Negotiations and Love Songs

Really, this shouldn’t be being written, I should be getting ready to go away for some much-needed time off, except this week’s thrown up a lot of moments where my plans going forward have altered in both scope and significance. As a result, there is something that needs to be said before I go away: belief in yourself is, undoubtedly a part of the deal with ambition that never gets talked about enough.

I mentioned on Wednesday that I had an evening class/workshop that was being looked forward to, and it transpires that there was a lot more to the evening than I had initially envisioned. It was so successful, in fact, that if the organisation answers my email because I can’t find a link on their website,  a monthly amount  will be thrown down to go do more interesting things on Wednesday evenings in the future.

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You have to be careful when people are being paid to be nice to you, of course, that their affirmations and responses can be somewhat tainted by the fact that if they’re honest with you, that might not be the answer that you want to hear. Wednesday night, undoubtedly, can be seen in two distinct lights. It was in parts an enormous ego boost. In other parts it was a testament to how far I’ve come as a person.

Somewhere in the middle was a set of writing exercises, the opportunity to just think about writing and not worry about chores or demands from others. That was perhaps the most important thing of all, at the end of the day. Whatever else may emerge from the experience, I held my own with a group of people whose only experience of me was that session. I didn’t fuck anything up. That’s a massive bonus.

The truth of the evening’s success therefore can be distilled from these parts.

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It is a foolish woman who does not learn from everything that is thrown at her. Sometimes, undoubtedly, that takes some time to either register or absorb, but in the end being critical of your own actions is one of the most important life skills that can ever be learnt. Better is the state we all should be striving for regardless of whatever anybody else says needs to be done. Being successful does not mean you can be selfish.

The arrogance I see from those who clearly feel that success has granted them some kind of absolution from improvement is the most difficult part of a life online. How I’m choosing to deal with that is twofold: life the best life possible, whilst simultaneously maintaining healthy levels of cynicism and realism. It all works fine if internal balance is maintained, and that’s the plan moving forward.

Any true path to enlightenment, let’s face facts, is never going to be an easy one.

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.

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.


 

The Slightest Touch

How did January change your outlook on life?

Thirty-one days feels like about three months, looking back on what I achieved: nearly thirty-nine hours of exercise. Thirteen thousand calories burnt. Every day, even when I curled up in a ball and cried, there was still work done. I’ve completed the first portion of Mental health Champion training. Eight separate literary submissions. Significant developments in my personal ability to cope plus maintain momentum and progress.

All of this did not happen by magic.

Undoubtedly, progress came from adversity: my unexpected tooth extraction (which is still not 100% healed, and will be addressed next week) wasn’t where this all started. We have to go back to the ultimatum from my Doctor (or rather the head Practice Nurse) to change my diet and lifestyle. I tucked into my first pizza last night for what was probably four months plus. It was lovely, but I’m not sad to go back to training tomorrow.

You see, for a long time there was never really an acceptance of my own shortcomings in some key areas. Once that happened, and pressure was on to lose weight not for vanity or appearance but to improve my health, a lot of stuff stopped mattering. It helps that I know what’s been causing mental instability for years. It’s also useful to know how that can sometimes unexpectedly manifest. All of this is about learning.

In January, I finally learnt to accept what I really am.

Now therefore it is all about using this month as a foundation to build something fundamentally stronger and more attractive: that’s a subjective word to use in this context, but there are reasons for doing so. I know what I like, and what looks attractive to me. So, therefore, it is time to share that with a wider audience. This isn’t about me either, but things that are around me: how I see and make the world.

Other people may not agree with my ideas: this is something I’m used to. However, if true creativity is going to be released and expanded upon, that’s an obvious content of sharing work on a wider stage. It’s not about being liked, but appreciated. It’s trying to make others see the ideas I’m trying to build from using words and imagery. Honestly it doesn’t matter about anything else except that process.

This is about art created for the first time ever exactly as I see fit.

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I learnt a lot about myself this month, that’s for sure. The direction of my poetry is changing. Short stories are about to become a far bigger deal than they were, and novels need far more love than they are getting. On top of all of this, however, there’s a resilience that never existed until this moment right now, and it is time to make the most of every moment presented to me.

That’s still something that needs work on, if truth be told.

[PS: as part of this process, I’ve realised that EX/WHI will need a bit longer to get up to date than I’d originally anticipated: therefore it’ll be back next Friday then every other one going forward until I can build up some momentum with the narrative. Again, its finding time, and that is getting progressively easier.]