Chapter One

I’ve decided to post the first chapter of my new novel. I’ve been working on this since November and this chapter is the only chapter that is completely finished. I can’t see it going through many more changes moving forward into the final edit of the complete novel. The other chapters are still going through major edits and I’m still working on the final chapters of the novel. I would love feedback. I’ve been sitting on this for a very long time and I figured it’s about time to put some of it out into the world. There were some minor formatting issues transferring this over to the blog (mainly with speech), please excuse these.

So, here it is. The novel is called ‘Fall River’. I won’t say much more than that. Enjoy and let me know what you think:

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1.

My name is William Marsters and I don’t know who I am. I have been a resident of the Fall River Memory Rehabilitation Centre for seven months. I woke up here on my 30th Birthday. I have been told that I have a form of retrograde amnesia. This means that I can’t remember anything that happened before a specific date – my 30th Birthday. The scientists and doctors at the Fall River Memory Rehabilitation Centre use both occupational and cognitive therapy to attempt to develop my memory recollection skills and to try and help me restore my lost memories by forging new retrieval paths in my brain. They assure me that I am receiving the best care possible. State of the art. Top of the line. I have no idea who is paying for my treatment and I have no recollection of how I ended up here.

Fall River is a small city in Bristol, Massachusetts, famous, I’m told, because it is where the terrible Borden axe murders took place in the late 19th century. These murders were a cause celebre at the time and to this day remain a popular topic of conversation amongst the residents of the facility. Murder really puts a town on the map. Even years after the death of the perpetrator people are still theorising: was Lizzie Borden truly responsible? Was it the uncle? Andrew Borden’s illegitimate son? Officially the case remains unsolved, but it is widely believed that Lizzie Borden was responsible for brutally murdering her parents. Everyone here seems to be able to remember all of the minor intricacies of the Borden Axe Murder case, but nobody can remember how they celebrated their eighteenth Birthday or what they wore on their wedding day. What is truly significant?  

Living in America is still a matter of confusion for me as I have a British accent and I still haven’t found out whether I was in the United States when I lost my memory or if I was transferred here afterwards. The information I have is pretty limited. They only tell me what I need to know. It’s funny that my vocal chords remember who I am, but I do not.

Most days are pretty similar. I wake up at 7am. I shower, I brush my teeth, I take care of all of the necessary personal hygiene shit. I eat breakfast, eggs over easy, two slices of toast, butter on both sides. I workout for roughly half an hour, on rare occasions I will go for a swim in the pool or I’ll take a run around the indoor track, but I mostly just stay in my room and let Shaun T yell at me through my Memory Cage.

“I like the sweat that’s going on in here.”

“I want you to focus.”

“This is my gym and I want you to sweat.”

It’s worth noting that since arriving here at Fall River I have not been outside. I have not seen outside. I don’t really remember what outside is and I’m only aware of it’s existence because of the movies, music and books that I have consumed since being here. This is also how I came to realise that my accent is British, that the reason that I sound so different to the majority of other people who are patients here is because I must have been born in England or at least I must have been raised by people who were from a distant island somewhere far away from where I now reside. Sorry, I have digressed. Once the morning routine is out of the way I’ll see my therapist, Bhagat, at 9am. Afterwards I’ll spend most of my day in my Memory Cage. It’s not really a cage. I don’t know why they call it that. It’s a small room full of old movies, music, books, video games and other popular culture artifacts. Every patient has their own unique Memory Cage. I spend a lot of time in mine. More than most. There isn’t much else to do around here. I think the idea is that through exposing us to these artifacts we might be triggered to remember something about our past, although everybodies room is full of different artifacts.

I’m not alone. There are thousands of patients in this facility. I live in the Purple Wing. I haven’t figured out the significance of naming the wings of the facility by colour, but I’m sure it is a way of segregating certain memory conditions. Everybody I’ve met in the Purple Wing has exactly the same condition as me, this: retrograde amnesia. We only ever communicate with other patients in the restaurant or sometimes in the sports clubs that the facility runs. I do not belong to any of these clubs. Sport bores me to tears. I’m not a very competitive person. The only exercise I really get is with Shaun T during my morning workout.

We don’t have to eat in the restaurant, in our rooms we have fully functioning kitchens and we can order a variety of foods to cook for ourselves, but I usually opt for the restaurant because none of this is costing me anything. It’s also a good opportunity to catch up with some of the other patients. Human interaction is important. So Bhagat tells me. I try to look at it as part of my cure, part of my rehabilitation.

Outside of the therapists and the other patients the only other people we see are the visitors. These are people who knew us before we were patients at Fall River. There are three people who visit me quite regularly. My father John. My wife Madeline. My best friend Kevin. I have no recollection of any of them before Fall River. They seem to know who I am though and we talk about many things that happened in my life before I ended up here.

I can remember everything that has happened since I have been here at Fall River. I remember waking up for the first time in the room that has become my home. I was all alone when I woke up, curled up in the fetal position on a beige bedsheet. The unfamiliar surroundings startled me at first, red brick walls, abnormally high ceilings, and a severe lack of natural light. I was soon surrounded by doctors wearing long white scrubs making notes on wooden clipboards. This reassured me and calmed me down quite considerably. Even though I didn’t know where I was, or for that matter who I was, I did remember what a doctor was and what they looked like. They told me that I would be a patient here for the foreseeable future. They explained that I had been through an incredibly traumatic experience and that I was in a specialist memory rehabilitation centre in Fall River, Massachusetts in order to recover my memories. This seemed logical and in the state that I was in I was welcoming of the support that the doctors were offering me.

After waking up, after being reborn into this new world, the doctors and therapists at Fall River completed several tests. I sat in giant machines that scanned different parts of my brain. I laid submerged in water listening to ambient music while electrodes read signals that were being triggered from within my cerebral cortex. The results of these tests helped the facility formulate the programme that I have been following whilst I have been here and helped them determine which medication I should be taking in order to ‘open up’ certain parts of my brain. After the tests had been completed and my medication assigned I was put onto my programme. This sounds more formal than it really is, for the most part the doctors and therapists here take a pretty laissez-faire approach to rehabilitation.  

My first day on the programme I met a man called Mykolas. Mykolas would later become a very close friend of mine, my only real friend at Fall River, but more of that later. When I first met Mykolas he was sitting on the table next to mine in the Fall River restaurant. The restaurant looked like an old seventies diner. The food wasn’t served from behind a counter, rather it was delivered to your table like it would be if you were going out for dinner. There were booths along the west wall of the restaurant and there was a self-serve bar on the south wall. The middle of the restaurant was full of two seater tables covered in crimson tablecloths. It may have looked like an old seventies diner, but there was no jukebox and there weren’t any pictures of Elvis or Marilyn  Monroe stuck to the walls. Everything in the facility was unusually plain. I assume that the reason there was no art hanging from the walls or no elevator music being played was so that there were no unanticipated triggers outside of our Memory Cages.

Mykolas was sat at a table close to the self serve bar along the southern wall and I was sat on the table beside him. Mykolas was wearing a purple t-shirt. All of the patients in Purple Wing wear a plain gender neutral purple t-shirt or a sweater if it’s cold. Mykolas was wearing his standard issue t-shirt but he had clearly made some minor adjustments to it, probably due to his size. These were subtle changes, but noticeable ones. Most of the t-shirts that patients in the facility wear are baggy, but Mykolas’ looked fitted. It wrapped itself perfectly around his muscular upper torso. Mykolas had a completely shaved head accompanied by a goatee. He looked like a mid 90s Stone Cold Steve Austin, but he appeared approachable and calm. Oh yes, thanks to the Memory Cage my catalogue of obscure references to popular culture of the twentieth and twenty first centuries were becoming quite extensive. I could have just as easily compared him to Cobra from the 90s television game show Gladiators, or perhaps Vin Diesel as Riddick from Pitch Black. Without the shiny eyes. We were eating smoked salmon on rye bread with cream cheese and olives. A light lunch. Very sophisticated – for a gladiator.

“You’re new here?” He asked, already knowing the answer.
“William,” I replied, holding out my hand to shake his. “That’s what they told me, anyway.”

Mykolas had a firm handshake and seemed genuinely interested in my arrival. I knew nothing of the other patients conditions at the time, so I naively asked why Mykolas was at the centre. Mykolas laughed, “the same reason you’re here, Will.”

“Why am I here?” I asked.
“Because you forgot something.”
“Something?”

“Everything then. The truth is nobody knows why they’re here. If we knew that, then we wouldn’t be here.”

I nodded in agreement. It felt good to finally talk to somebody. It made me feel less alone.

“How long have you been at the centre?” I asked as Mykolas got up out of his chair and sat down opposite me.

“About four months.”

I looked around the room, “the rest of these guys?” I questioned.

“It varies,” he said. “Some of them have been here for years, others a few weeks.” Mykolas took a gigantic bite out of his rye bread which was smothered with cream cheese and piled high with as much smoked salmon as he could cram onto it.
“Years?” I gasped. I wondered why anybody would be here for years? Weren’t they trying to cure patients of amnesia? Did the treatment not work? I had so many questions. I was a stranger in a strange land.
“Some of them, yes.”

“How long do people stay here for… on average?”

“What do you mean?” Mykolas asked.

“Well, how long does it take for people to get their memory back?”
“Well, I’ve been here for four months and I’ve only seen about three people actually leave Purple Wing.”
“So the success rates aren’t incredibly high?”

“Will, can I call you Will?”
“William. I think I prefer William, for now.”

“William. You’ll soon discover, after you’ve been here for a few weeks, that it’s best not to ask too many questions. Look around, we’ve got a pretty good thing going here. We have this delicious food,” Mykolas took another bite out of his lunch. He continued to talk as he munched his way through it. “We have access to a huge library of entertainment, we’re living rent free, we have all the time in the world, I mean I beat Disgaea V yesterday. I had time to beat Disgaea V! Will, these facilities are top of the line. If you take your meds, follow your programme, you can have a pretty good fucking life here. See, I’ve got this theory.”

“A theory?”

“Yeah, that half the fucking patients in this place are over it. Cured. Memory fully restored, but, they’re still here. They’re still playing the game. Not because they have to, but because being in here, is better than being out there.”

Mykolas took the last bite out of his bread and wiped his hands together.

“And what’s out there?” I asked.
“I’ll see you around, William.” Mykolas replied ignoring my question.

Mykolas gently tucked his chair underneath the table and walked towards a door in the distance. I sat for a moment, contemplating what Mykolas had told me. Why was it better in here than out there? Out where? How did Mykolas know this? There are no windows in the entire facility. There is no contact with the outside world apart from through our visitors and through the Memory Cage. Visitors are strictly prohibited from talking about anything that has happened to them or to the world since we have been in the facility. What was he talking about? I shrugged it off after a moment. I concluded that Mykolas was just as sick as I was and that perhaps he didn’t really know what he was talking about. A momentary lapse of insanity. Perhaps a glimpse into Mykolas’  true character? His personality before Fall River. No matter. I finished off my salmon and cheese and proceeded to leave the restaurant.

Later that afternoon I entered my Memory Cage for the very first time. Let me tell you a little bit about my Memory Cage. The room is roughly forty-six square metres in size. The wall opposite the door is one giant screen that is hooked up to a computer which sits on a shelf along the left hand wall of the room. There is one giant sofa that sits in the middle of the room facing the screen wall. As soon as you enter the Memory Cage the screen and computer come to life. As I walked through the door to the cage for the first time a computer generated voice echoed through the speakers, “Welcome William.” I walked over to the computer screen. There was a blue selection window on the computer that was projected onto the giant monitor on the back wall. It had five options.

Literature

Film

Television

Music

Video Games

The computer was attached to a mouse which functioned as you would expect. It was also hooked up to a keyboard with only letters and numbers that went from A – J along the top row, K – T along the middle row and then the longest row at the bottom with the letters U – Z and the numbers  0 – 9. Oh, and a delete button in case a mistake was made and you needed to re-enter some information. I stared at the screen for a moment. My therapist had already informed me about the purpose of the Memory Cage. I had been told that this was a collection of all of the media and literature that I had ever consumed, but if I hadn’t consumed it, in my thirty years prior to being at Fall River, then it wouldn’t be included in my Memory Cage. There was a long and complicated explanation about how this system worked. The long and short of it was that somewhere in my brain everything that I’d ever experienced was stored away. Locked up somewhere. Whilst I didn’t have the keys to unlock my memories yet, this machine, this cage, had the ability to unlock the section of my brain that stored all of the media that I had consumed. The cage could access parts of my brain that I couldn’t, sync them up with a library of media content and then play that content back for me so that I could start to remember not only the content itself, but any other emotions, memories, or feelings that the media might conjure up for me. The Memory Cage didn’t need live access to my brain to achieve this. This information had been uploaded on arrival and all the computer did was to sync the file with the memory. If the memory was incomplete then it would be able to use its database to run the film or video game from a central server stored somewhere in the facility. Technical shit.

I stared at the screen for some time and eventually I clicked on video games. Another menu opened on the screen. There was a search bar at the top where I assumed I could type in the title of anything that I wanted to view, read or play. Of course, I didn’t remember the titles of anything. There was also a list of dates beneath the search window that went from 1972 all the way through to 2015 – the date, I had been told, of my 30th Birthday. I thought back to my conversation with Mykolas at lunch and as I had no recollection of the titles of anything that might appear on the system I decided to type into the search window the name of the game that Mykolas said that he had recently beaten. I put my fingers onto the keyboard and typed out Disgaea V. I hit search.

No results found in memory archive.

I clicked back and tried again. Disgaea 5.

No results found in memory archive.

I figured that this must have meant that either, I can’t spell Disgaea or that I mustn’t have ever played this game before. Fine, I thought. I’ll just click on one of the dates. I thought I should start at the beginning and work my way through the system. This seemed like a logical way to approach this archive. I clicked on 1972.

One game. Pong.

What the fuck is a pong? I didn’t recognise this word. It sounded like a noise. I clicked on the word. The screen of the computer dimmed and the giant display wall came to a life. A little slot opened up in the floor in front of the sofa and a controller rose out of the ground. I walked over to the sofa and sat down. I sunk into it. The cushions wrapped themselves around me and I rested my back up against the neck of the couch. This place really spared no expense. To think that every single patient in the facility had their own personalised Memory Cage. I picked up the controller. I looked at the screen and then back down at my controller to try and figure out exactly what it was that the game wanted me to do. In big white letters on a black background the word PONG was written. Beneath that there were three options:

1 Player

2 Player

High Scores

I pressed the down arrow on my controller and noticed that it moved a small white square down the menu. Low and behold the up arrow moved the white square up the menu. I selected 1 Player. I had no idea what to expect. I had never played a video game before even though I had clearly played a whole bunch of video games before.

This seemed pretty simple. There was a dotted white line down the centre of the screen and two small white rectangles moving up and down along the side of each screen. As I pressed the arrow keys on my controller it was clear that I was moving the right rectangle up and down. There was a white dot that was bouncing between my rectangle and the rectangle on the opposite side of the screen. As the white ball hit one of the rectangles the room would make an electronic sound that made me think about the word pong. Perhaps this sound was why the game was called pong. Pong. Pong. Pong. The ball went back and forwards between the two rectangles. The opposite player’s rectangle hit the white dot towards the top of my side of the screen, but my rectangle was at the bottom. I hit the up arrow on my controller as fast as I could and whilst my paddle moved quite quickly towards the top of my screen, I was too late. The ball went through my side of the screen and a giant number one appeared above the opposite player’s side, whilst a giant zero appeared above my side. Pretty self explanatory, the goal of the game must be to get the white ball through to the other player’s side of the screen.

I played Pong for hours. The aim seemed to be to get ten points and thus win the round. It was addictive and whilst that pong sound was repetitive there was a rhythmic bliss to it. It was satisfying. It felt right. Was I once a champion Pong player? Did I participate in tournaments all over the world? Was I the King of Pong? Was this why it felt so satisfying to play the game? Or would it have been this satisfying even if I had never played the game in my previous life? All of these questions bounced around in my head, but I didn’t remember anything. I guessed that I would have plenty of time to familiarise myself with the catalogue of games, films, literature, television and music in the weeks and months to come.

An alarm sounded. I looked over my shoulder and noticed a clock above the door that led into my Memory Cage. The clock read 19:00. It was time to take my medication and head down to the restaurant for my evening meal. I walked over to the console and tried to find some kind of off switch, but I couldn’t see one. I shrugged and figured that this wasn’t really my problem. That it would more than likely take care of itself. I walked out of the Memory Cage and closed the door behind me. A loud clanking of metal could be heard as the Memory Cage locked itself behind me. I turned and tried to open the door again. It was bolted shut. I couldn’t get back in. Pong would have to wait until tomorrow.

On the way down to the restaurant there was a small window where I picked up my prescriptions. This window would be my first destination. After leaving my Memory Cage I strolled down the corridor feeling quite content with my current situation. Despite not knowing who I was and not remembering anything that had happened to me for the past thirty years, for some reason I felt right, I felt like I was where I needed to be. It was only my first day at Fall River, but my future looked bright. Yes, true, I had nothing to compare it to, in a sense this facility was all I had ever known. This euphoric feeling would not last, but as I approached the prescription window for the first time, I felt normal.

The woman behind the window who distributed my medication was a slender redhead with bright blue eyes. She smelt like sunscreen. Like Summer. Another question flickered through my head – how do I know what sunscreen smells like? I had a lot to talk with my therapist about. I leaned onto the wooden counter and I handed her my ID card. Every patient in Fall River had an ID card. The card itself didn’t really have a lot of information on it. My photograph, my name and a barcode. The barcode however, had all of my information on it, everything that the facility knew about me, which admittedly couldn’t have been a lot. The nurse scanned my barcode into her computer and quickly began to collect the appropriate pills into a small pill box. She handed them to me and politely wished me a pleasant evening. I returned the favour and strolled down the corridor examining my pills. These weren’t antidepressants. I wasn’t taking them to stabilise my condition. I was taking them to open my mind. Hippie shit. Like Woodstock.

I know how this sounds. It sounds like I’m in some kind of mental institution with cold white wash walls, metal doors and tiled flooring. However, here at Fall River there were no patients in white clothes mopping up floors and there were no restricted areas, at least not that I could see. There wasn’t a McMurphy, a Goines or a Prot. There was nobody planning an elaborate escape. The Fall River Memory Rehabilitation Centre was a comfortable place, the walls were made of dark red bricks, there were lamps standing in the corners of the corridors shining warm light up towards the patterned ceilings, there were luscious green plants sat on the soft cream carpets. This was not a hospital, this was a place where people came to remember. A place of comfort. I walked down the corridor from the prescription window to the restaurant hoping to bump into Mykolas and tell him all about my afternoon playing Pong.

I didn’t see Mykolas in the restaurant that first evening. I sat alone and ate some sizzling pork belly on a bed of red cabbage with golden brown roast potatoes. I thought really hard about the taste of this food. The sensations. The way that the heat felt on my tongue. I wondered if I had ever eaten this meal before. I thought about what my life must have been like before I ended up here. I questioned how I could remember the English language. How I knew that what I was eating was a pig, a friendly animal with leathery skin and a snout. How did I know all of these things? How did I know how to use a computer? How did I know how to swallow these giant tablets that the nurse at the prescription window had given to me? I would be sure to ask my therapist these questions tomorrow morning, but as I sat there eating that delicious roast, for the first time since being at Fall River I felt truly alone. I didn’t feel the contentment that I had felt after playing Pong any longer, that contentment was being replaced with a sense of overwhelming confusion and disorientation. This was the first time since being at Fall River that I had truly been left alone with my thoughts. It was terrifying. I took my last bite and proceeded to stand up. I tucked my chair back under my table and walked back towards my room.

I turned the corner from the lobby onto the East Corridor of the Purple Wing when an alarm sounded. This startled me. It sounded vaguely similar to the alarm that rang as a signal to leave the Memory Cage, but it was continuous. I thought that perhaps this was an alarm that signalled for patients to go back to their rooms for the evening, but surely I would have been told about this? It was a long droning sound that echoed throughout the whole facility. There was nobody around. I was walking past rows and rows of doors leading into patients rooms. Most patients were already in their quarters. I knew this because of the small red lights that shone above each door. This meant that the rooms were occupied. That the patient that belonged in that room was inside. I continued walking down the corridor to my room at the end of the hall, the alarm still ringing. It was then that I heard some more mysterious noises. A scuttling sound. The sound of footsteps. The sound of somebody running. Perhaps somebody had decided to take a run around the wing. Strange, but plausible. The footsteps got louder and louder, the alarm made it hard to distinguish exactly where the footsteps were coming from, but there was no doubt about it, I wasn’t going crazy, somebody was running somewhere.

My room was the last room on the left at the end of the East Corridor. After my room the corridor turned to the right and gave way to a reception area where several other corridors meandered off into the rest of the facility. It was from around that corner, about thirty seconds later, just as I was nearing the door to my room that I saw a girl in a yellow t-shirt come darting towards me at break neck speed.

I had never seen a patient in a different colour t-shirt before. I wondered where she was from and what significance the yellow colour of her t-shirt had. It was hard to see her clearly as she came bolting towards me, but from what I could make out she was a young black woman with a petite physique and very short hair. She put one foot in front of the other at such a lightning pace that at this stage that was about all I could make out. Two security guards appeared from behind her. I had never seen security guards in the facility before. They wore dark green uniforms and had chrome masks covering their faces. They looked like cyborgs out of a cheap 90s sci-fi show. I assumed that this was some form of armour that protected them from… from what? This was a peaceful memory rehabilitation centre in the tranquil New England town of Fall River. Why on earth would they need to wear these ridiculous uniforms?

The girl in the yellow t-shirt was nearly with me now and I heard one of the guards shout in an electronic voice, “Stop her!” She made eye contact with me. As she did this she shook her head as if to motion me to ignore what the guard had said. Could this be a test of my character? A set-up? Part of my programme? Were they trying to help me figure out whether my personality was rebellious or authoritative? Some new sort of Briggs Myers personality test?  

It was as if time had slowed down completely as she got closer to me, the guards were shouting at me in the distance to stop this girl, to catch her, to wrestle her to the ground and restrain her. I made a snap decision to side with the facility, perhaps this girl was really sick. I mean, I didn’t know what the yellow t-shirt meant. I didn’t know why she was here at Fall River. I justified my decision to stop the girl because up to this point the facility had only been trying to help me. That’s why I was here. To get better. To remember. That must be why she was here and despite the threatening way the guards looked they were probably just trying to do what was best for this person. Another question flashed through my mind – where did my morality come from if I didn’t know who I was? I snapped back and opened my arms. I leapt towards the girl in the yellow t-shirt. It was the only way I could stop her whilst she was travelling at such a high speed. She fell backwards under my weight and I wrapped my arms around her to soften the blow when she hit the carpet. The guards carried on running towards us. The girl looked up at me. She had tears in her eyes. I could see her properly now. She was pretty, but incredibly thin. You could see her cheekbones burrowing their way out of the sides of her face. Her skin was a matte-deepness of black and her sharp and defined features had an aura of natural fierceness. She looked focused and determined, her tender lips trembling with anticipation and adrenaline.

“What have you done?” She screamed as I laid there on top of her. I held her hands onto the floor as she swayed to the left and the right, frantically trying to escape my grip. Her wrists were attenuated, but her resistance was strong.  

“What have you done? What have you done?”

“Calm down,” I said, trying to settle her. Comfort her.

“Let me go!” She screamed. I could feel her spit flicker onto my face as she wailed.

“Calm down!” I repeated, my grip becoming much more forceful.

She looked behind her and noticed that the guards were nearly upon us. She looked straight at me, straight into me and she whispered the words “we have not forgotten.”

The guards finally caught up with us and they pushed me off of her. They grabbed a hold of the girl in the yellow t-shirt and pulled her hands behind her back. One of the guards placed some handcuffs around both of her wrists and sealed them tightly.

“Thank you, sir.” The guard on the left nodded at me.

They started to drag the girl in the yellow t-shirt back down the corridor. I got to my feet and watched as she kicked her legs around in frustration. I looked at her face. She was staring straight back at me, although her body was wailing around, her feet, her legs, her belly, struggling to escape the grip of the guards, her eyes were perfectly still. Staring straight back into mine. She mouthed those words one last time. We have not forgotten.

The alarm stopped ringing and the girl in the yellow t-shirt in the custody of the guards turned the corner and left me standing there in the middle of the corridor, alone again. I stood there for what seemed like forever. I tried to justify what had just happened. Did I do the right thing? Should I have let her pass? What was she running from? Who was this girl? Then the question that I wouldn’t be able to get out of my head for months to come, what did she mean when she said that “we have not forgotten?”

There was nobody else around. I was all alone. None of the patient’s doors had opened. Nobody came to see what all the commotion was about. What would have happened if I wasn’t there? I slowly composed myself, walked to my door, scanned my ID card and opened it. I switched the light on inside my room and sat down on the side of my bed.

We have not forgotten.

My name is William Masters and I don’t know who I am.

Wear Sunscreen

Six years is a long time. Hell, a fucking minute is a long time. Your whole world can change. There’s this line in Mary Schmich’s essay on wearing sunscreen (made popular by Baz Luhrmann) that says that the real trouble in our lives are apt to be things that never crossed our worried minds, the kind that blindside us at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. In a splitfuckingsecond your whole life can be flipped upside down. So six years… six years is kind of a big deal.

I drove for twelve hours solid to meet with my friends who I hadn’t seen in six years. Vans and trucks are the most annoying things on the road especially when you’re stuck behind one in traffic and they block your view of the world. I want to see the rolling hills, the sunrise, the road sign that lets me know how far it is until the next service station. “Get out of the fucking way.” I stopped occasionally to use the ‘facilities’ and stock up on food and water. By the end of the journey I noticed myself getting pretty tetchy. Twelve hours is a long time. I get frustrated with people who don’t engage with the world in the same way that I do. People who walk fucking slowly in front of me or who don’t take the most efficient routes through a crowd. I try to apply some form of logic to everything that I do. It seems that the majority of the human race isn’t interested in applying that same logic. So, I didn’t stop anywhere for long. Leave the car, speed walk to the bathroom, go to shop, pick up some water, pay for it in the most efficient way possible without engaging with the sales clerk on any kind of human level, get back into the car as quickly as possible. Rinse, repeat. I left home at 6am and arrived at my old friends house at 6pm. It’s the longest I’ve ever driven.

It’s crazy how you can see people who you haven’t seen in six years and it’s like nothing has changed at all even though six whole fucking years have passed. I guess social media plays a big part in this. We can scroll through our friends news feeds and we can find out almost everything that we need to know about how they are living their lives. What they do for work, who their friends are, what they had for dinner when they went to that new Palestinian chicken place. We know a lot about the people we know. If we care to look. So, when you meet with people who you haven’t seen in a long time you don’t have to spend valuable drinking time ‘catching up’. You can get straight into the drink, I mean conversation, that matters, ya know – discussing how Milos passed out on the beach in Provincetown or how you nearly died when you decided it would be a fantastic idea to take a swim in the ocean during a hurricane. Reminiscing is important.

Mary Schmich also wrote in her piece for the Chicago Tribune which was later transformed into Baz Luhrmann’s number one single that you should work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle for as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young. It’s important to be around people that you went through life defining experiences with. It truly reminds you about what you got out of that experience. For me, I was meeting with my friends who I worked with at a campground on Cape Cod. I don’t need to get into why this was such a life defining experience, you’ll just have to take my word for it. We had been separated by an ocean and a low bank balance for a long time and reuniting was awesome. As well as being awesome it was important because people change and being around those people who you knew when you were young reminds you of who it was that you used to be. What your ambitions were. What was important to you when you were carefree and didn’t have the burden of responsibility weighing on you every waking hour of the day. It puts you back into your younger body for a moment. It puts your life in perspective a little bit. That’s what decent friendships are about.

Let me digress for a moment. If you will.

I was seventeen once. The sun was erumpent. It etched over the palm trees along Dudley Avenue, just left off of Pacific Boulevard on Venice Beach. The houses down Dudley feel like they should be in Hawaii. The smell of hash floating on the spongy breeze. Ukulele’s perched on porches, men with dreadlocks playing with Jack Russell’s, women in bikinis reading the Venice Tribune. Man, I’m there at fucking Dudley Avenue. I can smell that hash, feel that breeze, hear that music. I was seventeen and we were stood on Dudley Avenue and we could see the Pacific Ocean flood onto the beach. The sound of those waves resonates within me. I’m stood with a friend and he turns to me and he says:

“If you’re ever feelin’ like shit, down n’ out, just about over the edge, but not quite. Close your eyes and see that ocean. Just for a second nothin’ll matter. You’re just back here on this road in this place, back here in this special fucking moment.”

He was right. That’s all I have to do. I close my eyes and I smell that hash floating down Dudley Avenue and I’m fucking seventeen again man. I can see the Pacific Ocean and I’m there and all the shit spills away for a few seconds. I feel alive. That’s all it takes.

The point? If there is one. Is that you should never forget about those moments in your life that made you feel most alive and if you ever have the opportunity to reconnect with people. To talk about that time you got drunk and stole a golf cart and drove it down the Cape Cod Rail Trail, if you have the opportunity to hang out and have some drinks and talk about old times you need to grab that shit by the balls and run with it. Because what if tomorrow is the same as today. That’s my worst fear really. What if tomorrow is the same? Don’t let it be.

I had an amazing time reconnecting with these people who mean so much to me, but who I hadn’t seen in six years. It didn’t really matter what we were doing. It just mattered that we were together again. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that despite everything we managed to keep in touch. Because despite the internet and despite social media, despite all of our 21st century connectivity – keeping in touch is not easy. The best things in life never are.

Close your eyes. Dream of that ocean. Close your eyes and remember. Just for a second. The past will put your present in perspective and remind you that you were young once and that you can be again. Advice, Mary Schmich said, is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of wishing the past from the disposal , wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Oh, and she also said that you should wear sunscreen. She was probably right about that, if nothing else – trust her on the sunscreen.

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Is This Thing On?

Welcome fellow traveller to my blog. I’ve had blogs in the past, but for whatever reason they weren’t maintained and were later lost in the internet ether. There are several reasons for that, but it’s mainly because all the blogs I’ve had in the past have had themes and if I couldn’t think of anything to post that was related to that theme then I wouldn’t bother posting at all. So, this blog doesn’t have a theme. It’s just my blog and I’ll be posting about whatever I like.

I find it easier to express myself in written words than I do verbally. I don’t do well in social situations, even when I’m one to one with a close friend I find it very difficult to accurately communicate my thoughts. I could just be incredibly self critical, but I think my life would be drastically improved if I started carrying a word processor around with me wherever I went. That way, if somebody asked me a question, I could take my time to type out the answer and I could use a digital thesaurus to find the exact synonym that expressed whatever I wanted to express. I’m very socially anxious, but I think I wear a pretty decent disguise. I’m constantly worried that if I leave the house I might bump into somebody I know and I’ll have to have an awkward stop and chat with them. I rarely pick up the telephone because I want conversation to happen on my terms. I don’t even like receiving a voicemail message. Sometimes I’ll feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. I’ll let it keep vibrating until my voicemail kicks in and I’ll wait until an appropriate amount of time passes hoping that whoever called didn’t leave a message. I won’t be able to relax until a few minutes later when there hasn’t been a final buzz indicating that the person has left a message.

I’m on the first week of my Summer break and I’m trying to get my life sorted out. In the last week of work there were several awkward social events to attend. They all involved snacks. Why do so many work events involve food? The bowls of celebrations on desks? People baking cakes. Crisps. Free coffee. Doughnuts at morning meetings. They were serving ice-cream at the end of term send-off. Ice cream I tell you! It’s always unhealthy snacks. Unhealthy drinks. It’s like we’re trying to feed some kind of existential hunger, trying to fill the void at the centre of work life with muffins and cupcakes. People eat at work for the same reason they drink at a bar – to forget that they’re there.

So, yeah… trying to get my life in order. I was over at Wil Wheaton’s blog and he is currently doing a life reboot and I kind of liked the idea. He has this list of about five things that he’s trying to improve in his life. Some of them are related to health, some to work, mostly it just seems to be about improving well-being and I can get on board with that. I’ve been making a lot of changes to my lifestyle recently and it would be great to track some of those changes here. Most people make these changes after New Year so they can feel less guilty about winter indulgences. For me, summer is the perfect time to make some changes to my lifestyle. I have all this time. So, here is my list of the five improvements I’m going to try and make and I’ll do a monthly post updating the blog on my progress.

1. Maintain a healthy vegan diet.

I’ve been a vegan for about four months now. It may be slightly longer than that. I haven’t slipped up at all and I’ve been really strict with myself. I’ve also been reading a lot about nutrition and health and I want to ensure that I continue to maintain this diet that has made me feel really good both physically and mentally. I’ve mostly cut all refined sugars out of my diet as well as all animal products. I eventually want to make the move to completely cut palm oil out of my diet as well. This is something for further down the line, but for now I’ll track my progress here on whether I have stayed vegan and stayed free from refined sugar.

2. Write more.

I hit 50,000 words on my novel in November and it’s now July and I still haven’t finished it. It’s sitting there at about 57,000. By the end of the Summer I want to have finished my novel. Finished the final draft of my latest script and have maintained a healthy upload rate to this blog. My measure of success is going to be 25,000 words per month on whatever project I happen to be working on. I think this is achievable and should make me more productive.

3. Read more.

This is another tough one. It’s not really. There’s no excuses. We make excuses all the time though don’t we? We say we’re busy, when really we’re not. We find plenty of time to watch YouTube videos for an hour a day. We find plenty of time to go and catch pokemon on our phones. I’m not belittling these things. I want time to do that, but I need to make more time for reading. I think audiobooks are a great solution to this. I’m going on a very long drive tomorrow and I’ve got a few books lined up for my travels. I’m going to finally check out Ernest Cline’s second novel Armada and I have Z for Zachariah to listen to after watching the film earlier this week. However, I should also try to get in some reading before I go to sleep at night.

4. Exercise.

I’m terrible at this. Short of walking, I don’t do nearly enough exercise. This will be really difficult for me. I don’t want to run – I might break something. I don’t want to go to the gym – it’s full of sweaty strangers. I love what Jennifer Michael Hecht said about treadmills being a metaphor for effort going nowhere. You should check out her book The Happiness Myth. She eloquently discusses the collision of ideas surrounding happiness. How can a culture complain of an overweight epidemic and at the same time invent escalators?  Anyway, I digressed, as always. My solution is to get a bike. I used to have a bike when I lived on Cape Cod and I must have cycled miles everyday. I felt good. I want to try and recreate that. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

5. Social Events

I’m a massive introvert. If I had it my way I’d lock myself away and not see anybody for weeks at a time. I’m happy with my music, books, movies and video games and they make fantastic friends. I realise that this isn’t very healthy and that I actually really love the real life friends that I have and that I do want to see more of them. I want to make more of an effort to put things together. I talk about podcasting with some friends, but we never really get round to it. I want to do classic movie nights, board game days, video game competitions and vegan dinner parties. I want to do some road laying (best not to ask – it’s not dirty), do some long hikes and generally just spend some quality time with the very select friends that I have. This is increasingly difficult because people have these lives that they’re always leading, but we need to work something out.

So, summer life goals. I suppose. I’ll be getting started straight away. One final note – I wanted to make it clear that I’ll be hopefully posting here quite a lot about anything that comes to mind. A virtual diary. A space to put all of the stuff that floats around my brain. I’ll hopefully post some sections from my novel on here over the summer as well. I’m off to Scotland tomorrow to see some very good friends. I’ll post on my return. Do check out the ‘About’ section at the top which I also filled out this morning. Yes, the title of this blog is a reference to The Promise Ring song. You are clever.

Be well, be reckless,

Sx