School’s Out

Here’s a thing. I’m off to what I suppose should be referred to as an Evening Class tonight, and am rather excited at the prospect.

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I wish there were more money to be able to do stuff like this with greater frequency, but it’s just not practical, when a London-based course could cost the equivalent of the monthly food budget. I’m already saving as it is for Mslexicon this year, and that means making some harsh decisions in the next couple of weeks as how everything is funded. I’m already making all the savings possible to let this happen.

However, there is an ulterior motive to doing a couple of hours on the High Street tonight: this venue has an open mic in two weeks, which will be a perfect opportunity in which to take some problematic poetry with me for performance later in the year. It also gives me a focus for the two days writing time I’ve booked at the local Arts Collective next month, as part of the county’s Book Festival.

It allows an opportunity to extend experience to other places.

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All of these venues are on my doorstep, so travel costs are minimal: the two day ‘hot desk’ opportunity is free as well, so I would have been very remiss to have not taken that one up. More importantly than that, of course, the capacity for networking exceeds all other benefits: if you want to be know, you do unfortunately have to put yourself about, and until I gain Banksy levels of notoriety, that’s a given.

It’s the part of this job description I’ve always struggled with, with social anxiety always there as a reminder that you’re never as prepared as you think is enough. However, each time something like this happens, undoubtedly things get easier. That whole thing about practice isn’t just restricted to exercise, after all. Doing something every day has considerable benefit in both brain and body.

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I have a t-shirt for the evening all picked. I will take something pre-written as a starting point to improve. I’ve packed business cards and favourite pencils. All that needs to happen now is to get through the rest of the day unscathed and this will be the first of a number of small rewards, to myself, for distinctive progress made. After all, even the most hardened of professionals benefits from some quality ‘them’ time.

I’ll report on the evening Friday, via a blog.

Leaders of the Free World

This week, a major part of my February output has changed. For this month’s Big Submission [TM] the plan originally had been to repurpose what is, in my heart, the more personal set of poems from a selection of three possible entries. Except, there’s been a bit of a lightbulb moment after a week of staring at stuff with no real idea of how I can rebuild those moments, in some cases from scratch.

So, on Monday, time made me walk away and re-approach a selection that… well, is emotionally quite difficult to read. It was the sense of dread this collection radiated that had kept it untouched for some time, but in terms of salvageability and improvement, this was the best bet. My third selection has neither cohesion or narrative flow and needs to be completely reconstructed.

Instead, this was the better bet.

It was hard work. I’ve cried more in the last 48 hours than has been the case for weeks. Mentally, I am exhausted, but what now exists is a piece of work that I am genuinely very proud of. More importantly, this is the piece that, regardless of what other people decide, will see the light of day in some form as a printed work before the year is out. Self-publishing, on whatever format, will happen in 2020.

It also puts into stark relief exactly how much work has been done in the last year or so, and how little grasp there is of what exists and in what form. I’ve taken the step this morning of archiving the key files off to backups in two seperate locations, not just on my hard drive. You can never be too careful, after all. Then, there really needs to be some time to sort out exactly what has been stuffed where.

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There’s an early Spring Clean coming, I think, a lot to do with this recent outpouring of emotional pressure. Many things can now be thrown away, for good, no longer required to move pace of my progress forward. They were, it occurs to me now, simply support structures anyway. Now I’m confident and comfortable enough to stand alone, none of it is required any longer. I can move forward, considerably lighter.

This really is the best work I have ever written.

2020 Week Six Poetry: Defend

Stream of consciousness poetry is very useful, but can ultimately become frustrating if you charge off down a dead end with no idea how to get back to where you began. There’s a bit of that in this, it must be said, but a lot more of the hangover from going full-on physically last month. None of the poetry I’ve written in this style thus far is wasted, when all is said and done, but this is not a particularly stand-out piece.

However, I can see a time when I might come and steal some of the moments from this and repurpose them for other ends. In that regard, playing word association football with a subject matter has definite mileage as means for kick-starting my brain.

Might do some love poetry next week, as I’m off FOR AN ACTUAL POETRY WORKSHOP on Wednesday: more on that tomorrow…


Defend

Strike forward, neophyte, heed drum’s hypnotic heart refrain: before us enemy entrenched, resistance obvious, sustained.

Clarion call, weaponised obstruction dismantled, opposition routed, positions reversed; push headlong, together stronger.

War room’s fighting, dominance descending, shove armies where sons line breaks, overrun; full retreat summarily complete.

Tide turning, Testudo formation; defend attacked, have their shield, battle’s two-step reinforcing conditions, ultimate confrontation.

Our metaphors, constant engagement; kinship beyond borders, only existence worth enmity’s peace, little death exhaled, repeats.


EX/WHI :: Part 23

Previous Part :: Next Part


Arrival Plus One

The night before they won, she realised that nothing would ever be the same again.

Lying awake, Ami watches the man sleeping next to her on his own camp-bed with a mixture of disbelief and reassurance. He’s just as scared as I am, when all is said and done. At least now there’s no embarrassment or worry admitting that in public. Chris and her had talked for several hours after dinner was done, until their plates and uneaten food had vanished from in front of them. It had been taken as a prompt that their ‘captors’ wanted them in beds, a second one having been provided next to that which they’d both slept in previously.

She’d woken as was nearly always the case when her internal body clock hit 7am, to find that their world had been significantly reduced in size and depth: their note-taking space remained but new dividers had appeared: a single sofa and table, plus chairs were shifted against one wall, with what were clearly washing cubicles added opposite. It should worry her that nothing was constant any more but instead Ami’s brain is surprisingly willing to accommodate alteration.

Today is when we are to be tested. Chris had been surprisingly frank on her return from the bathroom: they were both now comfortable with the alien presences that had manifested within them, enough joint sanctity to be confident that this experiment, in whatever form, would be no different from a planned training operation. That meant at some point they’d be provided with equipment: as the thought manifests, so do two large wooden crates at the bottom of each bed.

Now she’s up, looking through what is being provided: fresh clothing and food, no new shoes or backpacks, so they’ll be expected to reuse what was provided yesterday. Chris is stirring and she takes it as a prompt, out of bed and into one of the two cubicles where towels hang next to a shower unit that switches on the moment she’s naked. There’s no need for temperature control either, water just pleasantly hot enough as to not be scalding but damn close, and Ami smiles to herself.

My captors have thought of everything.

There’s no fear either that her partner might take a leaf out of a fictional secret agent’s play-book and come join her: he might be built like 007, but Special Agent Chambers possesses considerably more respect for her than James Bond ever did for his partners.

He’s now also awake and showering…


Previous Part :: Next Part

 

Walk Away

I finished the last portion of my formal Mental Health Champion training at the end of January, but all of that ended up being overshadowed by RED January Fundraising for Mind. At the end of the month, exhaustion was real. It’s taken a week to get everything back to something approaching normal: during that time it became apparent that this year, I wasn’t really comfortable contributing publicly to Time to Talk Day.

That came as more relief than surprise, if truth be told.

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The last couple of years this date in February has been marked by me trying to be honest about my own mental health journey. Last year however, a lot of the perceptions that personally existed around those feelings was quite significantly altered by counselling. It’s taken this long to really begin the process of unpacking all of the baggage that’s been trailing behind me, in some cases for my entire adult life.

I’d even planned to try and get out to support an actual, real-world event this week, but when it came down to the day something else came up. It too was mental health related, and I made a decision: this was the moment to do my talking elsewhere and not online. It’s a measure of how faith in my own ability has improved in the last twelve months that this was automatically the place that it made more sense to be.

It’s also cemented my desire to become a Mental Health First Aider.

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The course is not cheap and I suspect it will take me time to save, then it’s about finding the right time and location in which to take part. However, as I got so much from the MHF’s Mindfulness course when I first took it (you’ll find the details here) that it seems the logical extension from that initial process to pursue. It’s also a decent bet that my lived experience of mental health issues will become useful in training.

However, as a result of this revelation I have provided information to Mind which means that, at some point in the future, I may be called upon for interviews with the media. This might seem odd considering what has just taken place, but there is method in the madness. I am happy being interviewed, and a fair amount of front-facing public work will be taking place via the reading of poetry.

If I can read poetry to an audience, I can talk about mental health to others.

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The difference, I now realise, about contributing this year was literal exhaustion. I need to be both physically and mentally awake to do the job justice. Yet again, all of this is a bigger process, learning and expanding my remits across multiple spheres. As confidence and ability increase, so does the capacity to do good and help wherever the need arises. I like this new me, so much better than the person I was before.

There is new purpose I fully intend to learn from going forward.

January Short Story: Detach

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during January 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Detach

I’m conscious, but sideways. This isn’t my bed either, but that’s less of a worry than the fact a red frog on my left foot is laughing, really shaking with unrestrained, uncontrolled mirth.

I’m glad somebody’s having a good time. Friday was disturbing, yesterday too… but this? It takes far too long to work out why I’m horizontal and not vertical. My body is affixed to some kind of wooden plank… not one, but many. A miniature rope bridge beneath my body; moving as I do, except hands and feet are tied.

The frog’s been joined by a mate, but he’s blue.

Red and blue are default safety colours. An entire simulation’s attempting to push me out of it, knowing heart-rate will have exceeded the safe limits for immersion but truthfully, at this point, being panicked ‘in here’ is far preferable that anything ‘out there’ could provide. Except this is the calmest I’ve felt since my employers insisted a break was needed. It’s because of their insistence that negative energy was emanating from both mind and body that I’m here, lying inside a VR Detox Unit… which means it’s returned to the starting position…

I should be vertical, was before consciousness was lost… as everything prior to now comes back, literal slap to the head. My VR helmet detaches without warning, reality suddenly replacing the Amazon rainforest. This unit’s door swings open, power suddenly cut. Something’s wrong. Part of my brain wonders if this is another simulation; maybe I’m being tested by concerned employers. Was that drop in productivity last month real, not an attempt to slack off…? Yup, body still aches in a way that I doubt any virtual application could ever grasp or reproduce.

I’m not fooled by visual stimulus. There’s time taken to understand what is truly felt and understood, without invasive influence from other opinions or circumstance. Everybody else in my department swallowed their lies and deceptions, but not me. That’s the real reason I’m here. Being told every day you’re not working hard enough, that targets are not being made when you know that’s not true is doublespeak, misdirection. My productivity steadily increased in six months, and I’m exhausted as a result; top of the outputters by quite some distance, but at a price.

In the distance there’s an alarm, muted but insistent. That, unmistakably, remains the smell of burning electrical wiring and it is high time to ignore operating protocols; releasing myself from the unit, it’s time to work out what the actual fuck has happened since I came here. The technician that should be outside is absent: nobody in the reception area either, and I’m suddenly reminded of the zombie apocalypse media that was so popular at the start of this century.

If those people had only known it wasn’t humanity that would become contaminated first.

Billions of tonnes of plastics, dragged down by currents into the oceans where nobody had ever explored: science knew more about the Moon than had ever been collected in those trenches or continental shelves. Far beneath us, ancient species began to evolve at frightening rates… That thought extinct, fuelled by fallen bodies of their ancestors began to rise, consuming everything else in the oceans. Humanity almost didn’t work out what was going on until it was too late: suddenly global warming and pollution were the least of our issues. We’d become food.

The Behemoth War altered everything, redefining middle of the 21st century before placing humanity on a far less destructive path. Forty years on, I wonder if this is the same, visceral fear my grandfather would have experienced when he registered everything had changed, forever. He’d been on first passenger ferry to be attacked by a Behemoth in British waters: one of only six survivors. He’d played dead in the water; perhaps I should do the same. Except the temperature’s increasing in here, smell of burning now considerably more pronounced. Time to go.

There’s an emergency door, behind the VR Suite, opposite pods. Normally this place would be packed on a Saturday, kids and adults lining up to play and indulge. I’d come here because an ultimatum had been delivered: recover from last blood donation. You’re giving again on Monday. With tensions so high across the country, automated facilities were being avoided for quite sensible reasons. My employers are 95% AI, continue to believe they’re no part of this issue, especially as their unique branch of medicine remains vital to humanity’s continued survival.

There is no need to panic: locate the exit, use ID to open it. Sorted. What I’m not expecting is to emerge outside: this cuboid structure is housed in a giant warehouse estate: half the other units have smoke issuing from somewhere, one clearly on fire. But where are the people? I’d expected a ‘Revolution’ to have far more noise and anger: where are the human beings wielding planks and metal poles, systematically destroying technology they say obliterates Humanity’s way of life? If the AI had seized power, setting fire to these places made perfect sense.

Maybe my employers decided to test fealty and this remains a simulation: trying not to run down the fire escape, this all seems worryingly real. There are ways to check, of course, but not until I’m at ground level and 100% confident I can make it out of the estate with ease… Swiping across left arm brings up nothing, pressing fingers to temples results in no heads up display. There’s a health chip in my wrist, accessed with a press, bringing up emergency contact details when adjacent to a terminal…

“I have been sent here as assistance, Alex Bishop.”

The Biped Rover stands as I turn around, holding something in upper grips that it takes me a moment to recognise, before clothes are shed without a thought. I should be bothered being naked in front of a robot, but as it’s here to save my life pointless embarrassment is forgotten.

Emergency HazMat suit self seals, oxygen immediately flooding a helmet that’s quickly taking stock of all my vital signs as left wrist sensor vibrates into life. Definitely no longer a simulation, Alex. This, whatever it is, became extremely real incredibly fast. Now, I’m scared.

“Your adrenaline levels indicate increased stress, which under current circumstances is understandable. This LLE has been programmed, offering transport to a place of safety. Please board the unit as soon as possible as area is increasingly dangerous for tissue-based lifeforms.”

As I climb into the LLE’s only seat, am belted into place, I think maybe the AI got attacked here by something a little more sophisticated than wood and metal. I’m a tissue-based life form. This Unit’s a Low Level Electronic life form capable of basic, autonomous decision-making. Somewhere in the last year it stopped being woman and machine. Now everything created equal is deemed sacred; inevitable consequence of humanity needing to skip some ethical questions, in order to defeat giant monsters our own arrogance with chemical compounds initially created.

If Grandad had not survived the Holyhead Massacre, he’d have never been DNA tested for water-borne pathogen resistance. They’d never have discovered that 5% of the modified population had natural immunity to poisonous, petroleum derived substances all Behemoths spewed as weapons. Massive ingestion of plastics altered them just as it played about with genetically modified DNA. Grandad Pete didn’t drop dead from a congenital heart defect, and those early Genetic Engineers didn’t factor in how petroleum might spontaneously mutate tissue across generations.

‘Take a break,’ they said. ‘Get away from it all,’ they said. This is absolutely NOT what I had in mind, but suddenly complaint seems… well, missing the point of my experience… this wasn’t about relaxation, in the end, but enlightenment, personal importance suitably reinforced. Emerging from the warehouse dome, Sheffield is on fire. Waiting for us are a dozen Rovers, all armed, and I’m rerunning a news broadcast from yesterday in my head. Paris in flames, humans attacking robots which didn’t fight back but yet might. It wasn’t just an isolated incident.

I choose to take a side, protected by AI employers, not humans who begged me to ignore them. I finally detach emotion from the question of what ‘life’ really means.

Beneath this skin, fused to bone beats a 100% artificial heart they provided to save my life: making us the same.


 

2020 Week Five Poetry: Embrace the Unknown

This one’s had one word changed from online publication to archive. Just the one, otherwise I’m well pleased with the result. No over egging the pudding either, forget all those flowery epithets, they are for another’s poetry this week and absolutely not mine. Sometimes I feel like going off on an explanation safari, but this is perfect just as it is.

Occasionally, you just do good work.


Embrace the Unknown

Darkness; emotion orbits vast unmapped despair, silence empty, cold witness shares: countless satellites, recollection of rhymes past, decaying paths outlast.

Atoms attract, circling wholes unfilled, potential friction, agitating excitement; life’s spark, undefinable brilliance, light into shadow increasing potential.

Primal forces, tectonics shift multiple planes, dimensions reconstructed; terraformed canvas, nature’s palette shades new subtleties, depth opening, breadth steady.

Cellular reorganisation, division towards unity, germination wresting power: soil, sky and liquid’s constant fall; blank canvas growing green, brown to blue.

New world made, yours: myriad possibilities, virgin landscape sprawls untouched, inviting hope, embracing unknown creation; all life at last.