I recently published a piece of fiction as part of Vocal’s Little Black Book Short Story Competition.
If you’d like to read my entry, you can do so by following the link below:
It goes without saying that the world is in really bad way right now. As I write this, nations all around the globe are struggling to contain a global pandemic that has already claimed over 100,000 lives, infected more than 1.6 million people, and left millions more financially devastated. In addition to this, entire countries are locked down as shelter in place restrictions attempt to slow the spread of a virus that is overwhelming healthcare systems and has already significantly altered the course of human history.
Covid-19 is everywhere. It’s on our televisions and radios; in our newspapers and magazines. It’s on the tips of our tongues when we talk to our friends and family, and in the back of our minds with just about every decision we make.
Right now the world appears to be stuck in this morbid state of doom and gloom. We’re afraid. And we should be. We’re living through a fucking scary time with no clear ending in sight. We don’t know how long shelter in place restrictions will be needed, if our jobs are safe, or even when we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. But we do know that while each of us is trying their best to get through this pandemic, we’re collectively at risk of being overcome by the gravity of our situation if all we do is consume negativity.
So rather than talk directly about how Covid-19 has reshaped our lives, I want to talk about the relationship between the pandemic we’re living through and a long-misconstrued societal belief whose etymology is derived from wolves instead.
About a year ago, I was visiting my Mum interstate. As we often do when I go home to see her, we were sitting around her kitchen drinking coffee and talking; catching up about all the little things that never seem to come up in conversation when we’re on the phone. I have no idea why, but for some reason our conversation on this particular day turned to the subject of masculinity; and in true Chris Nicholas fashion, my over confidence was on full display. As someone in his thirties who has experienced death, battles with mental health and masochistic behaviour, financial ruin, failed relationships, and family illness, I considered myself to be a man. I have taken a few big hits in life, and although I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count, I have always found a way to stand back up and face whatever life threw at me next.
But as Mum and I waxed philosophical about what it meant to be a man, she told me that she never really considered me to be a stereotypical alpha-male. The comment was supposed to be a compliment; and part of me took it that way. As a society, we often perceive an alpha character as a dominant individual with greater access to power, money, and respect. These people are often abrasive, intimidating, and sit at the top of a social status hierarchy.
When compared to these criteria, I wasn’t, am still am not an alpha-male. I like to keep fit, but am by no means the most powerful person I know. I’m prepared to fight for what I believe in, but I’ll never initiate conflict or be perceived as intimidating. And I have a couple of bucks in my back pocket, but I’m not exactly rolling around in piles of cash making frivolous investments without a care in the world. And yet, despite not meeting any of the criteria that society needed to consider me an alpha, Mum’s well-intentioned comment rankled me. Because if I wasn’t an alpha, then what was I?
So, I started researching what it truly meant to be an alpha.
The term alpha as society now knows it was first coined in during the 1940s by Rudolph Schenkel of the University of Basel in Switzerland as he studied a pack of grey wolves held captive in a zoo. During his study Schenkel observed as the wolves competed for status within their own sex, until over time, the pack established a clearly defined alpha pair, documenting his findings and sharing them with the world. Then almost thirty years later, the American scientist L. David Mech penned a book called The Wolf which built upon Schenkel’s findings and helped to popularise the concept of alpha and beta wolves within the pack.
Throughout their respective papers, both researchers noted pack dynamics that used competition to define rank. The duo used the phrase alpha to identify the wolves who used domineering, violence, and aggression to become the clear leader of a pack. The savage imagery that these papers presented was hugely appealing to popular culture, particularly in mediums such as film where an alpha could be defined as a win at all cost protagonist who would burn down an entire village just to serve his own selfish ends.
And so, thanks in part to these two studies (and a myriad of similar research papers), society began to use term alpha wolf as a term of endearment to define those members of our society that climbed the social, financial, or political hierarchy at any cost. Thanks to stylised film and television, it became cool to be seen as a badass who didn’t give a shit, and who used animalistic dominance to achieve their goals. Because these characteristics were typically given to male roles within movies, the phrase was adapted, and the alpha wolf became the alpha male. He was the asshole you hated for his ruthlessness, but admired for his success.
But it turns out that the studies used to define the hierarchy of man were flawed. The wolves in the two researcher’s studies weren’t in their natural environment while under observation. They were captives forced to coexist in a foreign climate that stunted their natural instinct. And so, operating in a high-stress situation, they turned on each other and used violence to determine their pack structure.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, researchers began to question the findings of Schenkel and Mech, tracking grey wolves in the wild to test their hypotheses. Until this point scientists had believed that independent and unrelated grey wolves formed packs each winter out of necessity. They thought that wolves lived in close proximity, and banded together during winter to increase their chances of survival, using dominance and violence to establish their pack’s structure.
But through this process of tracking the movements of packs, researchers learned that a pack isn’t a group of individuals drawn together by circumstance, it is a nuclear family of wolves that consists of two parents, and their children. The alpha of a pack is not the most violent, or aggressive. The alpha is simply a paternal figure who co-parents his offspring with his mate.
In his natural habitat, the alpha, like so many great father figures in our own species, treats his family with love, generosity and kindness. He’s notorious for playful roughhousing with his pups, and is even known to pay special attention to the upbringing of the runt of a litter. That doesn’t mean that the alpha is all warm and fuzzy though; wolves are still incredibly dangerous apex predators. And the alpha will ferociously protect his pack against a threat when he needs to. But, as renowned wolf researcher Richard McIntyre says:
The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf is a quiet confidence; quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that.
Which means that not only did researchers like Schenkel and Mech get it wrong when they assumed that being an alpha meant being domineering (a viewpoint that Mech later recanted). But it also means that society has it wrong when we assume an alpha to be intimidating or powerful; or even that their purpose in life is to serve themselves. Those are the characteristics of an asshole. An alpha is calm, level headed, knows what is best for their pack, and isn’t afraid to put the need of others above their own. They show sensitivity and love to those they care for, and are willing to do violence only when necessary.
Perhaps if my mum were to compare me against these criteria, rather than the misguided version of an alpha popular culture has led us to believe in, her opinion about whether I am a stereotypical alpha-male might have been different.
You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do Covid-19…
And you’d be right for doing so. The truth is, the concept of being an alpha has as much to do with Covid-19 as you allow it to.
As I said at the top of this post, the world is a very scary place right now. We’re surrounded by a perpetual feeling of doom and gloom. We’re worried about our families, our livelihood, and our future. But through all this uncertainty, we as individuals have been afforded with the opportunity to do something great. And that greatness is to be calm, to lead by example, and to be who your loved ones need you to be during a difficult time.
The last thing this world needs right now is the version of an alpha that society has been misled to believe is true. We already have an overabundance of assholes who put their needs before everyone else’s even without the added stresses of a global pandemic. Instead, the world needs more true alphas; leaders within family and friendship units who recognise that we’re living in uncertain times, who understand what their pack needs, and who have the self-assuredness and confidence to support and nurture the people they care about.
Whether that support is making your partner a cup of tea, turning off the television to play with your kids, or just phoning to check in on your friend or relative who may be struggling, every little moment of kindness matters in a time like this.
Years from now future generations are going to learn about the Covid-19 pandemic in schools. They’re going to learn about the lives lost, countries locked down, and the stories of human compassion that kept us all together. When that time comes, imagine how rewarding it would be to tell them that during one of the defining moments of our generation, you had what it took to be a true alpha, and that you made a difference in the lives of those you cared about. That rather than being a domineering asshole who thought the world revolved around you, you showed kindness and generosity even when others around you may not have. That you kept people safe, made sure that they were loved, and played your small part in a global effort to overcome adversity.
I know that it may not seem like it right now, but eventually this pandemic will pass, and our lives will return to some semblance of normality. It’s just going to take some time. Until then, stay home, stay safe, support your loved ones, and be a wolf.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with fellow blogger W. for a short interview about life and writing.
It is always such an honour to be able to share a part of myself with the world, and I am extremely thankful to W. for reaching out to me.
The following is an interview with Chris Nicholas, a writer/blogger from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels and currently working on his third. He also runs a successful website, The Renegade Press (https://therenegadepress.com/), and have contributed publications in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
W.: What makes you start writing? And how did you find inspiration for each of your pieces?
Chris Nicholas: People often ask me what it is that inspires me to write, and the truth is that I never know how to answer. There are so many things that inspire me to write; be it music, films, books, conversations, or just sporadic thoughts that surface in my mind. I mean, I once wrote a blog post about a conversation between a little girl and her grandmother that I overheard while lacing up my shoes.
But if I did have to choose one thing that…
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“Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
There has always been a lot of conjecture about the true ownership of the quote above. While most people believe that it belongs to a Scottish author by the name of Ian Maclaren, there are some that attribute it to Plato, or argue that it was Philo of Alexandria who first uttered the phrase. Regardless of who owns it, the simple, yet profound meaning it conveys speaks volumes, especially in a world where we so often feel as though we are struggling, and forget that we are not alone.
Every single person in this world is living through their own unique version of reality. And in that reality, they are fighting battles both within themselves, and with the world around them as they try their best to survive. While some people face battles that manifest themselves as physical disabilities or ailments; others struggle with cognitive or developmental issues, fight emotional demons, or find themselves pitted against the hazards of circumstance. Yet even though we all have moments where we feel as though we are the only one struggling, the truth is that we are not alone in the wars that we wage, no matter the obstacles we face.
Believe me when I say that there’s a lot more that I want to say here. But before I do, it seems appropriate to take a break for a moment and acknowledge that it has been more than a year since I have written a blog post. And while there are a few reasons why I chose to step away from my website, the largest contributing factor for my absence has been that I’ve been busy fighting a battle alongside someone very special to me…
On November 18th, 2019, my Dad passed away. At the time of his passing, he was sick. Really sick. Yet even though I knew that the phone call to tell me that he was gone was imminent, it still hurt like hell when a nurse phoned to say that he was gone. Dad was, and always will be, one of my closest friends. He was a confidant, a provider of advice, and a royal pain in my backside at times. He was the man who taught me how to ride a bike, drive a car, to respect those around me, and a million other things. But he was also a deeply troubled soul, and a man who was fighting a few battles that in the end, he just couldn’t win.
Physically, Dad’s issues started in 2011 when an aneurism in his aorta ruptured and he was airlifted to hospital to undergo emergency surgery. Mentally, he had begun struggling years before that. After more than two decades serving as a police officer, Dad had developed post-traumatic stress disorder and had been self-medicating with alcohol and cigarettes for several years. It was because of these dependancies that his aorta swelled to six times its normal size before eventually rupturing and causing internal bleeding.
Whilst it would be easy to say that the aneurysm was solely a result of his actions, his excessive alcohol consumption and addiction to cigarettes wasn’t entirely a weakness on Dad’s part. He had spent his formative years in the police force during an era where colleagues actively encouraged drinking and smoking as a means of coping with stress. If you had a rough day on the job, your boss told you to go grab a cigarette, or a colleague took you down to the local bar for a few beers. So, by the time Dad’s health had started to decline, drinking and smoking were so ingrained in his DNA that even as medical experts told him that they were the cause of his sickness, he turned to them as a means of coping.
Over time, his post-traumatic stress turned into depression, and his reliance on his vices became so consuming that he transitioned through states of homelessness, staying with family, attending mental health facilities, and living out of a car, plastic bags and whatever else he could, just so that he could keep a couple of bucks in his pocket to buy a beer and a packet of cigarettes.
At his best, Dad was self-sufficient, and could find ways to get by on his police pension. At his lowest, he was sleeping on my lounge and borrowing large sums of money to feed his addictions, or checking himself into clinics just so that he had a roof over his head and something to eat.
There were days when I could barely look at him. I hated seeing what he had allowed himself to become. It broke my heart to watch the person who had taught me everything that I knew about being a man falling apart before my eyes. Yet although I hated seeing his circumstances deteriorate, I still loved him, and I still did anything that I could just to show him that no matter how bad things got, he’d never have to face anything alone.
In January of this year, things got worse again. Dad was rushed to hospital with another aneurysm, and was told that because his health had declined so much since 2011, he wouldn’t survive. I can still remember sitting in a quiet space at work when he called me in tears and told me that the doctors had said that he needed to be airlifted to another hospital where a specialist surgeon would attempt to operate if he somehow made it through the flight. He was petrified as we said our goodbyes, and I told him that I loved him, and that I was proud of him, and that I always would be.
Then, just like he had done in 2011, he did the unthinkable and not only survived the plane ride, but the surgery too.
But his luck was to be short lived. In June he was back in hospital again where he went into surgery to have stents put into his arteries to allow blood to flow into his kidneys which had begun shutting down. Again, Dad defied the odds and pulled through, but was told that he would need to give up his vices and begin dialysis treatment that he would need to remain on for the rest of his life.
Because he had no place of residence, almost no money or possessions to his name, and needed support, he came to stay with me, and then with my younger brother. Then when things got tough, he said that he couldn’t live with us and chose to check himself into temporary accommodation while we helped him look for a more permanent place to live. He hated dialysis. It left him feeling ill, and depressed. So although those around him tried to keep him focused on improving his situation, we could see that he was slipping away.
In early September, Dad decided he had had enough, and that he didn’t want to continue with dialysis anymore, electing to see out his days rather than pursue treatment. On the day that he told me, I was so angry at him. I had fought so hard to help him over the years that him telling me that he wanted to give up sent me into a rage. I swore at him. A lot. And I reminded him that doctors had suggested he could live another five years with treatment. I said that within that time I hoped that I’d be married, and have a family of my own, and asked him if he wanted to be around to see that. When he looked me in the eye and told he couldn’t imagine himself living through another five years of pain, I realised just how emotionally exhausted he was. And that while he may have physically been capable of surviving another five years with treatment, mentally, he had nothing left to give.
Over the next few weeks shit got rough. Dad deteriorated rapidly both physically and mentally. His body filled with toxins and his head became so clouded with anger that he began lashing out at the people who were trying to help him. From early September to when he passed away was one of the most difficult periods that we had ever experienced in our relationship. He and I fought more than we ever had, and I lost patience with him more than once as we both said some pretty hurtful things to one another out of frustration. I loved and cared for him so fucking much and it was destroying me to watch him just give up. But for every fight that we had, we also had discussions about my life, and his, and about what he wanted when he passed.
The night before my Dad died, he called me from a hospital bed and told me that he loved me, and that he appreciated everything that I had done for him. We cried. And then we spoke for a few minutes about what he wanted me to say as a farewell to each member of our family before he hung up the phone, and the period in my life where I had a father who was alive came to a premature end.
I know that some of this probably sounds like I’m condemning his decision not to undergo dialysis. Or that I’m harbouring some kind of pent up frustration at him for his actions. But I’m not. I’m not writing any of this to disparage my Dad, or his memory…
It’s important for me to say that. Because I love my Dad. I always will. And in a way, I’m still trying to shelter him by only talking about some of the things that my family has been through; particularly over the past twelve months. Instead, I’m writing about my experiences with him because I hope that by doing so, I can help whoever reads this to understand that every one of us are fighting our own battles; and that sometimes the kindness of the people around us is the only thing in this world that we have left to hold onto.
Mental illness is not something to be trifled with. Even though I’ve had my own battles with anxiety and depression, and had friends take their own lives, it wasn’t until I watched my father in his final weeks that I realized just how overwhelming a fight with the chemical imbalances inside our brains actually can be. Dad was constantly lost in his own head, battling against himself, scalding his own behaviour, and allowing his anger at his own shortcomings to fester. In the end, he was so lost that even the idea of being around for a few more years to potentailly meet his grandchildren couldn’t rouse him.
Although he’s no longer here, Dad did struggle against his illnesses for years before giving up. I truly believe that he made it as far as he did because of the kindness and generosity of the people around him, including the complete strangers who loaned him a couple of bucks, or who bent rules and gave him discounts on a safe place to sleep when he needed it. Dad might have been down and out, and on the wrong end of far too many of his own poor decisions, but people always seemed to see the good in him and reciprocated with kindness and compassion when he needed it most.
While he may not have left behind much of a legacy in a tangible sense, this lesson that people are inherently compassionate by nature, as well as everything else that he has taught me over the years, means far more to me that a life insurance policy, or a will choked full of meaningless assets ever could. I will forever be grateful to those strangers that treated my Dad with respect, and made him feel welcome. I will never meet most of them, or even know their names. But to know that their actions often helped him make it through just one more day means the world to me.
You might be wondering why I called this post Tricky…
I did so because that’s what people used to call my Dad when he was a cop. Tricky Trev was as sharp as a whip and always had a solution to a sticky situation. Yet while the title is more of a homage to him than anything else, perhaps it also lends itself to the idea that I am ultimately trying to convey here. Which is that life can be tricky sometimes. For all of us. We all have our battles to fight, and our horizons to cross as we complete our idiosyncratic journeys between birth and death. But through acknowledging that we all experience lower moments, as well as remembering the powerful effect that kindness has on each of us during those difficult times, we can create a better world for those who are struggling.
The battle that I’ve been fighting with my Dad is over now. It came to an end on November 18th, 2019. In many ways, his passing is bitter-sweet. Because as much as I miss him, at least I know that he is no longer in pain.
What we went through as a family won’t be the last hardship that I endure in my life. I will undoubtedly have plenty more ups and downs before my bones inevitably turn to dust. But hopefully the lessons that I’ve learned by fighting alongside, and against, the man who taught me how to ride a bike, drive a car, and to respect those around me, will help me to remember that I’m not alone in my struggles. And to be kind, always. Because you never know what someone else is living through, or just how deeply your compassion can move them in their times of need.
I recently read an article that said more than 95% of blogs fail within their first twelve months. The reasons for failure vary from a lack of readership, to loss of interest on behalf of the author, and everything in between. But regardless of why they fail, the number shocked me. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been writing for this site for six years. I never envisioned that I would be one of the minority that made it.
I have always tried my hardest to write from the heart, and have told myself since the inception of this site that an author’s dreams are achieved when they move just one reader. But a friend recently brought to my attention that I have a subscriber list just shy of twenty thousand, and I felt that the milestone, coupled with the release of my sophomore novel, and my six year anniversary of blogging was worth acknowledging.
Although I rarely acknowledge them, I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have had the successes I have had. So I wrote a letter to the man I was right back when my journey as a blogger began. I wrote him a letter to give him the strength to keep on writing, even in those moments when he feels like giving up. And because there are people who have been following this site ever since that man produced his very first entry, I wanted to share it with those that choose to read it. Raw, and unedited. From the mouth of a wolf to the world eater I once was.
It’s July 17th, 2012, and you’re sitting at your computer with tears rolling down your cheeks as the view counter of your new website sits at zero. You’ve just posted the first blog you have ever written, and yet rather than feel proud at what you have achieved, you feel defeated. You’ve been having a rough time lately. In fact, you’ve been struggling with anxiety for as long as you can remember. I know it probably sounds like an exaggeration, but that post you just created, it’s going to alter the trajectory of your life from here on out. For better, or worse, you’re a blogger now. From this moment onwards, writing will be the cause of your sickness, and the cure to your disease.
I wanted to reach out to you, to tell you how proud I am of you for finding the bravery to post what you just did. It takes courage to not be afraid, and it takes strength to admit that you are weak.
I want to tell you about your future too. But before I do, I first need to acknowledge your past. You ended your post with a line that oozed apprehensive ambition, and it made me sad to read over it six years after it was originally produced. So, I want to repeat it back to you. I want you to read your own words and hear the pain in what you said. Then, before this letter is done, we’re going to talk it through.
Are you ready? Here it is:
Ten years from now, I want to be able to say that I had what it takes to look depression and misery in the eye, and tell it to fuck off.
You have already been writing for seven years at this point. You’ve had a few failed attempts at manuscripts, and even managed to complete one or two. Right now, you think what you have created is brilliant. But in time, you’ll come to understand just how terrible these initial scripts are. I know that it hurts to know how many agents and publishers have rejected your queries, and you feel humiliated that one piece of shit even took enjoyment in calling you out for a spelling mistake in your synopsis. You feel depressed that people don’t see the greatness inside of yourself that you do. But stick with it kid. Don’t ever lose hope. That character you have been writing about, Jason Dark, people are going to read his story one day.
Three years from now a company in the United States is going to publish the first of what is supposed to be a four-book series featuring him, and for a few brief moments, you’ll feel on top of the world. But before you reach what you will misconstrue as the summit of your achievements, you’re going to crash and burn. More than once.
That depression you spoke about? It’s going to get a whole lot worse. You’re going to push yourself to breaking point more times than you’ll ever be comfortable admitting. You’re going to set fire to manuscripts, destroy relationships, alienate your readers, and push yourself into a place so fucking black you won’t even be capable of finding the path you trod to get there.
Despite your own self-loathing, the number of views on your page is eventually going to tick past zero. Yet even though someone, somewhere is reading, you’re going to grow frustrated that so few care about what you’re going through, and the pains you have endured to blog about it. In the first six months of your website’s existence, less than a hundred people are going to view your work. Considering how hard you’re going to plug yourself to you friends via social media and in person, it’s going to make you feel as though you’re a failure.
This disappointment is going to make you begin to despise other writers. You’re going to be jealous of them, and you’ll begin producing posts laced with venomous undertones, telling anyone who will listen that they are undeserving of their successes. In hindsight, I can tell you that you shouldn’t judge them so harshly. One day you will learn to not only appreciate your fellow blogger, but also to use negativity as a fuel for your creative fires.
A few years now someone will tell you that you have no place in the literary industry, and you’ll use their criticism as motivation to publish an article with a website that receives over 18 million views a week. And the other bloggers; the ones you feel you need to destroy… Some of them are great writers, and wonderful people. Right now, your own frustration and insecurity are obscuring your ability to appreciate them, and to learn from their achievements. But you’ll get over that in time. And when you do, you’ll understand that we all have our own realities, and that it’s wrong for you to assume that you are the only person who knows what it feels like to hurt.
Speaking of hurting…
Your depression is going to really hurt your ability to resonate with an audience. Your first two years of blogging is going to be a shit storm of self-loathing, hate, and terrible metaphors that people struggle to palate. But then, in December 2014, you’re going to start to change. You’re going to start to become a man.
You’ll write a post about broken windows in response to a terror attack, defending a religion you have no affiliation with. The post will polarize your readers. Some will appreciate your ambition and willingness to take a stand. They will respect your appeal to the better angels of our nature, and offer their camaraderie and support. But many will call you an idealist, a child, and far worse. You’ll receive death threats, emails which consist of passages of scripture, and even see your name and photograph defamed on websites dedicated to intolerance.
It’s going to scare you. But you’ll fight back. You’ll give as good as you get, threatening to protect your beliefs with bloody knuckles and an acid tongue. Your war of words with one reader will escalate so rapidly that your partner and family will become concerned, so you’ll try to make peace by writing a post about bygones being bygones.
But the olive branch you extend is only going to make things worse. The reader will threaten to attack you, call your mother names, and claim that he is doing so in the name of his God. Unfortunately for him, you never really forgive him for this. The idea that anyone would use their faith as a means of projecting hate makes you feel ill. You’ll probably find it funny to know that six years later, you’re still dishing out his email address to every spam list that you can find. You know it’s a little immature to do so… but, fuck him. He shouldn’t have said what he did about your mum.
In 2015, you’ll publish a book, grow an audience, and begin to make a name for yourself. You’d never believe it, but a few months after your book is released, people are going to start contacting you to ask if you’d like to be interviewed on their radio shows and websites. They’re going to tell you that they enjoy your work, and ask if have any words of wisdom for up and coming bloggers. Your writing is going to improve a lot in this time. You’ll begin weaving the positivity that has begun to blossom inside of your chest through your words. Shit, you’re going to feel so goddamn good that you start sharing fictional pieces on your website too. I know that sounds great in theory. Believe me when I say that I once thought it was too. But after a while it’ll dawn on you that your mother and little sister have read pieces you’ve written about undressing a woman and feeling her writhe beneath your sheets.
And then, just when you feel like you have found your purpose in life, everything is really going to go to shit.
You’re going to live through a period of eighteen months during which two friends will take their own lives, the girl you thought you’d marry will walk out on you, you’ll have a health scare that is going to make you more afraid than you have ever been, and your publisher will tell you that they no longer wish to represent you.
You’re going to hit rock bottom, Chris. And you’re going to hit it real fucking hard. Your family and friends are going to be concerned about you. They’re going to fret for months about how different you have become. Your mother is going to ask you repeatedly if you need professional help, and if you have had thoughts of suicide. Your father will end a phone call by telling you ‘not to do anything stupid’, and unbeknownst to you, your friends will band together to make sure that someone is always watching over you whenever possible.
During this period, you’ll lose weight, quit writing, and get so sick that company you work for will ban you from showing up until you agree to visit a psychologist. Your writing will become macabre again. The confidence that once shined in your work will be shattered, and you’ll begin embracing analogies about flowers and heartbreak as a means of coping.
You’re going to be so lost inside your own depressive mindset that even though you tell your mum that you’ve never thought about giving up, you will. A lot. In fact, there’s going to be a few moments where the only thing that saves you is the knowledge of how painful it was when your friends took their lives, and your refusal to put the people who love you through that agony again.
Eventually you’ll find a way to start over, and you’ll begin writing a love story so that you can experience the happy ending you believe will forever allude you. You’re going to cry your way through the early stages of the first draft, and much of what you produce will need to be rewritten. But the project will ultimately become something you are truly proud of.
Writing about selflessness and love is going to teach you so much about who you are, who you have been, and who you want to become. Despite having drafted the sequel to your debut novel, you’ll abandon it and decide to publish your love story instead. You’ll distribute it yourself too. After years of viewing self-publishing as an act of creative defeat, you’ll decide not to follow the traditional publishing route when you realise that you’re more concerned with sharing what you have created with those who choose to read your work, than chasing down publishing contracts and mass market appeal.
The novel will come out just a few weeks before I write you this letter. It’s release, coupled with the realization that I have been blogging for six years, are the catalysts for this letter. See, I’m about to turn 30 in a few months, which has prompted me to think a lot about my past. Call me melancholy for doing so, but I just can’t help but turn my attention to where I have come from so that I can understand where I am heading in the future. Maybe it’s because some of the places that I have been, that you are yet to go, aren’t so great. Maybe I’m trying to disprove the sentiment people have often told me that the best indicator for future behavior is past behavior.
Whatever the reason for my looking back to progress forward, it was by doing so that I came to find the quote we both penned on July 17th, 2012 that I spoke of above. I looked right back on where my blogging journey started, and realised just how far I have come in the past six years. When I started blogging I was afraid, downtrodden, and lost. Just like you are right now. You just wrote a post about your father nearly dying, and how afraid you are to know that your little brother is struggling with anorexia. Now here I am six years later telling you that Dad is still kicking along, and your brother, he got his shit together, and he’s actually accomplished a hell of a lot more than most 22 year olds.
Perhaps you’d like to know that I’m not lonely, downtrodden, or lost anymore either. I feel like you’ll be excited to know that those feelings will pass. These days I’m a confident, proud, and happy near 30-year-old with two published novels to his name. I am also a son, a brother, a lover, an uncle, and although you won’t understand this analogy just yet, I’m a fucking wolf. And one day, you will be too.
Six year ago, when I was you, I told myself that a decade into the future I wanted to be able to say that I overcame depression and misery. But it turns out that I didn’t have to wait that long. And neither will you. Because we’re one in the same; perfectly imperfect in every single way. The next few years are going to fly by, so try to appreciate the small moments of happiness you will inevitably experience as best you can. Because it feels like just yesterday that it was July 17th, 2012 and I was sitting exactly where you are now.
I started writing because I feared who I was. But six years later, I continue to write because I’m damn proud of who I have become, and because I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to change anything about the path that I have walked. I know that you ended your first post by saying you wanted to tell depression to fuck off. Believe me, there was a time when I wanted to say that too. But I felt I needed to write to you and say you never will. Not because you lose your battle; but because you’ll learn that you can’t fight fire with fire, and you’ll kill depression with kindness instead.
Keep your chin up, Chris. Keep writing. And always remember that no matter how bad life may seem, there is always the possibility for it to get better. You just have to give it a a chance.
Greek mythology tells story of Icarus, son of the great Athenian craftsman Daedalus, who built the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete. The story goes that Daedalus, imprisoned in his own creation by the King, fashioned two sets of wings from feathers and wax so that he and his son could escape. Before taking to the skies, Daedalus warned his son not fly too close to the sea, where dampness would clog his wings, nor too close to the sun, but to follow his path of flight.
But Icarus, overcome with the thrill of flying, ignored his father’s warning, soaring ever higher until the sun melted his wings, and he was left flapping his bare arms. Falling to the sea beneath him, Icarus drowned.
The story of Icarus is one of over-ambition. The Athenian’s failure to recognize the separation between his desire to soar closer to the sun, and his inability to do so, cost him his life. So fabled was his failed flight, that psychoanalyst Henry Murray established the personality theory known as the Icarus Complex to describe an individual with an ego so consuming that it borders on malevolent.
July 19th marked the sixth anniversary of this website…
And yet, despite the considerable lapse in time between posts, I chose not to draw attention to the date. Instead, I spent the day looking at photographs of flowers, sorting through images that I loved and loathed, while I waited for my editor to complete the final read through of a manuscript I have spent the past two years writing.
My decision not to post on the July 19th wasn’t an easy one to make. When I first began blogging, I never imagined that I would achieve everything that I have in the past six years. This site was born out of a yearning to break out of the depressive mindset that often left me feeling alone. The disparity between my dreams of becoming a bestselling author, and my distinct lack of talent to do so, could even have made a man as ambitious as Icarus question my headspace. To not acknowledge just how much I have grown since then seemed wrong.
But the timing wasn’t right. I was just beginning to enjoy writing again after an extended absence, and I didn’t want to force myself to upload something just for the hell of it. So I decided to wait. Until now.
The past six years have been a wild ride. In my most egotistical moments, I have called myself a wolf. In times of self reflection, I have drawn comparisons between my softer side and bouquets of flowers. I have also picked fights with bigots, wrote for other websites, received a few death threats from readers, and somehow managed to strike a chord with the people who return with every post to read my attempts at personal and creative growth.
By December of last year, I had written a hundred and seventy-six posts, built a subscribership of just over eighteen thousand, and amassed over a quarter of a million page views. At the time, I felt as though I was closing the gap between my dreams and the talent that I required to make them a reality. This website, and my nearly completed manuscript, were like wings made of feathers and wax that were going to help me contiuously soar to new heights.
And then I flew too close to the sun and my wings began to melt…
At the start of 2018, I fell into the oceans of anxiety that my writing had allowed me escape from, and I almost drowned. Although I survived, my confidence and creative impulses had been destroyed. By April I was so distraught, confused, and unsure why I had been abandoned by the wolf I have always nurtured inside of me, that I ran away to Europe and spent seven weeks trying to rediscover just who the fuck I am.
I spent 49 days visiting 12 countries, travelling 46,513 kilometres on planes, trains, busses and boats, with an additional 551 kilometres on foot. I shared my room with 127 different roommates, read six books, lived through a bomb threat, found myself in trouble with a member of the Swiss guard, grew a beard, and visited more museums, monuments, and bathhouses than I can even name. But perhaps the most important feat that I accomplished during my travels, was the two blog posts I managed to produce.
While I don’t consider either of the posts to my best work, they helped to repair the confidence I had lost in my writing, and allowed me to understand why I had been struggling to create for so much of this calendar year.
It turns out that I had developed an Icarus Complex. But not in a creative sense like I had originally thought. Not only am I a far better writer than I was six years ago, it has also been a long time since I have dreamed of writing a bestseller. These days I would rather write a book that leaves a lasting impression on an individual, than produce something that is consumed by many and quickly forgotten.
Instead, the disparity I had created in my life was between the man I wanted to become, and the mindset that I believed I required to do so.
My wings of feather and wax had melted when I came too close to a life devoid of human emotion.
After years of living with anxiety and depression, I became consumed with the idea of removing all frustration and angst from my life. I forced myself to constantly look for the positives in every situation. Instead of allowing myself to experience moments of anger and hurt, I began suppressing them to convince myself that life was perfect. By doing this, my world became sterile and uneventful, and my inspiration to write faded.
In hindsight, it’s mind boggling that it took running away to Europe to realise removing angst from my life was a mistake. I have often written about Laozi’s Yin & Yang, noting the importance of embracing all aspects of life. But, I am human. Which means I am perfectly imperfect, and for a few months I lost sight of my own beliefs.
In the two months since arriving back in Australia I have been extremely busy. I have finalised the manuscript I began writing in 2016, selected a cover image I’ve fallen in love with, worked on allowing myself to feel a more complex array of emotion once again (both positive and negative), and although I haven’t posted until now, I have also been writing.
The first half of 2018 has probably been one of the hardest creative periods that I have ever lived through. My refusal to allow myself small doses of anger and frustration in an attempt to be a better person destroyed my desire to create, and I had to completely remove myself from my own reality to realise that. But now that I have come to understand the dangers of soaring too close to the sterilised life I had once misconstrued as perfection, and began to embrace the emotional highs and lows that allow me to create, I’m back. And I’m excited as hell to be blogging again.
Two days ago, I released my sophomore novel You. I began writing the book during the lowest moment of my life, and used it as a means of healing. The book’s release is a defining moment in my life. It is a chance to lay to rest the psychological battles I have waged with anxiety and depression in the past, and to move forward onto new and exciting projects.
I’m thrilled about my future as both a writer and a man. The knowledge that I have rediscovered my passion for writing, and the wolf that howls inside of me is ineffable. To know that I have grown from a boy consumed by anger, into someone who actively avoided angst, and finally into a man comfortable enough to embrace all facets of life, and human emotion, makes me feel more alive than I have ever been.
I know that this post is a few weeks overdue, but I wanted to take a moment to offer my sincerest thank you to everyone who has followed this site over the past six years. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for sharing in my journey. And thank you for being a part of my life. The love that I have for every single one of you is far greater than you could ever understand.
Despite the very lacklustre start to 2018, I hope that you continue to stick around, because Chris Nicholas and the Renegade Press are just getting started.
To learn more about You, please click on the image below:
In October 2017, I became an uncle for the first time when my older brother and his wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. In the months since his birth, I have often found myself staring at the books on his shelf and wondering how they will help to shape his mind as he grows and becomes his own person. While most the books on my nephew’s shelf will aid his parents in teaching him morals in some small way, the book that I am most excited to see amongst his collection is Marcus Pfister’s The Rainbow Fish.
I’ll explain why I’m thrilled to know that Pfister’s book will be a part of my nephew’s upbringing in a few moments. But before I do, I need to tell you about the good Samaritan, the clergymen, and breakfast in a foreign city…
A few weeks ago, I booked and paid for a last-minute flight to Barcelona after my train from Paris was cancelled unexpectedly. When I landed, I jumped on a bus and tried to hand the driver a twenty euro note for a fare that cost just over a tenth of that. The driver, unaware that my understanding of his native tongue extends about as far as to being able to order a glass of wine and saying thank you, began hurriedly talking to me and tapping a sign written in multiple languages that explained the bus company accepted exact cash only.
Tired, frustrated, and not sure what to do, I meekly explained in English that I didn’t have exact cash. Unable to understand me, he responded by banging the sign repeatedly and pointing to the sidewalk as if telling me to go find the correct change and wait for the next bus. Biting my tongue and preparing to disembark, I was stopped by a stranger, who despite my protests, paid for my fare before taking a seat and ignoring my offerings of thanks. Had it not have been for this good Samaritan, I’d have been left wandering aimlessly in search of small change in a city I knew almost nothing about.
Nine days later I was over five hundred miles away from Barcelona, standing outside the Vatican, watching as two clergymen dressed in robes stepped over a beggar pleading desperately for help as they made their way into the basilica. The two men chatted between themselves, behaving as though the woman at their feet didn’t exist; their ignorance of her plight exacerbated by the fact that she held a small child in her arms.
And then more recently, I had breakfast in Prague just a short stroll from the Charles Bridge. As I sat at my table, I watched a beggar holding his hands together in prayer as he kneeled with his head down in reverence to people that passed by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Saddened by what I saw, and reminded of the two clergymen in Rome, I finished my meal and walked over to where he was, crouched down, and pushed more than what I had just paid for my own meal into his hands.
At first the man didn’t look up at me, he kept his head down and his eyes averted as though he were somehow beneath me for needing help. But I made a conscious effort to keep my hand buried in his, the money awkwardly trapped between our fingers until he glanced up and our eyes met for the briefest of moments. I didn’t say anything. Nor did he. Apart from the obvious fact that we speak different languages, the few seconds where we held each other’s gaze said more than words ever could. It told him that just because circumstance has treated me far more kindly than it has him in recent years; that doesn’t mean that his existence is less valued than mine in any way.
At least I hope it did.
This man wasn’t the first beggar that I have given money to since I started travelling at the end of April. And he isn’t the last. What makes him special is that my exchange with him was the first time that I felt the need to go beyond merely tossing a few coins into his paper cup. Rather than dismissively part with my small change, I wanted to try my best to instill a little bit of hope inside someone who had hit rock bottom. Because I’ve been where he is, and I know how overwhelming life can feel at times. I mean, I have never been homeless. But if you sift back through the annals of this site it’s pretty clear that two years ago I reached some fucking harrowing lows that I wouldn’t have been able to live through had it not have been for kindness and support of others.
When I was at my lowest point, there were two things that made me feel more isolated and alone than anything else: apathy, and pity. I hated when my attempts to speak out about my depressive mindset were met with indifference; just as I despised when people treated me as though my illness made me pitiful and weak. After watching two clergymen in Rome display such indifference for another human being, and recognizing the patronizing way that I would casually toss the small change I didn’t want to carry around into a beggar’s cup, I decided that I’d try to give people the one thing I had always wished for when I was struggling: hope. And for me in that moment in Prague, the best way that I could think of inspiring hope in the stranger before me was to show him that despite his circumstances, and no matter how screwed up his life may currently be, we are all connected, and we are all equal.
Which brings me back to the Rainbow Fish…
For anyone who has never read Pfister’s book, it tells a cautionary tale about selfishness and vanity in which a fish with beautiful shiny silver scales is alone due to his inability to share with his friends. But with the help of a wise octopus he learns to share, giving a shiny silver scale to each of his friends until despite no longer being the most beautiful fish in the sea, he is happier than he ever was before.
Watching two men dressed in religious garments step over someone on their way to a basilica dripping with gold leaf and filled with priceless artifacts where their religion charges people money to climb a staircase whilst preaching the need for human compassion pissed me off. I have always struggled with the concept of religion. For as long as I can remember I have questioned its place within society. And while I would never disparage an individual’s faith in a higher power, I don’t believe that faith and religion are one in the same.
In the scenario above, the two men who stepped over a beggar pleading for help are more business men than holy men. They don’t give a shit about the plight of the people begging on their doorstep; all they are concerned with is lining their pockets and ensuring that the church’s purse continues to swell. Or, to strip back all pretenses and be completely honest about how I feel: the only God that someone who behaves as they did worships is money and decadence. Which is why I would rather my nephew learn how to treat others from a book about a fish sharing shiny silver scales with his friends than from men dressed in robes with a long outdated view of morality.
At this point it’s worth acknowledging that I’m no saint either…
Whilst I often lament about trying to be a better man, the truth is that I’m an overly confident arsehole when it comes to writing. I have long held the belief that I am one of the best writers of my generation, and that that I could write rings around anyone who dared to challenge me. On top of this, while I have given what I can to help people out over the past few weeks, there has been times when I’ve had nothing to give, or have held onto the coins in my pocket so that I could buy myself a cup of coffee. Hell, just this morning I told a beggar that I had nothing to give him because I was concerned that if I gave up the measly change that I did have, I wouldn’t be able to make it to my train on time.
Which is why I’m not criticizing the fact that the two clergymen mentioned above didn’t reach into their pockets and start showering the woman begging with cash. There’s a chance that they didn’t have any money on them, or an admittedly slimmer one that they’d just given it to a beggar half a block back. What I am calling them out on is their refusal to acknowledge that the person they stepped over is human, and should therefore be treated as such. Because it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, a beggar, or a writer without the correct change to catch the bus, you are no better than anyone else.
Pfister was on the right path with his analogy that sharing shiny silver scales with those around you will bring you (and them) happiness. Each time that I have given to someone less fortunate and witnessed their smile, I have felt my own world illuminate. But what the author never alluded to was that shiny silver scales, much like the beauty that they represent in his book, vary greatly in shape and design.
Whilst the beggar sitting at the clergymen’s feet, and the man I met in Prague clearly need money to survive; they also need hope, human compassion, and a shoulder to lean on. We can’t all give financial aid. Some of us simply aren’t able to do so, and those that are cannot give to everyone that they see in need of a dollar. But sometimes just a smile, a simple hello, or even just having the common decency not to step over someone less fortunate than you can be enough to brighten their day. I understand that in the case of those living on the street, those actions won’t put a roof over their head, or food in their stomach, but they may just provide that tiny ray of hope that they need to keep searching for a better tomorrow.
When my nephew grows into a toddler and begins to understand the stories that are imparted upon him, I hope that he takes a special interest in The Rainbow Fish. I hope that the story makes him smile as much as I did when I first heard it as a child. And I hope that as he grows into a man he realizes that just like the book’s namesake, he too has been adorned with shiny scales that he can share with those around him to create a better world.
I hope that he shares his smile with everyone that he meets, regardless of their current circumstance. I hope that he accepts other cultures and becomes a shoulder to lean in his friends and family’s times of need. And that like his uncle with his writing, he understands that he can believe himself to have individual traits that are superior to his peers, but that doing so in no way diminishes the importance of their lives, thoughts and feelings. And more than anything, I hope that if he ever passes a beggar in the street, he tries his best to give them a dollar, or a smile, or a little piece of hope. And that he never becomes the kind of arsehole who steps over those less fortunate than he is.
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
Over the past two months I have been listening to an album written by a man who has lived a life far more complex, more arduous, and heartbreaking than my own. The acknowledgement that another life may be more burdensome than mine probably sounds quite strange given that I have devoted so much space on this blog to writing about my struggles with anxiety and depression in an effort to understand them. But what I have overcome no longer seems so insurmountable in comparison to a man who has lived through similar battles to my own whilst also suffering from physical ailments.
Since the album’s release in March I have often lay awake at night and pondered its lyrical content, asking myself what it must have felt like to live through some of the moments sung and screamed about in harrowing detail. This is nothing new for me. Music has always had a huge impact on my creative process. I draw more inspiration from singers and songwriters than I do from authors and poets, and I consume far more albums than novels or magazines.
But for the past two months, two lines separated by seven songs have resonated with me much more deeply than anything else in recent memory. At first I thought that I had simply fallen in love with the songwriter’s vulnerability, but then I came to realise that they have made me begin to examine the dualism in my own existence far more closely than I ever have before.
Before we go any further we should probably pause for a moment so that I can bring you up to speed. I’m alluding to an album and talking about lyrics, yet I haven’t actually told you what those lyrics are, or why they are so important to me…
As I said above, this entire post was inspired by two lines separated by seven songs on an album written by a man who has found the positives within his suffering. The first line goes like this:
In every way that I am strong, I am also weak.
The lyrics are growled with so much angst that you can feel their weight pressing down on the signer’s chest as he attempts to jettison the heartbreak from his body before his lungs runs out of air. And then, seven songs later, he inverses his previous sentiment through spoken word, uttering the line:
In all the ways that I am weak, I am also strong.
The first time that I heard these two lines, I felt something inside of me fracture. It was as though someone else had found a way to articulate the war of contrast that often rages inside of my head. It pained me to hear that something that has always seemed so complex could be summarised with such simplicity. But now I realise that in some ways I have always subconsciously understood the role of both strength and weakness in my life, it just took the words of another writer to bring that understanding to light.
As I write this I’m sitting on a mattress in Indonesia tapping away at my computer so that I can try to make sense of a few ideas that have been rolling around in my head for some time…
Tomorrow I will be flying to London to commence a solo journey around Europe for two months; during which I will be living out of a backpack and sleeping in over crowded dorm rooms filled with people that I have never met. When I originally booked the trip in December of last year I was in a bad place. After a relatively fruitful 2017 I had relapsed into a mindset that left me feeling depressed, and damaged my willingness to create. The trip was something positive to look forward to in a life where I suddenly felt worthless and as though I didn’t have a place where I belonged.
But in the months since deciding to flee the constraints of my own existence, my mindset has shifted once again. Whereas a few months ago I felt vulnerable and weak; I have since rediscovered the strength inside myself that has previously allowed me to grow from boy at war with himself into a man. In doing so I have reignited my desire to write, overcome the reemergence of my anxieties, and began to view a trip that was originally born out of fragility and a desire to escape from my realities as a journey of self-discovery and emotional metamorphosis.
This dualism; the constant movements between feeling worthless and being virtually fearless in my creative endeavors and self will undoubtedly continue for as long as I shall live. At my best, I’m a supremely confident writer who believes himself to be on par with the literary industry’s best. At my worst, I’m a self-depreciating masochist who undermines his own successes with negativity and doubt. But even though I have learned to embrace them as part of who I am, these contrasts in thought are not uniquely my own.
Every man, woman and child to have ever walked this earth has experienced similar moments of elation and despair in their lifetime. Each of us is continuously transitioning between success and failure, hope and heartbreak as if we are adrift in this great ocean that we call life, pulled towards the shores of our strengths and weaknesses by the winds of change.
So why is it that we often neglect to acknowledge the dualism of our existence? Why is it that we refuse to acknowledge the strength in every weakness, and the weakness in every strength? And why is it that after overcoming my anxieties more than once, I still struggle to remember that my lower moments will pass when they inevitably arrive?
The answers to those questions aren’t easy to quantify. In truth, it’s almost impossible to understand why the human brain functions as it does. You can ask any neuropsychologist and they will tell you that we as a species have barely begun to fathom the intricacies of the mind. Yet despite not fully understanding why the brain functions as it does, we can still be mindful that for our lives to have meaning we must experience, and embrace, both our strengths and weaknesses.
For me personally, some of the weakest moments of my life have allowed me to develop strengths that I never could have dreamed of possessing. Had it not have been for the failed romances I have lived through, the heartbreak of book deals turned sour, or anxieties that almost claimed my life, I would never have become the person that I am today. I wouldn’t have the courage to write what I write, speak how I speak, and love with the reckless abandon that I chose to love with had I not have experienced weakness and loss.
And had it not have been for the relapse into a depressive mindset that occurred in December of last year I wouldn’t be preparing to face this new challenge of adventuring through Europe on my own…
While I originally booked this trip to escape a period of self-loathing, I’m now planning on using it as an opportunity to experience a world beyond my own comfort zone so that I can continue to grow as an artist, and more importantly, as a man. I’m thrilled by the knowledge that over the next two months I will become hopelessly lost in numerous foreign lands, and that my mind, imagination and creative impulses will be redefined by my experiences.
But thanks to an album written by a man who will never read this, I’m making a conscious decision to remember that in all the ways that I am strong, I am also weak. Throughout my adventures I will inevitably experience moments where I feel lonely, or afraid, or as if undertaking a solo trip to find myself was a monumental mistake. When those times do arrive, I’ll try my hardest to remember my strengths, and to allow myself to accept the importance that fragility has on my personal growth. For had it not have been for a moment of hopelessness and despair, I would have never had the opportunity, nor the strength to allow myself to become so wondrously lost on my own.
In 1995, biologists released fourteen wolves into Yellowstone National Park as a means of managing the critically high number of elk overgrazing within the reserve. It had been more than seventy years since wolves had resided in Yellowstone, and their reintroduction triggered an event known as a trophic cascade within the park’s ecosystem.
Through hunting, the wolves altered the feeding habits of the herds of elk, forcing them to avoid locations where they were easy prey. This divergence in grazing patterns allowed aspen and willow trees to regenerate, attracting bugs, which in turn lead to various bird species moving in. Shortly after the birds arrived, beavers returned to the area, building dams that provided shelter for otters and reptiles.
In addition to hunting elk, the wolves also killed off much of the coyote population, leading to an increase in the number of rabbits and mice who called Yellowstone home. This sudden surplus in rabbits and mice allowed the number of hawks, red foxes, and other species to flourish. The shift in the park’s ecological make up, and the reestablishment of balance between flora and fauna created a reduction in erosion, stabilizing riverbanks and channels. Because the rivers stayed more fixed in their course, the geography of the park was transformed forever.
Depending on the literature you choose to read, the phenomenon brought about by the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone is either a feat of ecological genius on behalf of the biologists involved, or a bunch of fictitious bullshit that fails to consider circumstance and several other equally important occurrences that took place. Thankfully, I’m not trying to validate or disprove the legitimacy of claims that wolves saved Yellowstone National Park. I’m simply acknowledging that the premise that a wolf can be inserted into an ecosystem and redefine its geography appeals to me greatly.
It has been a few months since I posted. So it probably won’t be much of a surprise when I say that I have been struggling to write lately…
After more than five years of blogging I recently found myself feeling as though I had nothing left to say. On this page, I have spoken about love, heartbreak, family, health, suicide, and pretty much anything else that has impacted my life. I have picked fights, buried hatchets, offered advice, psychoanalysed myself, and become a test subject in my own emotionally fuelled experiments. But then around the time that 2017 took its final bow and allowed its name to be written into the history books, I had a crisis of confidence and found myself spending the next few months staring at a blank page without the faintest idea as to what I wanted to produce next.
I hate writer’s block. It’s the worst. When you are so in love with a creative action or process, there are few greater travesties than finding yourself at war with your own lack of imagination. When I don’t write, I become frustrated. When I become frustrated, I start to panic; and if I can’t find a way to break my creative blockage, that panic causes my mind to tear itself apart.
In early January my creative frustrations boiled over and I had a panic attack for the first time in almost three years. It was a horrible experience. My pulse spiked, my hands turned clammy, and a void opened inside the pit of my stomach, swallowing my confidence and ability to create. It wasn’t hard to understand what prompted my meltdown either. Eighteen months prior to the episode I had started writing a manuscript to heal from a broken heart. After unsuccessfully pleading with the universe to give me one final chance with a woman that I had once believed that I would marry, I turned to writing a love story so that I could know what it felt like to experience a happy ending.
I spent almost two years hiding myself from the world, using my dedication to a manuscript that often tore open the wounds it was intended to heal as a reason for not pursing a fresh start. But after the book had received its structural edit in December/January, I started making a few minor revisions as my mind began to ponder its next create endeavour. Until that moment, I hadn’t considered that one day the novel would be complete, and that when it was it would no longer be a shield to hide my vulnerabilities, but a detailed account of a man struggling to come to terms with his reality.
So, I stalled. I started distracting myself, searching for reasons not to move on. I began to edit scenes that I had already finalised, and convinced myself that my urge to write or blog had faded. When I did, I became frustrated, lost sight of why I started writing in the first place, and started having panic attacks.
Then, a few days ago a reader sent me an email and asked why I had spent so much of 2017 writing about love…
Well, kind of. The correspondence started out by asking questions about my compulsions to create, before quickly becoming a fusillade of insults that insinuated that I was a homosexual and a pathetic excuse of a man for exploring my emotions. It’s not the first time that I have received emails like this from a reader, and I doubt that it’ll be the last. If I am to be totally honest, over the course of my writing career I have come to appreciate my detractors. In a world that often celebrates mediocrity, to know that you have pushed someone so far beyond their comfort zone that they feel the need to tear you down or disparage your work is one of the greatest rewards that a writer can experience. It means that you have hit a nerve, stood up for something, or opened an individual’s mind to the possibility that there are ideas and beliefs that run incongruous to their own.
Which is why I often include the death threats, slurs, and counter articles I have been subjected to as some of my proudest achievements as an author. Despite being a heterosexual male, I take great pride in being the victim of a homophobic slur from someone so socially and intellectually inept that they see an individual’s sexual orientation as a valid reason to vilify or disparage. I would rather that someone incorrectly assume that I am gay than be a closed minded piece of shit who is so inadequate with themselves that they hide behind their keyboard and spread messages of hate.
You’re probably wondering what writer’s block and a misdirected homophobic slur have to do with Yellowstone National Park…
To the average person; there is no correlation. Creative frustrations have absolutely nothing to do with sexuality or wolves roaming a reserve. But to a writer searching to rediscover his creative confidence, the three can easily become intertwined.
I started blogging in 2012 because my cognitive ecosystem was dying. Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts had overgrazed on my psyche, causing erosion and inhibiting new growth. But when I reintroduced positivity and creative thought into my head and allowed them to feed upon my own insecurities and self-loathing, my internal landscape began to change. Although I never used the specific insult that the reader who inspired this article did, I did used to say some truly horrible things to myself, and the wolves that I unleashed inside my brain gorged upon these anxieties and allowed new saplings of hope to grow.
Changing my mindset hasn’t been an easy process. The heartache that I forced myself to repeatedly relive whilst writing my most recent manuscript is proof of that. There were days when it hurt so fucking much to force myself to write about love because I truly believed that all hope was lost. But through allowing the wolves of change to run rampant inside my head, I have overcome so much that I don’t even recognise my own voice when I glance back at my earlier work. Sure, I still have days where the world seems a little darker than it did the day before, and the scars of a failed romance will always mark my skin. But for the most part I am happy.
When I think back to the end of 2017 I realise that my fear of moving on from a manuscript that quite literally saved my life had nothing to do with a need or desire to continue hiding from the world. I have healed, and I’m in a far better place than I have ever been. Instead, my panic arose because the conclusion of my manuscript, which now only needs a final proof read to be completely finished, meant that the reconstitution of a mind torn apart by self-loathing was almost complete, and I hadn’t yet figured out where I was heading next.
Which brings me to the point of this awfully long post…
Long before I had ever heard the tale of Yellowstone National Park, I had fallen in love with wolves. To me, the wolf has always been a symbol of loyalty, courage and strength. It is something that I have drawn wisdom from during my lower moments, and a symbol that I will continue to strive towards in the future. When I learned the story of how a pack of fourteen wolves supposedly altered Yellowstone’s geography, and saw the similarities with the shift I had undertaken within myself, I found a new purpose; one that reignited my creativity and ultimately stopped me from responding to the detractor noted above with more vulgarity.
There are things within our culture that I hate, and beliefs that I disagree with. I hate that people often still struggle to openly discuss mental health. I hate that a child can feel as though she is an outcast; that suicide rates continue to spiral out of control; and that because our society excuses intolerance and bigotry, some dickhead feels justified in his attempts to belittle a stranger through their blog.
So, I want to change them. I want to continue to evolve and embrace the idea that a wolf can alter an ecosystem, and I want to change the world.
It has been years since I have sat down to write with the intention of producing a bestseller. These days whenever I open up my computer or pick up a pen, I ask myself what I can do as an individual to create a lasting impression on the world, and on my reader as an individual. I aim to create pieces that inspire, expand minds, and that celebrate our vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies. By doing so, I truly believe that I can create a change in the mindset of my audience that will ultimately contribute to the reconstitution of our society.
It sounds like an unachievable goal, and I’ve often told myself that it would be probably be easier to aim towards producing a bestseller. But nothing worth doing is ever easy, and I’m too damn arrogant to back down from a challenge. If fourteen wolves can theoretically alter the geography of a reserve, and a writer can reshape his own psyche and overcome anxiety and depression; surely he can inspire someone else to embrace the wolves within their mind and reshape their own cognitive ecosystem, creating a more positive world in the process.
One of the most common societal misconceptions about life is that it is linear. From the moment that we are old enough to process complex thoughts, we are told that we will spend our time between birth and death transitioning from one progressive stage to the next. We’re told that we will go to school, graduate and attend college, get a job, meet a partner, have a family and eventually grow old, contented in the knowledge that we have ticked all the boxes that we are advised we must.
Because of this, we believe that everything has a time and place. We convince ourselves that there is a right time to fall in love, to focus on personal development, or to pursue our careers and education. When we believe that we should be directing our energy towards one aspect of our wellbeing, many of us begin to neglect all others, creating an imbalance within our lives that can damage the happiness we all strive towards.
We convince ourselves that because we haven’t finished our education or landed our dream job, that we shouldn’t find a partner and fall in love. Or that because we had a child at a young age, we can’t go back and complete our studies or start the business we have always yearned to create.
But life’s trajectory isn’t linear. It’s cyclical. And we as human beings must learn to be malleable, drifting with the ebbs and flows of the universe as they pull us to and from our heart’s truest desires.
In 2016, I set myself a goal. I wanted to write a love story. My reason for doing so was simple: I had hit rock bottom in my life, and I needed a way to find my feet again. At twenty-seven years of age, I had just had my heart ripped out by a girl and was so down that I became convinced that I would never find someone to fall in love with. I had to fight just to find a reason to stay alive. In addition to feeling like life had just knocked me down, I was viewing my life as a linear progression of events that had just been derailed, exacerbating the pain that I was feeling.
But rather than throw away what was left of my life, I made a choice to write about the very thing that pained me, confronting my fears and creating the happy ending that I believed I would never experience. When I first started to work on the novel, I told myself that it was time for me to focus on my career as a writer. I put everything else in my life on hold to concentrate on creating a manuscript that showed my own personal enlightenment and growth.
A lot of positives came out of what I did. Through producing the script, I began to understand who I really was, what I valued most, and how to shed the fears and anxieties that had lived inside of my head. But I also created a new imbalance between the world I was creating in my mind, and the one that I was withdrawing from on a daily basis. I was so focused on achieving a goal that had spawned from a place of great pain, that I missed out on experiencing some truly special moments, as well as opportunities to appreciate just how wonderful life really is.
The first time that I realised I had created an imbalance within myself was when I was partway through editing my novel. I met a girl. Well, kind of. We actually met a long time ago, and I have always known that there was something about her that could take my breath away. But I somehow convinced her to meet me for a coffee. When she showed up and smiled at me, there was a shift inside my soul and I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a really long time.
I felt butterflies in my stomach, and a pinch in my chest as if I’d taken an arrow through the heart. By the time our brief encounter was over I had realised that meeting her was the universe’s way of pulling me away from focusing so intensely on producing a manuscript, and guiding me towards something far greater. I didn’t fall for her because she was beautiful. That would be too clichéd. I fell for her because even though she has a smile that causes a kaleidoscope of butterflies to take flight within my abdomen, she’s also intelligent, mischievous, funny, brave, bold, compassionate and so connected to her own heart and mind that she makes me want to be a better man.
In the months since we first sat on a patch of grass and rubbed her dog’s belly while she teased me for taking milk with my coffee, I have made a fool of myself more than once. I’ve told her that I want to be her partner, that I love her, and that when I’m around her I feel as though I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve written blog posts about flowers coming to bloom, and sent her a short story just because she was on my mind. And yet, while the cyclical arc of my life has brought me to the most unlikely of places where I have found someone I would walk through hell for, her life hasn’t arrived at that point just yet.
The person that I was a year ago would have struggled with the knowledge that he had fallen for someone who wasn’t in the same headspace that he was. He would have crumbled underneath the weight of his own insecurities, and cursed at the universe for constantly trying to pull him away from his linear path. But that’s not who I am anymore. In the space of twelve months I have transitioned from boy with no desire to live, to a writer who momentarily hid himself away from the world, to a man comfortable enough with himself to acknowledge that he has found a woman he could happily spend his life sharing adventures and creating memories with.
Yet while I know what my heart wants, I don’t think that the time for her and I is right now.
The universe hasn’t brought her to the same place as I am for a reason. She still has a few dreams that she wants to achieve on her own. But I honestly believe that she’ll be a part of my life forever. And that one day soon our souls will melt together like colours smeared across an artist’s canvas. Until then, I’ll cherish the moments that we share together and remind myself that you should never rush something that is meant to last.
When I started writing this post I had planned on doing a wrap up of 2017. I was going to talk about the challenges I had faced writing a love story, and what I had learned about myself while producing entries for this blog. But then I realized that doing so would be falling into the same mindset of predetermined progression that I always had. So, I decided to acknowledge that right now I’m happier than I have ever been in my life instead.
By allowing myself the freedom to open my heart and write with absolutely vulnerability, I’ve learned how to be free from the anxieties that turned much of my earlier work into disjointed garbage. By embracing my passions, I have been afforded the opportunity to work with one of my closest friends to launch a new venture that involves other artists and an origami wolf. And by taking a risk and asking a girl I’d always known was beautiful out for a coffee, I have found someone that I long to make memories with.
2017 was a year of introspection and rediscovering who I am. It was a year of slaving away at my desk, pouring my heart and soul into my work in an effort to understand what it is that I value, what I love, and what dreams I truly wish to become my reality. But as the new year fast approaches, I realise that I’ve always known who I am. I just lost sight of that person for a while.
My name is Chris Nicholas. I’m a writer, a wolf, a brother and son. I’m a man about to embark on a new journey with his creative passions; and a lover excited at the possibility of a lifetime of adventures with a soul who vibrates at a frequency that mirrors my own. I hope that when I can finally share my new venture with my readers, they are as excited as I am to be a part of something new, and that together we can change the literary industry forever. And I dream that one day I no longer have to refer to the woman I fell for as my Horizon or Belle Âme.