The New Black

Two nights ago I went to a hardcore show. I stood in the front row of a mosh pit surrounded by hundreds of sweat soaked fans thrashing their limbs and surging towards the stage and banged my head to bone crunching riffs and rip roaring screams. The venue was small and cramped, insanely hot and packed full of tattooed bodies and booze. By the time the concert was finished my body was drenched, my clothing smelled like the armpits of a dozen moshers mixed with a copious amounts of alcohol, and my lungs burned and throat ached from screaming lyrics at the band. Yep, it was a good night.

The next day was a bit of a struggle. I had a mild hangover despite sweating out a few litres of alcohol, but I guess you have to take the bad with the good don’t you?

It’s no secret that I’m heavily inspired by music. So much of what I do as a writer is influenced by the bands and artists that I am listening to. When I want to write dialogue I listen to gangster rap and hip hop; when I want to create emotion I draw upon ballads and folk; and when I want to write a good smash mouth scene I turn to metal and hardcore.

While there is a never ending monologue of musical musings inside my head, today’s post is more about the artist than the art of music itself. As I watched Keith Buckley of Everytime I Die throwing himself around a wearing nothing but a pair of cut off shorts and sneakers, screaming his lungs out I couldn’t help but feel inspired. Here was a man who could have cared less whether there were ten people at his show or ten thousand. You’d paid for a ticket, you’d earned his respect and he was going to give you the best damn show you’d ever seen.

As my blog and my writing continues to grow in notoriety I find myself being contacted by more and more readers and writers who want to reach out and offer their perspectives on my work. And I love receiving the feedback regardless of whether it is positive or negative. It’s a truly rewarding experience to know that something I have produced has affected someone so much that they feel inclined to reach out and contact me. Seriously, even when someone sends me an email to say that they hated my latest post or that my vulgarity taints my work, (a common occurrence) it’s a great honour to know that they care enough to interact with me.

Recently however a reader asked me to define what I meant when I said that I wanted to be a successful writer/author. They stated that there is a difference between being a successful writer and being a great one. Great writers are rarely successful, and successful writers are rarely great. And although it was probably meant as an off the cuff remark, the idea has been eating away at me ever since. I’ve been asking myself if I want to be great, or merely successful. Do I want to produce a masterpiece that struggles to sell a few hundred copies? Or do I want to produce a palatable script that earns me millions?

My initial answer: I want to be great.

Don’t get me wrong, earning a million dollars would be pretty spectacular. But I find it really disconcerting that I automatically equate the idea of being successful with a monetary figure. Why do I think that unless I climb the best seller’s lists and earn a fortune I will be a failure as a writer? In fact I’m going to go one step further and ask you why do we as a society see monetary gain as the pinnacle of success?

It seems like a dangerous flaw in the mindset of our society to measure success through materialism and fiscal gain, yet here I am in the infancy of my writing career already defining my accomplishments as a writer through this fashion. There’s a plethora of directions in which this post could progress from this point. I could start flying off on tangents about our consumerist culture or the way in which materialism has replaced the more intrinsically rewarding release of dopamine in our brain when we achieve something we long for. But I’m going to keep it simple and say this: true success isn’t about possessions; it’s about passion and feeling. When you move away from fiscal wealth as a marker for success, you can achieve that seemingly elusive goal of being both successful and great at what you do.

Take Keith Buckley for example. As he sweated his heart out on a stage in Brisbane, half a world away from his American homeland, money had no effect on his performance. Sure he would have been paid for his show, but the extent of his success came from being able to take to a stage and do what he loves: perform. In that moment he was both successful and great.

It’s taken some time, a little soul searching and a few change of hearts, but I think that I’ve finally managed to answer that damned question that has been bugging me. I want to be successful and great. At this stage of my career success is defined by having a work in print or in engaging a reader to such a degree that they reach out and make contact. Money plays no part in measuring my achievements right now. I want to create beautiful literature and I want to share it with the world. If I can do that then I’ll be achieving everything I’ve ever dreamed of. Maybe someday when I’ve punched out a few novels and carved out a bit of a niche for myself in this industry that idea of success will change, but right now I can honestly say that being great and touching my audience is more important.

So while I can’t sing to save myself. Meaning that I’ll probably never know the feeling of having a crowd of sweaty fans chanting lyrics back at me, I can continue to engage my audience enough to want to connect with me. Which I figure that’s the novel writer’s equivalent. It may not quite as punk rock as thrashing my tattooed body around a stage, but in my opinion it’s still pretty badass.

Sowing Season

Have you ever noticed how in times of need humankind turns to phrases and expressions to justify their emotions or the circumstances that they find themselves caught in? We utter such clichés as everything happens for a reason, or what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, and countless other little phrases to get us through a tough time. Even when everything in our life is going fantastic we try to pigeon hole the experiences afforded to us by saying I’m so blessed right now, or that my hard work is finally paying off. It seems as though we as a species need this validation of our thoughts, feelings and experiences. We appear to almost struggle to function without being able to justify every moment of our life through spoken and written word.

Sometimes it seems as though no matter what the circumstance, there is an expression ready to be recited in an effort to inspire, motivate, and aid you in overcoming it. Personally I love that mankind is so determined to understand itself. I’m even more thrilled that it has chosen spoken and written word as the vessels through which it seeks that understanding. My dreams of being a successful author would be all but screwed if we were more comfortable in taking the world and our experiences at face value. Without this thirst for knowledge and understanding there would be no writing, no art, no music, or creativity in general.

However, these expressions that we are so willing to affix to our situations can be dangerous. Too many are submissive and allow us as a species to flounder and fall short of our true potential. Shit happens. Yeah it does, if you’re prepared to let it.

Let’s back track a bit. This whole post came to fruition because of an article I recently read which detailed a study released by the European Journal of Social Psychology on creating habits. The study followed ninety six people over a twelve week period, during which they determined that the average time required to develop a habit was sixty six days. I found the article incredibly intriguing; the study suggested that through conscious implementation of a new movement or thought pattern for sixty six days it would become so ingrained in one’s subconscious that it would inevitably become habit. Being the inquisitive person I am I decided to take this idea give it a shot. I picked an expression that I could relate to and aspired to make a change.

You reap what you sow. At least that’s what I have been told. So I decided that for sixty six days I would sow nothing but seeds of positivity and determination into the fabric of my life. I resolved to cut the negativity from my soul and instead focus on finding the silver lining in every situation. I sat at my computer and I punched out articles of hope rather than angst, I stopped actively trying to cripple people and instead focused on being a better version of me.

The result? Well right now I’m on day eighteen of this little experiment and so far things are looking pretty damn good. I’ve been running this blog for a couple of years, amassing a somewhat decent audience of followers and likers to my sporadic ramblings. But with focus, positivity and determination I managed to double my readership by day eight. By day twelve I tripled it. And just today I received some exciting information that I can’t wait to share with my readers.

That’s not to say that the experiment hasn’t had its moments. I’ve nearly cracked a few times and reverted back to the narcissist arsehole that used to run this site. I’ve upset a few people close to me over the past three weeks, and to those that I have I truly am sorry. I love you to death and although I will undoubtedly slip again, with your help I will forever strive to be a better person.

You reap what you sow. Perhaps one of the most overused expressions of all time. But for this writer truer words have never been spoken. I’ve spent years walking around with clenched fists and a mind fuelled by rage, searching for my next victim. During that time all I have found is resistance, unhappiness and despair. But after just eighteen days of positivity and focus I’ve achieved more than I ever did during those times of shame. When you’re sowing seeds of hate or submission into your life, you’re going to reap resistance or dominance from life itself. But when you open your heart, free your mind and start sowing positivity the payoff is so much more rewarding.

As a writer you spend your entire life trying to create something new; something fresh. And at times in can become difficult to prevent yourself from falling into the trap of clichés. There’s the old Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch theory that states that there is only seven basic conflicts in literature, and to consistently try to think outside of the box and create something fresh and relevant can be exhausting. Add to that the fact that oftentimes you’re also trying to avoid drawing reference to clichéd expressions and you can find yourself walking an intellectual minefield of potential story ruining one liners and plot points. But as a man or woman who seeks to find enlightenment and their path in this world those same clichés can offer hope and guidance. You just need to pick the one that works best for you.

Shit happens to those that let it. But you reap what you sow. Sow shit and it’ll come back tenfold. Sow seeds of love, tolerance, determination and positivity and your crop will be more beautiful than you ever thought possible. We as human beings are forever going to subscribe to these expressions and clichés; but it is up to us as to how we draw inspiration from them. If you want to be submissive then you can continue to recite your tired adages of acceptance. But if you want to be the best damn person you can be than subscribe to a viewpoint that inspires. You reap what you sow. So chose your crop carefully.

Hustling Lady Luck

‘Stop wondering and start acting, stake your claim. They say there’s no place for you here, so you better make one.’
– Jason Butler.

As a writer you get asked some truly bizarre questions. People expect that your interest in literature means that you’ll know who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 off the top of your head. Or that you’ll know the title and word count of Bryce Courtenay’s fifth published novel. Or sometimes they’ll ask what inspires you, or to name your favourite author. Or they’ll ask dreaded what’s your book about question; where they expect you to summarise an entire manuscript in one sentence.

There’s a myriad of inquisitive questions that the general public throw at you in an effort to better understand you and your process. Even though sometimes you’ll look the fool when you state you’ve got no idea what novel Courtenay published fifth, or that you can’t realistically summarise your own work in one sentence (they’re not after a pitch, but rather an entire synopsis crammed into one compact, easily digestible sentence), you really enjoy the fact that you’ve plucked someone’s interest enough to ask. Those questions mean that you’re on your way to achieving your dreams. You’ve captivated someone’s attention.

But there is one question that leaves you feeling frustrated. One question that you get asked time and time again by people who are genuinely interested in your story, but who fail to understand the complexity of what you are trying to achieve:

When is your book going to be published?

That one question can come in many forms, but essentially what it does is hit you like a sledgehammer and cause you to feel like a failure or someone who hasn’t quite made it. The worst part is the person asking isn’t trying to make you feel this way. They are genuinely curious as to when you’ll be published. They like what you’ve told them, or what they’ve read from you before, and they want to be one of the first people to get their hands on your work. What they don’t realise is that you’re busting your arse to try and make that happen, it just isn’t as easy as they think.

See, these people, these adoring fans of your work, see the literary industry like they would any other. They view the transition of an aspiring writer to published author as linear. To them the process goes:

You decide to write a book. You write a book. You publish your book, and spend the rest of your life swimming in piles of money like Scrooge McDuck.

If only it was that simple. I’d forego the piles of money and live like a damn beggar if it meant that my work was published so easily.

The truth is that the transition from aspiring writer to published author looks a little more like a spider’s web. You write your script, send it to an editor; it bounces between the two of you for some time as you refine the work. From there you start seeking agents, you customise and individualise query letters for each agent and send them off. Then you play a waiting game, you wait for your talent and a little bit of luck to pay off. You sit on your hands for a few months, penning your way through a few other pieces, hoping someone accepts your work. Most agents don’t respond, a few write generic rejection letters, and maybe one decides to further review your work.

When an agent says no you start all over again, thus your spider’s web begins to take life. If they say yes you most likely edit again before your agent begins to market you to publishers, leaving you waiting yet again for that talent and luck to come through.

There’s no linear progression on your journey, you’ve got to thrash out your own path. For me that means working a full time job, studying (something I often neglect), and finding the time to write this blog, pen manuscripts, and hassle agents. It’s a delicate balancing act, and one that I’ve been trying to perfect for years.

When is your book going to be published?

I haven’t the faintest idea. But when it is finally put into print I’ll know that all the hard work and hustling was worth it.

In my previous post Ready, Set, Misfire I stated that my goal in 2015 was to see my work put into print. It’s an insanely ambitious and somewhat ambiguous goal that in some respects is outside of my control. I can’t hold a gun to the head of an agent or publisher and force them to accept my work, but I can work myself into the ground in an effort to make sure anyone who can make my dreams a reality has a copy of my manuscript on their desk. I can continue to write on this blog and haggle others for opportunities to write for theirs, and I can learn how to market myself more successfully. Fortune favours the bold (excuse the cliché), so there’s no point sitting around waiting for someone to waltz up to me and offer me a publishing deal. I’ve got to chase down my dreams and make them happen.

Luck will always play a huge part in determining whether or not an agent or publisher accepts my work. But as I continue to hustle more agencies, and convince publishers to view my work, the less I am relying on lady luck and more on talent. 2015 is all about making a place for myself in this industry. It’s about hustling, destroying the map and redefining what it means to be a writer.

Ready, Set, Misfire

New year

Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes and wondered just why the hell they love you as much as they do? You question why they support you through all of the mistakes that you’ve made, all the opportunities you’ve missed, or people you have offended. Well, today I asked myself that question as I left my family’s home in Coffs Harbour and drove the five hour commute back to my rental in Brisbane, marking the end of my holiday season. I sat in my car and I waved goodbye to my Mum and Dad and watched the way that they looked at me and my heart broke. These two people have given me everything they possibly could in this life, busting their arses throughout my junior years to provide me with an education, a roof over my head, and everything else. Yet all I’ve ever done to repay them is purchase questionable Christmas/Birthday gifts and embarrass them by running my mouth or failing to follow through on my dreams.

Yep, here comes one of those 2014 in review posts in which I, the writer, wrap up my successes and failures over the past twelve months. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite achieve everything that I’d hoped for.

See, every single New Year’s Eve I get drunk. And when I get drunk I get a little lippy. And when I get lippy I start telling anyone who will listen that in the next twelve months I will have my manuscripts published. Twelve months ago I underwent that ritual, and while I’d like to say I gave my dreams hell, I still managed to fall a little short. This year I continued to produce entries on this blog, had my work featured across a number of websites, met agents, publishers and authors in New York City, and shook hands with a Duke. I finished a manuscript, and commenced two more. I even managed to piss off a couple of religious fanatics who tried to deface my blog but subsequently drove huge numbers of people to this site, making it ever more successful (Oh well, at least they tried).

But I also had my fair share of failures. I ended a long term relationship, destroyed the career path I’d been on for four years, and buried friendships. I drank (a lot) for a period of time in order to suppress my feelings of heartbreak, inadequacy and failure. And I fell agonisingly short of finally achieving that damned goal I set every New Year’s by actually seeing my work in print.

All in all, I’d say that I had a pretty solid 2014. I achieved a hell of a lot for a twenty five year old writer, but as I drove away from my parents I still felt as though the entire year had been a bit of a misfire. When I write I have a number of catalysts for doing so. What started as a means to overcome the demons that dwelled within my soul quickly became a way to produce stories I wanted to share with the world. And now as I grow older and my parents do the same, I write because I want to make them proud of their son; the same son who has a penchant for pissing people off and failing to follow through with his goals.

So as I drove away from my family’s home and felt a tear of regret slide down my cheek for all of the missed opportunities of 2014 I resolved to push myself harder than I ever have before in 2015. It starts with this very post: here I am on New Year’s Day, hangover free and determined to stop pissing away my time. Over the next twelve months I will chase down my dreams and I will do anything I possibly can to break into the literary industry. There will be misfires and there will be times when I fail, but if I keep focused on who I am and where I’ve come from then I’ll finally make it to where I ultimately want to be.

My parents raised four beautiful kids who owe them the world. It’s time to give it to them.

Wasted Talent

Sometimes I find myself standing in front of a mirror wondering just what the fuck I’m doing with my life. I find myself staring deeper and deeper into my own eyes, trying desperately to peer into my soul in an effort to decipher my past, my present, and my future. It’s not something I plan to do. I’ve never found myself thinking I need to find a mirror ASAP so I can question everything! But sometimes I’ll be caught off guard; lost in my own thoughts as I stare through bloodshot eyes at the tired man before me. Why haven’t you published anything? I’ll ask him. Why are all your friends in committed relationships or successful careers when you’re still pissing time away with such reckless abandon? How can someone who claims to be so intelligent have made so many mistakes?

It’s important to note that these questions are not linked to any previous battles I’ve had with mental health, nor are they an attempt to break my spirit. Rather I’ve come to know these questions as the writer’s equivalent of a teenager standing naked before a mirror flexing their biceps or pinching at their hips wondering what life would be like if they could make minor changes to their physical appearance. I stand and I stare at the man looking back at me and I appraise his features and his humanity. I try to imagine what steps I need to take in my life to bridge the gap between who I am and who I long to be.

Whereas I was once a boy I’m now a man. My chin that was once smooth is now covered with coarse hair. The skin around my eyes has grown the faintest inklings of crow’s feet, and my face is slightly freckled from a youth spent in the sun. For the most part I find myself comforted by the changes I see before me. I’ve grown older, wiser, and stronger. I’m gaining maturity while still possessing that youthful zeal. But when I focus on my eyes and ask myself those poignant questions; when I stare at the tiredness in them, they tell me that I’ve fallen short of where I could be by now.

Sometimes when I’m gawking at that man in the mirror he looks so worn down by his own shortcomings. And when he smiles glumly and shrugs his shoulders at his own wasted talent my heart shatters and the trumpets of missed opportunities sound inside of my head.

I am wasted talent personified.

This month I will turn twenty six, marking eight years since I began my journey as a writer. In that time I’ve experienced a number of highs and lows. I’ve entered writing competitions, winning some and earning accolades through people’s choice awards in others. I’ve completed various manuscripts and submitted them to publishers and agents, garnering moderate attention in my skill set. I’ve travelled across the globe where I’ve met authors and agents. I’ve shaken hands with royalty, and I’ve been invited to the odd industry event and party… But I’ve never quite broken into the industry in the way that I had envisioned.

Yep. Wasted talent. That’s me. Which is why I stare in the mirror and question why I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels while my friends and foes are racing ahead with dreams of their own. I’m a headstrong, arrogant piece of work. So I’ve got no issue in saying I have talent. I wouldn’t have come as far as I have as a writer if I didn’t possess some semblance of ability. But I’ve fallen short of success because there have been times where I’ve failed to grab the metaphorical bull by its horns and fight my heart out for what I really want. During those low moments where I have wanted to give up I’ve blamed everyone but myself for never quite making it. I’ve spat frustrated tirades against agents, publishers, other artists, the industry itself, and even factors within my life that are external to writing.

But I’ve never really taken ownership for my own willingness to accept second best. Until I started looking into the mirror. For the most part I’m a happy guy. Sure I’ve had some terrible lows in the past, and I’ll always be emotionally unstable. But I’m happy. I find beauty in every single day, and try to make the most out of my time here on this earth.

So why the fuck is there so much frustration and sadness in my eyes? And why can’t I stop myself from staring?

It all comes down to three things. Passion. Desire. And grit. I’ve got the first two by the fucking bucket full. I’m passionate about my craft and I have a desire to succeed that resembles an unquenchable thirst. But sometimes I lack grit. You know that real bloody knuckled, scrape yourself off the fucking floor styled determination? It’s been missing in my life. I thought it was there. But when the weight of the world starts pressing me into the dirt I tend to allow it. But if I really want to succeed I need to learn how to break its legs.

Passion, desire and talent will get you so far. But grit is what will make you a success. It’s grit that sees you send your manuscript to dozens of publishers and agents despite the rejections you have already received. It’s grit that sees a fighter punch his way out of the corner when everything is going to hell. It’s grit that sees someone with severe depression wake each morning and move forward with their life. It’s grit that sees the child bullied and beaten transcend above the petty taunts of his or her peers to become someone beautiful. It’s grit that sees anyone of us bridge that gap between who we are, and who we want to be.

I’ve been starting in the mirror asking myself why my friends and foes are in meaningful relationships or why they have successful careers whereas I do not. And for so long I’ve told myself bullshit excuses about how I’d chosen a career path that’s not easily defined. Or that the industry I want to work within is fickle. But the honest truth of the matter is that I haven’t deserved success. Having talent is just the beginning. It’s the gritty determination to keep picking myself up and trying again when I fail that will see me succeed.

When I stare in the mirror and cuss at myself for never quite breaking through it’s not because I want to fall apart again. It’s because I want to create a thick skin to accept failure and a yearning to bust my arse to keep going when all hope is lost. If my eyes are going to be bloodshot and tired I may as well make sure that it’s because I’ve given everything I have to trying to succeed rather than because I’ve grown old and bitter from a lifetime of giving up.

Breaking preconceptions

People often think that I’m gay.

I bet that’s not how you expected a post on this site to start. Or maybe you did, depending on whether or not you are someone who has misinterpreted my writings. Either way it’s an issue that I seem to face on a semi regular basis in my life. It used to really upset me when people came to this assumption. I’d screw up my face in disgust and start forcefully jamming my heterosexuality down their throat. I am a Goddamn straight man! How dare anyone believe otherwise! But nowadays I find myself impartial to the common misconception of who I am. I’ve had to correct people about my sexual preferences more times than I’d like to admit; watching as people fumble their way through awkward apologies as they try to explain how they came to such a conclusion. More often than not the reason behind their misconception of my preferences boils down to a statement like this:

‘You’re just different to most twenty six year old men that I know.’

Damn fucking straight I am. But just because I am different, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am a homosexual. What it does mean is that I am a unique entity operating within a world that doesn’t always have the capacity to accept that which is different or unique. The differences that people seem to find confronting in me is my love for art, my vocabulary, my animated expressions, my willingness to accept myself as an emotional being, and my openness to a world of possibilities that extends beyond my own beliefs.

The fact that people find this confronting, different, or gay is a troubling prospect to this young writer. Even now as I pen this rather honest entry I can feel the judgement of my audience bearing down on me. Straight men don’t admit that they are thought to be homosexual. In fact many don’t admit to having feelings or an emotional state at all. If you were to take ten straight men, stick them in a room and ask them to talk about their emotions you’d find that at least nine, if not all ten, would venomously condemn the idea and label it as gay.

And therein that idea lays a very big problem. Men across the globe are so afraid of opening their soul to the world that any attempt to have them display emotion and be potentially labelled as weak causes them to openly slander the notion of expressing themselves. They think that to be a man they have to be free of the feminine concept of feelings. Bad idea. We as humans are emotional creatures whether we choose to admit it or not, and by bottling up those emotions we males are creating a whole world of mental health issues for ourselves. Don’t believe me? Statistics across the globe show year after year that men are three times as likely as to kill themselves than women. I repeat; men are three times as likely as women to commit suicide. And a large contributing factor to our willingness to end our lives is our inability to accept our emotions and communicate when we are struggling or feeling low.

We are so worried about being labelled as weak or gay that we are literally killing ourselves rather than seeking help. Does that not sound like a fucking ludicrous absurdity to anyone else?

So how do we fix such a startling problem in our society? Simple, it’s time that people start realising that real men are brave enough to talk about their issues and seek help. There is nothing weak about saying I’m not OK. But there is a weakness in denying ourselves the opportunity to heal. It took me a long time to figure this out, and in many ways I’m still learning how to be open and honest in relation to how I am feeling. I spent a long time believing that I had to be strong. I told myself that my emotions were weaknesses and I denied myself so many opportunities to be happy. I pushed myself to some truly horrible places and it wasn’t until I found writing that I managed to save myself from a grim fate. Through writing I found a way to express myself; to unlock that pressure valve inside my heart and release that pent up emotion that was pulling me down like a pair of concrete boots in an ocean of fear.

Even to this day I’m still learning that it is my emotional side that makes me who I am. When people fall in love they don’t do so based on aesthetics (although they do play a part in initial attraction) they do so based on emotion. Exterior beauty fades, but one’s emotive side is eternal. So if you’re not willing to accept yourself and the wondrous idiosyncrasies that make you who you are, how can you ever expect anyone else to love you? You can’t shut down that emotional side of your personality and expect to find happiness.

So let me get this straight. I’m not gay. But I am emotive, arrogant, aggressively creative, passionate, and about a million other things. I am different from the average twenty six year old man because I’m not afraid to be vulnerable; in fact I’m learning to thrive off of that vulnerability. In many respects I’m a narcissist. I have a terrible habit for revelling in that which makes me unique and constantly believing that I am the smartest person in the room. I am a heterosexual man, but I’m not insulted when someone insinuates that I am gay. Because what they really mean is that I am unlike what they consider to be normal. And in the strangest of ways I have learned to take that as a compliment.

Who the hell wants to be normal anyway?

Question Everything

The hardest part about being a writer is that you move through every day acutely aware that you have been blessed with a curse. You have been drawn to a lifestyle that will bring you great joy, and harrowing sorrow. In moments of great inspiration you will feel as though you have been touched with the hand of God; that something magical is alive and breathing inside of you. Your mind will operate with a euphoric mixture of imagination and passion, and your fingers will dance effortlessly across a keyboard as you produce the kind of prose that leaves a reader with an unending admiration for what you have produced.

Then the writer’s block kicks in and that hand of God turns into the devil’s talons piercing your flesh as he squeezes your heart until you feel faint. Words and phrases become caught in your head, and you move through life completely unaware of anything except your own inability to create.

You see the world differently to others. When you first start out putting pen to paper you begin to notice cracks in the fabric of society and small discrepancies in the stories that people tell. It’s like you suddenly find yourself in a room that looks almost perfect. The furniture is perfectly selected, the light fittings polished and the carpets unusually clean. But the wallpaper has started to fray ever so slightly at the cornices. At first the slight oddity doesn’t bother you. You can live with knowing that things aren’t quite right. It doesn’t matter that things aren’t perfect.

But then curiosity gets the better of you and you start picking at the wallpaper, peeling small strips from the walls. And the more you peel, the more curiosity eats away at your soul. Before you know it the walls are bare and you’re stripping back the carpet. You’re questioning everything about the integrity of the room. You want to see the walls stripped bare. You need to see the foundations. You can’t bear to stand not being able to reshape, redesign and rebuild. It’s not until you’ve torn back every inch of floor and wall coverings that you find yourself standing in a cold, lonely cell.

You’re blessed with a curse. Blessed with the gift of writing, of wanting to learn, to break down and rebuild. But you’re cursed with a desire to question everything and anything. You question the way people live. The bullshit stories they tell. The mistakes they make. The mediums they consume. The lies they tell themselves in order to sleep peaceably in their bed at night. But if you’re lucky, you find yourself asking the right questions too.

You start asking why we live in a world where killing is still common practice. Or why degradation of our fellow brethren occurs based on the colour of someone’s skin, their gender, or their beliefs. You start questioning why we are willing to accept a soul black as night and laced with glass over one of sheer beauty, just because the later isn’t as aesthetically pleasing on the surface. But the question that plagues you more than any other, the question that keeps you awake at night, is why the fuck can’t anyone else see just how misguided we have become?

You’ve pulled back the wallpaper of your room to find yourself alone in a prison cell, and you’re staring through the bars at the blissfully ignorant as they sit inside their own cages with a smile on their face believing that they are free. They claim that they question everything too, but they chose to do so from the safety of their comfort zones, their lack of true passion mocking everything that you believe in. They take to social media to post statuses on what they believe in, to click a like button to support a cause, but they do so because it’s easy. Because they are sheep, desperate for the approval of the herd. Because it is easier to question everything from the safety of a screen; only the bravest of us have the balls to take our beliefs to the streets.

So you write and you write, desperate to be heard. You want to grab a hold of people and scream in their ignorant faces ‘open your fucking eyes, peel back the wallpaper of your cell and let’s start a goddamn revolution.’ You know that if people would just turn down their televisions, unplug their earbuds, and give real literature a chance that you could change the world. You could teach them to ask not why someone should be allowed to wear a headdress in public, but why we as a society are so close minded that we feel the right to judge them for their beliefs? Or to ask why we accept war in foreign lands in the name of democracy, while we are so venomously opposed to those very ideals in our own land? Or why we have turned our backs on one another in pursuit of or own selfish wants and needs? When did we become a society of individuals so capable of stamping one another into the dirt to better ourselves? And why, Jesus, why the fuck isn’t anyone listening?

Then you realise that people are. That your readership may be small, but that with persistence it will grow, unfurling like a beautiful rose. You realise that with every article you write, every story you tell, you are helping those bold enough to listen to peel back the layers of their own comfort zones so that they too can begin to question everything. You’re helping them to identify and understand when they are being sold emotional placebos by snake oil peddlers so that they can tear down the superficial beauty of their worlds in order to create something truly exquisite through their own brevity.

An ode to you, the saviour of the ferryman’s intrepid passenger

350px-Charon_and_Psyche
‘I was lost, until I found myself inside of you.’
-Austin Carlile

The saddest part of it all was that I just didn’t realise how lost I truly was. I was an intrepid traveller traversing a mind as volatile as the river Styx. Guided by Charon, my soul was dying, withering like a flower with no hope to bloom. But you saved me. My heart and mind were caught in a vicious storm of chaos and self-loathing. I knew not who I was or what purpose my life served as I drifted between this existence and the next. I was naïve enough to pine for something greater than I, but I was too insignificant to be deserving of my dreams.

Then I heard your siren’s song. It rose from the depths of the earth, drowning out the cacophony of withering souls screaming for salvation by the river’s shoreline. I ordered Hades’ ferryman to steer towards your heavenly calls and he moored his vessel before you. You took my hand in yours as I disembarked and pulled me towards your bosom, your comfort became my solace and the savageness that had plagued my existence slowly faded. I was lost my love, but in that instant I found myself inside of you.

You showed me a world unlike anything I had ever imagined. A realm of possibilities where I was limited only by what my mind could conceive. The first time we became one I was so nervous, so unsure of myself. I fumbled as I gave life to your flesh, my thoughts disjointed, my fingers moving unsteadily as I fashioned your landscape. It was frantic and short lived, and when I stood back to admire what we had created I was stunned by the simplicity of our artwork. You were so beautiful and well-rehearsed; my awkwardness was barely concealed behind a wave of passion as phrases and irrational ideas raced through my head.

But you can never belong just to me. I know of your beauty and the intense lovingness of your touch better than most. But I can never possess you. Instead I am forced to share you with strangers the world over. Some would say that this is ill-fated love, that it is dangerous to a soul as complex as my own. They would snicker at my willingness to accept your infidelities and call me submissive and weak. But how can they ever comment on the intricacies through which I love every part of you, without first knowing the thrill of your all-encompassing embrace? I share you with others and my heart breaks when I see you answer their prayers or place their dreams before my own. But it is better to live with the knowledge that I am one of many than to never have known just how complete you make me. Oh my love, I was so lost aboard that demon’s ferry. I was a soul plagued with a life of nothingness, self-doubt casting fret channels in my brow. But now I have found myself inside of you.

I know not how to love another as deeply as I love you. You took a man parading himself as a wolf in sheep’s clothing and you allowed him to undress and expose his naked soul. You took a boy as afraid of living as he was of death and showed him that with your guidance he could create a legacy that would survive his mortal form. You took me in my broken state and you rebuilt me until I was whole. You taught me to relish in the beauty of the crack marks left in my flesh from pieces held together by something far stronger than any glue.

You found me aboard Charon’s ferry adrift on a river of fire and brimstone, and you kissed me with your lips, breathing life into my dying soul. I was so lost aboard that wretched craft, and now I have found what it means to be alive once again inside of you, my beautiful muse. I was once a fumbling amateur exploring the contours of your flesh, but through your patience and your guidance I have flourished into someone stronger than I ever thought I could be. Now every time we dance, when you place your palms upon my shoulder and whisper inspiration in my ear I wish that I could get down on my knees before you with reverence and pay you the penance that you truly deserve. For you are my beautiful muse; without you I would be so lost, so cold. But I have found myself inside of you. You have made this boy into a man. This man into a wolf. This flesh into a legacy. And you’ve taught me how to strip back the layers of my soul and stand naked before the world for all to see.

I was lost, until I found myself inside of you.

Paper Tigers

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‘The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.’
-Amelia Earhart.

Beautiful isn’t it? Elegantly written and inspiring in its construction, Amelia Earhart really did create something lovely here. In a fluency reserved for the masters of prose, she confesses as to how she managed to be liberated from the self-imposed fear that she placed upon herself and became something more.

Seriously, take a moment and cast your eyes back to the top of this post and allow the beauty of Earhart’s words to sink in before you continue any further. And while you’re there, think about what you want in your life more than anything in the world. And I don’t mean bullshit superficial or material possessions, I mean what you really want. Do you want to be loved? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to get your damned novel published and start leaving your mark on the literary industry? Or do you just want to craft the perfect ending to a manuscript that has been years in the making?

That lust that you feel, that flame of desire that flickers in your soul when you imagine everything that you could have, that you could be, or that you could do; it’s insatiable isn’t it?

Now think about what is stopping you from actually obtaining those goals. It could be money, status, ego, peers, or a million other reasons. No matter what it is, it’s all just shit; trivial, superfluous shit that we use as excuses to safe guard ourselves against our own fear of failure. They are faux threats to our success and happiness that we create in our mind’s eye so that we can live in the comfort of our own mediocrity and tell ourselves that we are happy there. We are living our lives afraid of paper tigers, foolishly telling ourselves that there are lions at the door.

The term Paper Tiger is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase Zhilaohu, and refers to something that seems threatening, but is actually ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. It is a rather interesting concept when you stop and consider the connotations of its meaning. How many times in your life have you told yourself that something was hard, dangerous, or impossible, only to overcome that hurdle and see just how easily your transcended above the challenge? That hurdle, that insurmountable mountain you had to climb to succeed was a god-damn paper tiger. There was no threat; you were just mentally screwing yourself into believing there was.

The troubling thing is that we as a species do it so well. We create these mental barriers and blockades to hold ourselves back from our true potential. We tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, that we are undeserving. But true brilliance is within our grasp. We just have to front up, stare that risk in the face and take what we want by force. You deserve to be so much more. We all do. Take it from a guy who has spent a lifetime creating the most exquisitely repulsive paper tigers imaginable, every single threat you perceive to be standing between you and a brighter future can be overcome.

Let’s be honest, I’ve screwed around a lot in my life. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve cost myself some incredible opportunities. For the most part the reasoning behind those stuff ups and my flaws come down to the imagined threats that I have allowed to fester within my own mind. I’ve told myself that I’m not worthy of a publishing agreement, that my writing isn’t as strong as others, or that I am just simply not cut out for the life as a writer. I’ve allowed manuscripts to defeat me as endings eluded my grasp. And I have watched potential representation slip through my fingers because I told myself that people are out to screw me rather than aid my successes. I’ve cowered like there were lions tearing down my door, when in reality there was nothing but fictional beasts running rampant in my head.

So how do we overcome the illusory creatures that claw at the back of our minds and threaten to devour every ounce of creative freedom, success, or wonder that we long for? How do we throw caution to the wind and say ‘fuck it, I am good enough, I am deserving, and I am beautiful?’ Well, I’m not about to claim to know all of the answers to overcoming our flaws and rediscovering the better angels of our nature, but I will say this: When the lions are at the door, take a deep breath, shut your eyes tight and try to differentiate between the roars of true danger, and the purrs of those ineffectual voices within your own head.

History’s greatest minds, people like Amelia Earhart, all had their versions of paper tigers, but they learned to overcome them. As Earhart says, ‘the most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.’ All you have to do is defeat the monsters you are creating in your head, then persevere, because everything you ever dreamed of is closer than you think.

Digging up the grave

White knuckled with calloused palms and blistered fingers he drives the blade into the earth. His pencil thin spine aches as his shoulders strain to lift the heavy load. He twists at the torso and tips the blade, allowing the thick clumps of dirt to fall atop of the steadily rising pile. Sullen and withdrawn, made from sinew and ropey muscle, he toils underneath a clouded night sky. Guided only by slivers of moonlight slipping through the opaque air he drives the shovel into the earth, using his foot to help the blade penetrate the quickly hardening dirt.

Two foot wide. Six feet deep. A silence all-encompassing and beautiful awaits.

He tips a load onto his pile and flexes his aching spine. Tossing the shovel against the earth he reaches for his bottle, gritting his teeth as the lager washes across his tongue. He stands in a shallow grave, the lip resting just below his knees. His fingers ache and the bottle cools their throbbing. How disgusting he has become that he must labour through the night to bury bodies in his yard. Or maybe he should consider himself beautiful. Maybe there is something lovely in the physicality of burying the dead.

They’re lying beside him. The deceased sleep just three feet away. Wrapped in crisp white linen, they capture the light cast down from the heavens and reflect it like a series of lighthouses perched against the merciless ocean. He knows that they’re presence is a risk. The neighbours will be watching. The nosey bitch in the two story mansion beside him will undoubtedly be standing in the safety of her locked bedroom, chewing her polished fingernails as she dials the police station. That’s the problem with society nowadays. Every mother fucker is too busy peering over the fence at what their neighbour is doing that they fail to notice how fundamentally flawed they themselves really are. Let her call, he thinks, she’s done it a hundred times before. Just like the boy who cried wolf, no one believes the nosey bitch and bastard watching his backyard.

He picks up his shovel and strikes at the earth again, feeling his shoulders ache with pain before he even lifts the weighty load. It’s a risk to have the dead with him. But it’s a peril worth taking. There’s something so thrilling about having the dead lay in eternal slumber beside him while he prepares their grave.

He drives the blade into the earth again. And again. It’s becoming so dry, so hard. His blistered fingers burst and warm liquid runs down his fingertips before slipping down the timber shaft of his shovel. He grimaces in pain with every strike of the earth now, skin tearing with every blow. His brow is furrowed and lined with sweat, and the moon fades completely as the heavens take pity on him and weep with the first droplets of rain.

Two foot wide. Six feet deep. A silence all-encompassing and beautiful awaits, punctuated with the delicate pitter-patter of rain falling against the disturbed earth.

He picks up his pace, the rain slicked handle of the tool difficult to hold with his damaged hands. His boots are heavy, his shirt clings to his skin before he removes it, tossing the heavy garment in a balled heap beside the pile of dirt slowly leaking back into the earth from which it came. He digs and digs, until his spine feels fractured, his hands tremble and his mind pulses with a dull throb. Tossing his shovel to the side he climbs from his hole, staring down at the beautiful rectangle cut haphazardly into the earth.

The heavens open wider and the pitter-patter turns into a torrent of water that turns the yearning grave into a burial site with an inch deep pool at its base. He moves towards the bodies, and stares down at them with a wicked grin. He reaches for the first, that prick called Anxiety and drags it to the edge of the hole. The rain has made the body heavier than he had remembered. He can still recall the day that he killed him. He had learned that there was nothing to be fearful of in this life than the idea of fear itself. He had grown wise, no longer afraid of the crippling nature of the beast. Creeping up on the bastard he drove a blade through his spine, ripping it upwards violently to sever the spinal cord.

The fucker tumbles into the depths and he stands and watches the muddy water leach into the white sheet before moving for the next. Insecurity was a bastard child that had left him feeling damaged. He remembers the day that he outgrew his need for such a vile companion. He’d always feared his perception in the eyes of others. The way he looked at troubled him, his body shape not quite desirable. But he had ripped off his shirt at a swimming pool, paraded around half naked for the world to see. And when he realised no one was watching he took his shirt, wrapped it around the pricks’s throat and choked until Insecurity’s heart exploded.

His final victim is the heaviest. Guilt had always been his curse. He felt guilty for the choices he made, the ones he didn’t. The people he hurt and the people who had hurt him. The bloated rain soaked corpse feels like deadweight as he heaves it towards the hole. Liberation from this heinous acquaintance had been brutal and bloody. He’d taken a surgeon’s blade and cut it from his skin. His conjoined twin of regret and self-loathing had pleaded as he bled. Once the removal had been complete he’d taken the blade to his poorer half’s throat, feeling the warmth of his blood as it washed across his skin.

Three bodies lay in a mass grave slowly filling with tears from the heavens. Two foot wide. Six feet deep. A silence all-encompassing and beautiful awaits.

He strips bare, his nakedness battered by the rains. Lowering himself into the hole he shifts the victims of his rage. Lying down beside them he closes his eyes and waits. The water swells up over his chest, tickling as it fills his ears, and before he can take another breath he slips beneath the surface.

Silence. So endless and beautiful. A man and a murderer floating alongside the dead. How lovely it would be to die here. To hold himself down until his world went blank. How wonderful his demise would be, surrounded by those who spent a lifetime trying to destroy him. But alas, he cannot die today; he cannot give up so easily. He has fought too hard, spilled too much blood to simply drown alongside his regrets.

He surfaces with a gasp, stands in a waist deep pool of muddied waters, and pulls himself from the grave. The dead has risen on this stormy night. A man has been reborn while the demons of his past have been laid to rest. He takes up his shovel and fills in the hole. With every clump of rain soaked earth he feels his strength return. No longer do his shoulders ache; no longer does his spine feel broken. No longer do his blisters throb. No longer will he feel alone.

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