Kill Your Darlings

It’s been over a year since I’ve blogged. Now here I am sitting at my laptop staring at the title I’ve chosen for this piece, wondering if I still have what it takes to do this. I usually wouldn’t select the title for an entry until I’ve at least finished my first draft. But after spending so long away from this site it seemed only fitting that if I were to post something, that I should break the mould of my own creative process and try something new while doing it. So here we go. Hopefully what comes next isn’t too rusty.

To kill your darlings is a phrase often wrongfully attributed to the American writer William Faulkner, but which can be traced back to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. The expression suggests that a writer must attempt to ruthlessly eliminate anything they personally love that does nothing to advance their story. And anything means anything; characters, turns of phrase, and subplots should all be stripped back and cast aside if they don’t contribute towards driving the narrative forward. As a writer who has been through several bouts of manuscript edits, it’s a concept that I have often found myself contemplating as I read through the works of others, whilst also fighting vehemently against when an editor inevitably suggests a heavy-handed revision of my own labours of love. 

When it’s someone else’s prose that needs refinement, it’s easy to see. Ask anyone game enough to ask me for my opinion on a book or article that I’ve read and they’ll tell you that I can be hyper critical. But when it’s my own work, the process of methodically laying to rest the superfluous ideas I have fallen in love with is far more arduous. It isn’t easy to fight against my own ego and see the world from the viewpoint of my reader, rather than the egotistical writer that I am. 

This complexity of shifting perspective and overcoming ego extends far beyond writing too. As a friend, a family member, or just a stranger watching from a distance it’s easy to see the people or afflictions in the lives of those around us that should be delegated to the cutting room floor. Shit, I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of times that I’ve uttered phrases like they’d be better off without him/her, or If I was them I’d leave that job, and countless others; only to fail to recognise that I too am tormented by many of prohibitive factors and traits that I so readily identify in others. Factors and traits which ultimately detract from the narrative of who I am. And who I want to be.

So, for the rest of this post I want to try and separate my amour propre from my work and kill an idea that I wrote about way back on the 26th of January 2014. Because while I was proud of what I wrote at the time, I’d like to believe that I have grown a lot in the eight and a half years since. The blog post that I once considered a darling of this site has been rendered redundant by the experiences that have since moulded and defined me. It no longer serves any purpose in the story of my life. 

The post started like this…

Here’s the thing: Respect isn’t given. It’s earned. It doesn’t grow on a tree and doesn’t come attached to a label or title; it’s received as a reward for your time spent in the trenches of life battling alongside your fellow man.

…It’s cringe worthy, right? I hate so much about that introduction that as I sit here and prepare to chide my younger self, I honestly don’t even know where to begin. There’s a weird line about battling in trenches, references to a label or title (I originally wrote the post because I was pissed off about being overlooked for a promotion at a company I left soon after), and the clichéd it doesn’t grow on a tree analogy that absolutely misses the intended mark. But it’s the idea that that respect is earned rather than given that I want to lay to rest because it irks me that I once wrote about an ideology that I’ve since grown to passionately disagree with. 

Before I go any further, it seems important to note that I’m not perfect. Nor am I going to pretend that I am at any point in this post…

I’m imperfect in so many ways, and while I do try to be respectful towards everyone, the truth is that I’ve been in more fights in the past couple of years than any other period my life. Not because I’m an arsehole; I’m a hell of a lot calmer than I was in my twenties. My sharp increase in physical confrontations has stemmed from a return to competitive sport and my own ruthless desire to win. I always start off a competition being courteous towards my opponents. But those courtesies can be taken away. And when they are, my desire to win can get the better of me and lead to some heated moments. It doesn’t help that I’m a talker. And an opinionated one at that. It’s a trait that can really get under someone’s skin in a competitive environment and I’ve been known to use that knowledge to my full advantage at times.

I’m digressing. But for good reason. It’s so easy to cultivate false perceptions of oneself online; convincing others that we are infallible when the truth is that we are anything but. I’d love to say that I’m always respectful, but I’m not. Sometimes I can be a real dick. We all can. Yet despite our shortcomings and moments of frustration, it’s important to remember that respect should be our default setting towards others. Why? Well, apart from the obvious that if it is something that must be earned we’d all be a bunch of abrasive assholes who never form any meaningful connections because we believe that everyone owes us something, or must validate themselves to us; the simple answer is that feeling respected promotes feelings of psychological safety. 

Respect provides a sense of security to speak up, to share ideas, and feel included. It also reduces someone’s susceptibility towards bullying and hate, which in a society that is increasingly polarised and divided on issues both legitimate and trivial, seems pretty damn important.

So then why do we as a society often assume that respect should be earned? I mean, aside from the fact that so many of those awful motivational social media pages plaster the adage across well-rendered images billionaires, or stacks of cash and bombard our newsfeeds to capture our attention… Sadly, one of the biggest reasons is fear. 

We fear that if we offer respect to everybody, then we risk it being abused by somebody. That by being polite, friendly, and open to establishing lines of effective communication we make ourselves vulnerable to the minority of people who may take advantage of our generosity. But refusing to default to respect because we’re afraid it will be abused is foolish. It creates a world full of the abrasive assholes that I mentioned above. And we all know from our own personal experience that it hurts when someone shows us a lack of respect that we believe to be unwarranted. It makes us feel upset, and closed off; as though our psychological safety has been attacked or called into question.

Perhaps a better way to protect ourselves from the slim percentage of individuals who exploit our respect is to learn how to take it away. Because while I whole heartedly believe in offering a default level of common courtesy to everyone we meet, I recognise the importance of taking it away when it is mistreated.  

Unfortunately for me, a true definition of mistreatment probably doesn’t extend as far as I selfishly assume it does on a basketball court. Someone intentionally committing a dirty foul probably doesn’t justify my reactions or verbal taunting. But it does extend far enough to cover those who purposely or repeatedly, even if unintentionally, cause us harm. Whether that harm be physical, emotional, financial or whatever else is unimportant. What is important is being established enough in our understanding of self to know when we’ve reached our limit in a relationship and when it is time to pull back that default level of respect and walk away.

I’m not sure if I’ve managed to kill the idea that I originally wrote about in 2014 by writing this

I’d like to hope so. But the truth is that I think I’ve just learned to see the world from an alternate perspective. As someone who is learning to approach everyone I meet with a base level of polite thoughtfulness, as well as being someone who has been on the receiving end of the it must be earned ideology, I can honestly say that the former gets you a hell of a lot further in life and relationships than the latter. 

I could have just deleted my original post rather than recanting it like this. Or even just ignored it as though I’d never written it at all. But there’s no growth in erasing the past or pretending it doesn’t exist. Instead, I thought it’d be fun to embrace it. To admit that I was wrong and kill something that I once thought to be a darling before closing out this piece with the kind of analogy that a younger and admittedly less rusty version of me would have taken a lot of pride in constructing. 

At thirty-three years of age I’ve come to realise that forming and maintaining relationships is much like tending to a garden. If each time you encounter someone new you plant a little sapling of appreciation, eventually your garden will grow. Sure, you’ll have some bad weather days where some saplings don’t survive, and inadvertently plant a few weeds that you need to remove from time to time. But for the most part you’ll have a beautiful plot full of vibrant colours and diversity to tend to. But if you hold onto those saplings until the weather is just right and people prove themselves worthy to earn their place in your garden, you might avoid the weeds, but you’re likely to end up with an anaemic looking plot that is mostly soil and devoid of the brilliant vibrancy you truly deserve.

Offer people respect, and they’ll enrich your life (and possibly your garden) in ways that you never thought possible.

Beggars

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.

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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.

Dirt

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meraki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did find another girl too…

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

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

Opening Chapter – You

Kairos

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

  • Zachary Britt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…You would be my Lacuna.

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

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

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

Between Birth & Death

I need a moment to compose my thoughts before we get started. This post marks a turning point in the evolution of who I am as a man, so it’s important that I try not to screw it up…

There are certain topics that cause a writer a degree of apprehension whenever he (or she) approaches them. Trying to articulate how these concepts, realities, or situations alter your perceptions, or define who you are can be daunting.  For me personally, I have always struggled to broach the subject of death. I have battled against anxiety and depression in the past, and openly acknowledging that I will eventually die used to leave me feeling petrified.

Which explains why it has been a few months since we last talked about death here at The Renegade Press.

In that time, my life has changed more than I ever imagined possible.  I’m not the man that I once was. I’m not ruled by a fear of death, or the melancholy feeling of failure. I hit rock bottom. I had my face stamped into the dirt, and my humility exposed to the world. I lost something amazing, and I crumbled. Badly. But in my lowest moments I learned that the depths of my own fortitude are endless. I beat depression, let go of my ego, and now I’m learning how to walk after a lifetime of forcing myself to crawl.

Alright. I think I’m good. Let’s do this…

I was recently told that the only certainty in life is death. At the time, I viewed the idea as a pessimistic way to look at the world. But the more that I have allowed myself to consider this notion in relation to my own life, the more I am beginning to realise that there is some truth in the sentiment. It may sound incredibly macabre to view the foundations of our reality as so fractured and unstable that our inevitable demise is the only solid platform which we have at our disposal to build a life upon. But the truth is that understanding our own humanity, and the inescapability of death allows us to grow, to be happy, and to cherish the time that we have on this earth.

Oh, yes. This is a post about death; but it comes with a twist. It’s not a depressive, or self-depreciating diatribe oozing with anxiety and fear. Instead, it’s a big fucking swing at complacency; and a way for me to stand up, beat my chest and say that I’m not afraid of dying anymore.

As a society, we continuously remind ourselves of the fragility of the human existence. We sit glued to television screens, or stream endless content when tragedy befalls our fellow man or woman. We seemingly revelling in the idea that a life can be dramatically altered, or taken away in an instant. When a loved one passes, we console one another with observations about the fragility of life, and the preciousness of the gift that we have been given. Yet, despite openly acknowledging the metamorphic nature of our existence, we still allow ourselves to try and build upon the shifting foundations of space and time, assuming certainty where there is none.

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The only certainty in life is death. So, rather than chasing dreams that can evolve or be abandoned at a moments notice, wouldn’t it make sense to establish the underpinnings of who we are on this fact, and work backwards to establish our values and beliefs? Wouldn’t it seem logical to confront the inevitability of our demise as a means of asking ourselves what it is that defines us, what we truly value, and what it would take for us to pass away with the knowledge that we have no regrets? So many people spend their entire lives desperately scrambling to find their place within a world of uncertainty and change, afraid to acknowledge that one day they will die. And that when they do, they will not be defined by the possessions they own, the job they have, or the money in their bank account.

One of the greatest failings of the modern man is that we convince ourselves over and over that the materialistic shit matters. We do so because it’s tangible. It’s a way for us to touch something we have earned, or to show it to a friend or lover and say that we have lived a successful life. It makes us feel great for a few moments to bask in the superficial. But that instant of gratification fades, and no one will ever be defined by something so shallow. When we die, we are remembered for the experiences we shared with the people we love, and the way in which we brightened the lives of those around us. I know that probably sounds like a bunch of contrived bullshit penned by a hopeless romantic. So, let me put it like this…

…When I die, I want to look back on my life and know that I achieved the things that mattered most to me. I want to be able to say that I was loved; and that I loved unconditionally. I want to know how wonderful it feels to be someone’s father, brother, son, lover, friend, enemy, and entire world. I want to be shaped by the experiences that I have lived through, both good and bad. And I want to be able to say that I have had a positive impact on the world around me.

I would like a few other things too. It would be great to say that I wrote a best seller, or that I earned enough money to live comfortably without the fear of financial ruin. I’d like to have owned a fancy car too. Who wouldn’t? But if I had the choice between owning a Lamborghini or holding my newborn child in my arms for the very first time; the car would become meaningless in an instant. There’s a reason that people talk about money, cars, and possessions as dreams.  They are something to aspire to; but they’re not a necessity. Love and happiness are. They are the framework of a life well lived. Without possessions, you can still live an amazing life. Without love and happiness; you’re going to be fucking miserable.

When my life fell apart I realised how often I was sacrificing my own happiness to focus my attention on trivial and incidental shit. It became apparent that my pursuit of perfection and possessions was exacerbating my fear of death because I was subconsciously creating a life governed by anxiety. I had lost sight of what really mattered most. And as I looked around at my friends and family I realised that I wasn’t alone in my mistakes.

I saw couples who I knew were madly in love growing apart as they pushed themselves to buy a bigger car, or a better home, rather than allowing their love to blossom simply by acknowledging that they already had everything they could ever need within each other. I saw strangers sitting in silence at bus stops, their eyes fixated on mobile devices; desperate to feel connected to something or someone, but too afraid to share a moment of intimacy or awkwardness with the person sitting right beside them. And I saw that so many people were lost and afraid because they felt like they had no purpose. When all they needed to do to find themselves was to accept that one day they will die, and then work backwards to understand what mattered most to them in that space between birth and death.

This post is a swing at complacency, because that is exactly what we as a society have become. We are so complacent in ourselves that we take the people and experiences that matter most for granted; failing to realise that possessions, followers, or moments on instant gratification don’t equate to happiness. We’re neglecting to acknowledge that we are shaped and defined by the moments we share with our loved ones, and the way in which we touch the hearts and minds of the people we meet.  We feel contentment in community, and experience true joy through love. So, don’t be complacent. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the trivial and neglecting to nurture yourself. Accept that one day you will die, figure to what it is that matters in your life, and make the most of the time that you have while you still can.

If you love someone; show them. If you have a child; hold their hand and teach them to grow. Cherish every moment, opportunity and experience that you have between birth and death. Because even something as certain as our inevitable demise is uncertain in its timing and deliverance.

World Eater Shares Life, Writing, and Why the World Isn’t Eating Him Anymore [Q&A]

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to catch up with Franki from Hamline University’s Lit Link for a conversation about life and writing.

It has been a little while since I had participated in a formalised interview, and I had forgotten just how much fun it is to really reflect on who I am, what I have achieved, and what it is that I want in my life.

If you have a few minutes to spare, you can read the interview in its entirety below.

Hamline Lit Link

This is a Q&A with Chris Nicholas. Chris Nicholas is a twenty-eight-year-old author and blogger from Brisbane, Australia. With over a decade of writing experience, Chris won his first writing competition in 2011, appearing as the winner and panellist of the Heading Northing Young Writers Competition at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Since the event, he has entered numerous competitions (with varying degrees of success), had works featured on websites throughout America and Europe, run a weblog, published his debut novel, and completed a manuscript for his sophomore release.

How did you first get into writing?

I started writing in my final year of high school. I was seventeen at the time and should have been studying for my final exams, but every time I sat down at my desk to study I would suddenly find myself absentmindedly creating character profiles, plot points and endless pages of horribly punctuated stories.

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Worth Fighting For…

“It doesn’t matter if you fall down; get the fuck back up.”

  • James ‘Buddy’ Nielsen

I have always viewed each post on this site as a chapter in my life. Once a piece is written and published, I move on to the next, making a conscious effort not to look back at the works that I have already completed. But over the past five months I have been moving through a period of introspection, confronting myself with the darker aspects of my personality, and forcing myself to read through the chapters of my life that I have transcribed and shared with the world.

During my readings, I stumbled across a post called Bellicose; a piece in which I likened my own life and creative evolution to boxing. At the time, I thought that I had been through some shit; I believed that life had knocked me down and that I had learned what it took to get back up. But I was wrong. I had never even stepped into the goddamn ring. I was just a mouthy boy who thought that revelling in pain would ultimately make me a stronger man. I was forcing myself to be bitter and angry for the sake of art, and in doing so I altered my reality by opening my heart to hate and shutting out the opinions, thoughts and feelings of others.

But a few months ago, life really did knock me out. In the space of a month I split from the woman I want to marry, and learned that the sophomore novel I had spent over a year creating would no longer be put into print via the publishing house that produced Midas. At the time, I was a mess. I have never felt as low as a did when my lover walked out on me; I cried myself to sleep for weeks, and felt a pain inside of my chest that hurt worse than anything I had ever felt.

Losing my lover was a right hook that blurred my vision and saw my knees buckle; losing the publishing deal was the left jab that sent me crashing to the floor where I lay dazed and confused, staring at the ceiling wondering how the hell my entire world had just fallen apart.

At first the answers to the questions I asked of myself were difficult to come by. Self-analysis can be a horribly confronting experience, and something had broken inside of me. But as I lay motionless on the floor of my bedroom staring at the ceiling through teary eyes, I began to realise that despite spending years forcing myself to feel pain, I had never allowed myself the opportunity to learn from my experiences. I was still the same emotionally fragile boy that began writing in his room at the age of seventeen, I was just hiding behind a moniker of a wolf because I was afraid of becoming the man that I should have always been.

I used anger to shield myself from the world, and in doing so I lost the most important person in mine. When she left, my heart fractured into a million pieces and I fell harder than I ever thought possible. But I eventually picked myself up off the floor, stared at my reflection in the mirror, opened my heart and mind, and allowed myself to learn from the pain of loss. When I did so I realised that for 27 years I had ignored my own wellbeing and left my soul to wander on its own in search of fulfilment while filling my head with anger, angst and bullshit.

Alright. Let’s take a quick interlude and allow the self-pity that seems to be bubbling to the surface to fade. Because this post isn’t about me. It’s about you, and the people around you; and it’s about a metamorphosis of the mind that will prevent you from feeling the pain that I had to endure in order to discover who I really am. When my lover left me, my heart wasn’t the only thing that broke; my ego did too, and while the first hurts like hell, the liberation that has come from losing the later has changed my life.

This post is about not allowing your soul to wander searching for fulfilment. It’s about taking a moment to slow down and ask yourself what it is that your soul is yearning for, what your heart desires, and what your dreams in their purest forms consist of. This post is a means of saying that only fools wait until life knocks them flat on their back to realise what it is that truly matters to them.

For me personally, my soul has wandered for 27 years in search of happiness. Sadly, that happiness has always been right in front of me; I was just too caught up in my own self-loathing to see it. But after losing everything and having to rise to my feet once again, I can say that from this moment forward there are only three things in this world that matter to me; and I vow to never allow my soul to wander in search of them again. Those three things are my happiness, my family, and the woman who taught me what it means to fall hopelessly in love.

Expressing gratitude for the first two is simple. Happiness is a choice; life is a gift that should be celebrated every goddamn day, and even the darker moments that we experience are opportunities to grow. If I hadn’t of hit rock bottom, I might never have learned what it is to be a man, or how to pick myself up off the ground when life knocked me down.

My family have stood by me and loved me since the day I was born, and now that I’m becoming a man, I can be there to help them when they fall, just as they have with me. I’m making a conscious effort to show them that I love them at every opportunity, because as wonderful as life is, it can change in a heartbeat, and I don’t want to them to ever doubt that I care.

And then there’s the girl… I don’t know if I’ll get my happily ever after with her. I probably won’t. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t love her unconditionally and cherish the wonderful moments that we spent together. I gave my heart to my her the very first time that we met, and it’s hers to keep until we both grow old and wrinkly. I would love to become her husband one day, and be the man who cares for her when she is sick, holds her hand, or kisses her head while she falls asleep. But even if I never get the opportunity to be that man, I know that a small piece of our souls will be intertwined for the rest of our lives.

OK. Here we go… Here comes the part that’s all about you and those you care about. I’ve shared my vulnerability with the world, and now it’s your turn to do the same. 

Are you ready?

Every holiday season people across the globe usher in the new year by creating resolutions: promises to themselves and their friends to focus on self-improvement in some small way. But those resolutions are quickly forgotten as the reality of our daily lives makes us forget what it is that we are trying to improve within ourselves. So, this year I want you to try something different. I want you to abandon the notion of a resolution, and make a promise to yourself, and to your loved ones instead. Promise that you will no longer allow your soul to wander in search of whatever it is that it yearns for. It doesn’t matter whether you are searching for a partner, a career, a family, an experience, or just to rediscover the smile that you’ve misplaced. Promise yourself, and those around you that you’ll discover what it is that makes your heart beat, and your soul complete, and chase it down with everything that you have got.

At the bottom of this post you’ll find an image that I urge you to take and share with the people you care about. Complete the sentence and tell them what it is that your soul desires. Open your heart and tell them what matters to you, and share your aspirations with them. And then ask them to share their hopes and dreams with you. Help each other strive towards your dreams and become the change you wish to see in the world. Don’t waste another holiday season creating a resolution that fades; create a conversation and a goal to make your dreams your reality instead.

And if you are someone who has been knocked down by life, and haven’t figured out how to get back up; consider this post a helping hand reaching out to you. Get up off the floor and figure out what your soul is searching to find, and then start building a life that is worth fighting for.

Life is a beautiful gift. Celebrate it, and cherish every single day.

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Remembered for Something

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

-Terence McKenna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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