that all things exist as contradictory, yet inseparable opposites. Commonly known as the Yin and Yang, the principle states that there can be no light without darkness; no man without woman; and no joy without sadness. The earliest known depictions of the Yin and Yang characters are found on the skeletal remains of animals that were used in divination practices as early as the 14th century B.C.E. The Oracle Bones were carved with various symbols that served as questions to deities, before being subjected to extreme heat until they cracked. Those cracks were then read by diviners, and interpreted as the word of their gods.

Interesting, right? But completely irrelevant to a website that is supposed to be about writing. Don’t be alarmed; I’m not about to try and bluff my way through a post about Chinese philosophy, or ancient rituals. I already walk the thin line between deviating from my intended topic, and becoming a self-absorbed narcissist standing atop of his soap box. I wanted to make a point. It just so happens that the best way to do so was through ancient philosophy, an animator, and characters carved crudely into the bones of animals.

My point is this: Everything has an opposite. Which means that while we long to feel successful, happy, or complete; sometimes the best thing that life can do, is kick you in the fucking teeth.

A lot of readers are going to disagree with me here. They’re going to say that the entire purpose of the human existence is the pursuit of happiness. They’re going to state emphatically that there’s no pleasure to be derived from pain, and that only a sadist would ever believe otherwise. And while their opinion is admirable, it’s wrong. Without an understanding of pain, our happiness is meaningless. How the hell could you ever expect to feel content, if you don’t know what it’s like to be left wanting?

The reason that the concept of the Yin and Yang is so easily palatable to the human psyche is because it’s through the acceptance of opposites that we can develop appreciation of people, experiences, and things. We know what is right, because we know how it feels to be wronged. We know what it feels like to be safe, because we have also experienced fear. And, on a personal level, I understand what it means to be happy, because eight months ago I was kicked in the teeth so fucking hard that I momentarily forgot who I was, and almost took my own life.

OK, I’m not about to pick at old wounds here. There’s already a plethora of posts written by a man who had his heart torn out all over this website…

But, I am going to call out a society that is so fucking afraid of failure and heartbreak that it attempts to ignore the cyclical nature of the human existence, perpetuating a bullshit mentality that we can, and should, feel happy all the time. I’m going to say that for every positive experience that you are blessed with, you are also going to be met with a negative. And I’m going to tell you that if you want to be happy, and I mean truly happy, then you need to stop trying so damn hard to avoid your darker days, and learn to embrace them instead.

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While the thought of ancient diviners carving questions into animal bones may sound like a bunch of voodoo to most, they were right in their belief that there is pain in every pleasure, and pleasure in every pain. For me personally, the pleasure that came with suffering through heartbreak and contemplating suicide is that I finally learned who I really am, and what matters in my life. I learned that I am a stronger than I ever believed; that I can be humble and still believe that I am a great writer; and that being kicked in the teeth was exactly what I needed to become the man that I should have always been.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that learning through heartbreak is easy, or even that I enjoyed the experience. It was horrible. When life kicks you in the teeth the last thing you want to do is smile your way through indignation and defeat. You want to sit down on the ground and cry your eyes out while blood seeps through your lips and spills onto the earth. And that’s fine. In the short term. Shit, I spent the better part of six months in tears. Even now, I still have days where I need to remind myself that sometimes it’s alright to not be OK. But after months of crying and feeling fractured, I eventually picked my teeth up out of the mud, and found the positivity in my defeat as I started over again.

Having found my positives doesn’t mean that life will never try to kick me in the teeth again either. It’s naive to believe that I will only ever face one monumental setback in my life. The recurrent realities that we exist within means that disappointment and failure are destined to arise periodically throughout my life for as long as I shall live. But knowing that I had the strength to find the bright side of suffering within the lowest moment of my life fills me with the courage that I can overcome any adversity I may face.

I am not defined by my failures, nor my successes. And neither are you. It is our ability to grow from our pleasure and pain that make us the men, women, and children that we are destined to be.

If we learn to embrace our defeat, and to be spectacular in our failures and heartbreak, then we can begin to find the positives in negative situations that will ultimately allow us to become stronger individuals. When life kicked me in the teeth, I tried to hide from my failures and lost myself in the process. I nearly walked away from writing, and from life altogether. It took me months to rediscover who I am. But thanks to the support I found by writing on this blog, and through the love of my family and friends, I survived. And in writing this post I found the wolf in my heart, and the world eater in my head that I thought I had lost forever.

So, I want to issue a challenge to you, the reader.

It goes like this:

Stop running from your pains. Stop telling yourself that you are broken, or that your life sucks because you experience hardship or difficult days. If you feel as though life has knocked you down and driven its boot into your teeth, take a moment to catch your breath and tend to your wounds. Then learn from your pains, and turn a negative into a positive. Accept that sometimes it’s alright to not be OK, acknowledge that life can hurt, and realise that heartbreak and defeat can become a catalyst for happiness and contentment.

When you do find the positives within your pain, help others to do the same. Tell them a story about ancient philosophy, animal bones, and how sometimes all we really need is for life to kick us in the teeth so that we can be reminded about just how much we have to be grateful for.

A Sufi holy man was asked, “What is forgiveness?” He said, “It is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.”

  • One Sufi’s Saying

I have always viewed the individuals that make up our society as a collection of candles. Inside the mind of every man, woman, and child are thin strands of consciousness bound together like interwoven cotton, forming a wick. These wicks are the idiosyncratic and cultural beliefs that guide us; they are the past experiences, thoughts, and feelings that govern our realities and establish how we see the world. Although our individual philosophies, and how we choose to interpret them may vary, they are central to who we are as human beings.

From an early age, we are taught about love and human compassion through the various fables and religious analogies that are passed down from generation to generation. And as we grow older, our physical bodies become the solid foundation of wax that surround the emotional facilities of our wicks, and allow them to burn.

But sometimes those strands of consciousness and cotton can become tainted. Prejudice, bitter experience, and extenuating circumstance can alter our beliefs, causing the flame that burns atop of our candle to flicker and fade. A terror attack against innocent people can cause our belief structure to shift away from tolerance, to wariness and fear. A failed relationship can break our heart, and cause us to treat the opposite sex in a derogatory manner as we attempt to hide our own fragility. A statistic, or series of unfortunate events can transform our perception of a racial subclass from an equal, to a violent, seemingly lawless community. And a difference in the ideals and expression of love can make some of us feel uncomfortable with the idea of a man loving another man; or with a woman falling head of heals for another woman.

When these experiences taint our wicks, our flames diminish, and the light that we shine into the lives of others fades. Regardless of whether these bigotries are developed consciously, or not; when we stereotype, judge, vilify or disparage, we cast a shadow across the lives of the people around us. When too many of us allow our flames to flicker and fade, the world around us grows dark, and becomes a very scary place.

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Agh. Let’s pause for a second. That last comment sounded fucking bleak. It almost as if I’m trying to paint a dystopian world view as a way of expressing concern that too many people are being caught up in bigotry and hate. As if I am subtly suggesting that too many individuals have allowed their fires to fade, and that we’re living in a world ruled by intolerance and darkness…

Despite my candle analogy being an ideal that I have long believed in, I’m beginning to realise that I have only ever been partly correct in my thinking. For the past few months the posts on this site have been deeply introspective in nature; I have erred away from writing about the more contentious topics that occupy much of my thought processes, and focused instead on the idea of self. In doing so, I have come to realise that while there is a candle that burns in the minds of every man, woman, and child; there is also a rose garden that blooms within our hearts.

Love, tolerance, and human compassion are attributes that blossom within the souls of men and women who open their hearts to the world and risk having their rose gardens trampled; and who chose to allow the fragrance of their humbling moments to radiate and compliment their light, rather than diminish it.

Confused? You should be. It’s taken me months to come to this conclusion, and even as a write it out it still sounds like the ill-thought-out ramblings of a madman. So, let me try and explain…

I’ve said time and time again that I am a humanist. I believe in people. But I’m also a realist. I don’t believe that it is possible to live in a world without hate. The idiosyncratic nature of the individual means that we are inevitably going to find someone that we just cannot connect with. But if you are going to hate; then hate justly, and express your hate through love. Don’t hate someone because they are different, or because their views run incongruously to your own. Hate the person who diminished their own light and cast shadows into the world by attempting to destroy the rose gardens of their fellow man and woman. And love the people that they sort to hurt. Bask in the fragrance of their humanity, and show them that even in their lowest moments, they are beautiful. By doing so you can help create a world where tolerance trumps abhorrence.

If a terror attack robs the world of innocent people, don’t condemn a religion. That’s bullshit. Condemn the misguided individual who twisted their understanding of series of teachings to fuel their own rage.  Rise above their actions and use the fragrance of the flowers that they have crushed to build a world devoted to compassion. If your heart is broken; find the courage to love again. Don’t withdraw into yourself and rob the world of the flame in your mind, or the roses that bloom within your heart. And if you cannot accept that a man can love another man just as much as two members of the opposite sex can love one another, then seek him out and learn what it is that makes them so hopelessly devoted to his partner.

If you don’t, and you feel the need to vilify, disparage, or segregate based upon an individual’s beliefs, anatomical makeup, ethnicity, or the love that resides within them without seeking to understand who they are, then you are an arsehole. And you don’t deserve to shine light into their world, or to bask in the aromatic fragrance of the rose gardens your own insecurities and intolerance seeks to destroy.

People often think that in order for the world to experience love, change needs to occur on a grand scale. We turn to governments and leaders and ask them to make decisions about the rights of sub communities, or to dictate who it is that we should direct our angst towards in moments of great tragedy. But this kind of top down mentality towards human compassion and understanding is wrong. Real change comes from within us. It comes from helping to rebuild the rose gardens of those who have been hurt, and in allowing your light to illuminate the shadows caused by those who choose to stunt their own flame through anger and parochialism.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, the truth is that we are all connected. Every man, woman, and child on the face of this earth is both wonderfully unique, differently the same, and perfectly imperfect. If you struggle to accept those who you don’t understand, I implore you to open your heart and your mind, and learn how to accept rather than condemn. One of the reasons that I have always loved the analogy of a candle is the that as beautiful as its light may seem; it will burn far brighter when inverted. The same can be said for the way that many people, myself included, perceive the world around us. An inversion of thinking; acceptance as opposed to abhorrence will allow us all to burn brighter than we ever thought possible.

And if you step into the rose gardens of those who you have hurt, or who have hurt you; take a moment to breathe in the alluring fragrance of forgiveness; then help them tend to their damaged hearts, and cultivate a more tolerant world.

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