A balmy heat clung to the air as the blazing sun beat down mercilessly. The treetops swam in hazy vibrations against the clear sky as they silently listened to the cicadas that assembled their choir.
She stepped out of the hut, adjusting the weathered straw hat on her wild head, and fell onto the nearby chair that had been roughly carved from old white oak. From the folds in her worn garments she drew the ornately crafted pipe, still filled with the bits of burned leaf she had been smoking that morning. It would still hold some flavour. She could still make a strong heady pull from the herbs that had been crushed in the barrel. At the snap of her fingers a single spark formed, and landed inside the chamber. The dry, yet aromatic blend lit up magically to release whispy smoke tendrils that lazily drifted upward.
The witch reclined against the chair, pushing it back to balance on the bottom edge as she inhaled deeply. She blew out a large puff of white smog that evanasced and coalesced in front of her. The smoke hung formless for a moment, until it morphed into a mockingbird. The ghostly critter flitted swiftly around her, until it flew out over the small clearing to dissipate into the ether. It was a simple spell, but one that gave her a small inkling of delight.
Finding a woman smoking a pipe, she had found, was as uncommon as finding a clever wizard. She was sure there were bound to be some of them out there, but she had yet to meet one. The fine object merchant from whom she had stolen the pipe was a particularly good example. He had a treasure trove of valuable magical trinkets at his disposable, but he knew little of their power… she could tell. The concealment spells over his cart had been shoddy to say the least, and had fairly allotted him the label of being a cheap conjurer of tricks. At least, in her own mind. But the visit had nontheless proven profitable to her surprise…
From hidden whispers exchanged with a cloaked wanderer – a strange figure, seething with a hidden power – she overheard that a large band of marauders had come down from the mountains to wreak havoc on a small town situated on a river inlet about 25 leagues east. The attack was preemptive, it had seemed. Just a fortnight before, they had already raided the winter stockpiles of the village. But the violence had been fairly idle compared to their second visit. In fact, they had moved beyond the mountainfoot, traversing deep into the forest that surrounded that border. The same forest where she had made her own home…
The rushed journey back had taken here more than a day, but she returned to her hovel to find that they had indeed passed through, as she had suspected. The hut had been loosely, yet recklessly scavenged. Broken pottery and jars lined the floor, mixed with the contents they had once held. What remained of her own food had been ransacked, and the potion she had been brewing had been spilled over the floor, with the tipped cauldron having rolled to the far corner.
Mild irritations. She was perhaps more surprised that the extent of damage was not worse. They were clearly in a rush… no time in dealing with the trifle that was a small recluse’s home containing a sparse amount of possesions.
Her mind was drawn back from the memory as she felt her leg brush against something soft. She looked down, and then balanced the chair to pick up her familiar. What was he doing outside? The cat’s pelt was a ruffled tangle of fur, wildly caked with mud and thistle. The little shapeshifter had been through quite the ordeal since her departure. The unwelcome visitors had been an unsettling presence. She crooned the poor creature as it laid there on her lap, noticing the hoarse, husky whisper of her own voice as she caressed its body and spoke to it. She really did sound like an old crone… It appears as if she was owning up to the myths held by the villagers…
Perhaps she would smoke less. Or not. She was sure her hateful screaming the night prior at the discovery of the invasion more than sufficed as explanation for her low-pitched, grating voice.
As the last of the flavour disappeared from the pipe end, she stood up and stared for a moment at the clearing. It was only a matter of time… A strand of hair from her autumn head loosened itself from under her hat to drift in the dry breeze that sailed through the clearing. Her youthful body ached with weariness, but was charged with the resolve of setting off an altogether different adventure as to the one she had returned from. She smirked at the irony. Her appearance betrayed her. Her soul was every bit as weary as the guise of the old woman she took…
She entered her dark hovel, brushing the single lock of her hair behind her ear as she took off the straw titfer. The witch took one final look at her familiar, as its beady aureate eyes still shone with a lively fire. Carefully, she placed the stiff body of the creature on the mantle of her fireplace. The petrification spell had worked well, she thought. It would definitely keep Death’s devices at bay, until she could revive its soul. But she needed to steal the essence of another first.
She knew what had to be done. And despite the call of rest, she was eager to exact her toll on the murderous barbarians that had defiled her land. A life of a familiar was no paltry price. Blood was due.
Besides… one of them had taken something precious from her. A powerful artifact not meant for foolish brutes. And she had every intention of retrieving it…
The whip cracked against the large back of the gladiator, nearly causing him to drop the heavy wooden beam he was shouldering to the excavation site.
“Faster!” The overseer was spitting his commands in ruthless succession… His hand must have ached with the lashes he dealt to the throng of exhausted labourers. That frail little wrist that could snap with a mere motion of the warrior’s own large, calloused hands. And the gnat’s little neck would snap just as easily…
But he needed to lay such fantasies to rest. He could not entertain them, not now. Not when he was so close to securing an escape. His size and raw power would be more than enough to take down a sizable amount of the slavers, but scores of them lined the digging grounds. The footmen on the borders would surely strike him down with their numbers, if they descended in a coordinated subjugation of his revolt. He could not risk it, even as the bloodlust was rising dangerously within him.
“Faster, dog!” The word had become a vexing little noise as it taunted the daily routine of his toil. Like a reminiscent hammer beat, the order tempered his patience. In the past, any who dared undermine him so would be put down by his warclub or fist. But in this place, he had quickly come to regret such an uprise. The scar to his eye attested to that. He was a proud fighter, but by no means a fool.
So he was compliant. As long as he needed to be. He repositioned the beam and picked up his pace. The loads of cargo that had arrived were heavier of late, and he could feel his tired shoulders burn from the exertion. His skin was grinded raw by the rough wood as it shifted balance. Others had long since succumbed to the struggles demanded of their labour. Of the entourage that had arrived with him, few remained; they had long since been replaced by fresh muscle that lent their youthful vigour for the cause.
The watchtower was a huge and cumbersome structure. It rose like a dark monsrosity, blotting the sun as one stood in the shadow of the stronghold. The construction of it had taken months, built on the foundation of the sweat, blood and souls of the many who had worked themselves to death on the crude stone giant that was raised from the floor. And as it grew higher, it took more scaffolds and support beams to steady the working platforms and hoisting mechanisms that made the large stonework reach the heavens. If it was meant to be imposing, then the Crown had succeeded in funding the lone sentinel that stood watch over the borderlands. The building thereof was a move of strategy, as it was resourceful by happenstance.
As the ground had been turned for the laying of the foundation, a labourer had stumbled upon a shard of a mysterious substance, gleaming in the first rockbed to be tilled from the earth. He had hidden the precious metal amongst his rags, hoping to sell it at the black port, reputed for its passage given to deserters and criminals. He never made it that far. The next day, with him missing, his entire regimen had been reassigned to the stone quarries for the extraction of the large stones that would form the steep walls and battlements of the tower. The man had been part of the gladiator’s own group, and they had not returned to the borderlands until a strong militant force was present to keep vigil, along with the foundational stones already laid for the building of the fortress. And cordoned off apart from the tower, was the excavation site. It was not manned by their own people – a strong message of the distrust maintained toward the foreign captives that they had enslaved for the hard drudgery and manual labour.
But his party had returned on occasion. Word of the precious mineral most likely traveled through seedy channels, and the overseers had dispatched them to act as a disposable assault force to drive invaders from those lands. That was until, they established their foothold in the region. Effectively, no longer being needed, his group had been stripped of their weapons, and handed the ropes instead that would pull stone and lumber many leagues to erect the monumental structure
He preferred the fighting pits. There at least, a warrior could die a death more honourable than this grinding slavery; a pitiful end met by dehydration, exhaustion, or accident. In the bloody gladiatorial grounds, a warrior knew his purpose – even if he was enthrall to the greedy masters who owned them. In the fighting ring, a proud warrior was not subjected to the constant repertoire of barking orders from weak men who would be crumpled by one deft swing of his mace.
He needed to cease giving audience to these thoughts…
He reached the foot of the tower and set the beam against the bulwark. Soon, he thought. Soon he would escape his wretched captivity, and see to it that his weapon become slick with blood on the battlefield. A field where he would command once more the vast force of the united clans that would see to the fall of this blasted kingdom. He would then tear down this stronghold, brick by brick, until nothing was left but… …
His train of thought was broken as he heard a low horn sounding off from within the valley. Few turned to the noise of the sudden blow that had broken the tempo of heaving and grinding stonework. Most toiled on, unmindful of the faint sound. Until a second horn blared from right above them on the wooden scaffolds from atop the tower. The significance of this became worthy of note as the gladiator heard the sound of cracking whips cease almost instantaneously, drawing his gaze to land on the overseers who stared toward the valley in perplexed uncertainty. At that moment, the horn sounded again. This time, a succesive series of blasts travelled across the plain of slaves to be met with yells from the militia who broke their guard. Lines of soldiers who idly stood watch now rushed to the call of echoing warhorns that sounded off across the leagues of the clearing filled with labourers, helots and soldiers; all but halted in their tasks.
Chaos broke loose as guardsman broke ranks, and as the groups of slaves were driven to file in haphazard lines of evacuation to leave the building site and the materials that they had manned. Soldiers were rushing to the valley’s edge in squadrons, hardly paying any heed to the hundreds that had dropped their payloads to stare out across the flat basin from whence the first horn repeated its warning call in broken blares that seemed to sputter on every blast. So… they were under attack.
He caught himself frozen in place, eyes locked on the horizon over which the lone scout had ridden as he repeatedly sent forth a cracked clarion call to warn the outpost of an approaching danger. Attacks weren’t uncommon in this area. The land and its newly unearthed minerals had attracted the attention of many unsavoury bands of rogues that roamed the surrounding counties. Entire tribes of them had also sent forth paltry armies to cut into the flanks of the armed border post. Horns had been sounded before. Threats had been dealt with. But this… There was an unsettling desperation about those blasts that yielded impatient shouts and curses from the emerging commanders and captains that now snaked through the broken ranks of troops having formed at the edge of the embankment.
The river that had once flowed at the bottom had run dry as per the arrival of the dry season. The cracked earth made easy passage into the valley for scouts to survey the surrounding area. It was unfortunate though, that the natural barrier of the waters was now removed for the sake of enroaching attackers as well.
The gladiator caught sight of the overseer from the corner of his eye, as the puny man motioned forward in his tentative curiosity. The man had all but forgotten his mistreatment of the builders as he stared to the other edge where the hilltop rose. The overseer was truly nothing more than a scrawny pup. Easily half the size of the gladiator’s own striking bulk. Once more, vengeful thoughts flooded his mind as he towered over the small whipmaster. So effortless it would be, to just reach out… to end the boisterous little cur….
As the overseer’s eyes widened, and the colour drained from his face to leave a ghostly pallor, the warrior broke from his reverie and followed the gaze of the pathetic mongrel to fall on the now-shifting horizon. There were a few of them at first: ragtag stragglers that ran ahead of the rising dust that had begun to blot the lower part of the sky. And then a score followed. Their jetblack hides were blurring dark blots as it blitzed down into valley; supine bodies that twisted and contorted unnaturally as they descended. As they ran closer, he made out the grotesque bending of twisted, backward limbs ending in elongated razor-like claws that tore into the earth. It ripped open the tough bedrock, ravaging the ground in its wake. The ungodly speed of the ghouls quickly sparked unrest among the frontline defenders that had formed at the gates of the stronghold.
The warrior too, was given pause; stricken with the malady of his own horror at these faceless foes that silently raced toward the scout. The hapless wretch had not crossed nearly half of the distance to the embankment. One demon pounded mercilessly in pursuit, right on their heels, and leapt…
Horse and rider were split in half as blade-like appendages slashed through bone, nerve and muscle. The bloody remains were dragged in lieu of the unrelenting black creature that charged forward in an unbroken stride with the others. Panic ensued as soldiers abandoned their line in mutiny to the ragged and hoarse commands of veteran captains that had stared in horror at the gruesome slaughter of the valley rider. Others, armed to the teeth, raised shaking shields to the uncoming threat – a threat that most were unsure they could likely survive.
The rest who witnessed the dreaded scene were not as brave. Disorder gripped the once structured production lines as the panic spread through the masses. The overseer dropped his whip and started to run as he saw the hellish monsters speed closer; his shouts now shot through with the fear. But the battalion gathered what remained of their resolve, and entrenched themselves in a solid line to break the charge.
And then they heard it. A bone-chilling scream that ended in a hisslike screech resounding across the valley. Atop the jagged farside hill, from whence the demons emerged, was a hooded figure in a dark tattered cloak trailed by midnight. Crooked and bent, it raised one of its gnarled clutches in a gesture toward the outpost… a necromancer. Which meant…
Hordes of the undead broke across the valley mouth in that moment. They advanced in waves, in wake of the demonic terrors that had outrun them. Their impossible numbers kept pouring forth. Horrific nightmares tumbled down the hillside, trampling over their own as their wicked legion hungrily raced forward. This was no attack. This was an invasion… a scourge sent against the living.
The gladiator looked up from the nightmarish distraction, up at the tower they had built, and he wondered whether it was deserving of the staunch defence that assembled itself at its foot. The proud ideals that had surrounded its construction as a beacon of might – as a deterrent to enemies – seemed so meaningless now; now faced against a blight that cared nothing for the megalomania of infant races. But as the warrior looked back on the armour-clad retinue, he had to commend the pious fools for their honour. Even if it would get them killed…
They were hunched over the fire: cutthroats, thieves, rapists… all indulging in the heady brew of strong ale and their winter plunder. The thrall set his eyes on one of them, a hulking brute that tore into the juicy rump of its kill. The warrior’s tusks was glistening from the fat that dripped from the piece of meat he was holding… Every bite into it’s seared, tender, mahogany surface was an audible sensation that would have made his own mouth water…
But that mouth was dry; lips cracked by the fierce cold that had left them stiff and swolen. The hinge of his jaw was shot with an excruciating pain where the savages had struck him with armored knuckles. His thin, frail form was testament to his starvation, incapable of satiating his panging hungers with pleasure. They knew this as they beat him, taunted him… And once they grew weary of the torture, they would leave him nothing but the watered-down meaty broth that was his due…the only thing that could pass his ravaged lips after such abuse to relieve him from his discarded cravings.
Their only mercy to him was the warm pelt thrown over his protuding skeletal shoulders. Not an act of pity, but merely a prolonging of a life that would welcome another day of agony.
He did not care… He desperately accepted the slightest barrier against the blistering cold that made its siege on the mountainside where they made camp. The soft hide with its thick fur was also the only thing that did not augment the throbbing pains of his bruised body. It was perhaps, their only self-serving kindness. Their other captive, was not so fortunate…
Opposite to him in the crude metal cage, was the hunched figure of the unlucky traveller who had ventured too deep into the barbarians’ territory. A mage – so he had heard. Their brutish tongue was difficult to decipher, but he had picked up a few things in his long captivity. Having eavesdropped again, he also took pleasure in distinguishing the details of that hunt. They had found the stranger wandering in the blizzard. The ambush had led to the terrible demise of many of their scouts, as a wave of power had descended upon them, leaving nothing but withered corpses in its destructive wake. The corner of his mouth split open as he smiled at the thought, but he hardly minded. The finest trickle of pleasure, even if tinged with his momentary malice, was more than enough to endure another day of the game they played with his fractured spirit.
The mage was no imposing figure; nowhere close to the size of his captors. He was lean though, and tall. Perhaps more adept at swift and evasive combat than brute force. However, the thrall had no doubt that if the wizard had been alert to the assault, then his attackers would have possibly faced a greater body of threat. He was certain that what the man lacked in the physical strength, he more than made up for in his magical prowess.
A mysterious beauty and vitality still clung to the sorcerer that tinged the slave with envy. But it also made him cautious. He was hesitant to sharing the prison with its new occupant, scared witless even. They beat him for that; punished him for his cowardice and defiance. But the tales of the magi were infamous. In a past life, long ago, a widow’s woeful tales warned of their power. And if one of them sparked fear, then a group would make entire kingdoms quake.
He was consoled by the fact that those same tales did not speak of merciless giants coming down from snowy mountain peaks to wreak havoc on tranquil villages. So perhaps the lifeless form of a spellcaster was not quite so unbearable in comparison. He was sure he had become well acquainted with worse monsters that wandered through this world.
He could not help but wonder at the faction this lost soul’s loyalty was owed to. The mage’s dressing bore no markings of a guild, nor of any crest. Yet the colours of his attire sparked suspicion as to his origins… Was he a maverick?
The wizard’s lids were covered by small, icy shards that had settled on his motionless eyes, sealing them shut as he failed to stir from his comatose state. His fair head hung on the top of his cuirass, ornately engraved with the mystic symbols of the arcane. It was his only armour, aside from greaves inlaid with obsidian arteries that spiraled in unfamiliar patterns. The man was clad in dark, smoky garmets, made even deeper by the dark blue of the large hooded cloak that was partially wrapped about him – the silver trim bearing yet more of the mystical markings that alluded to his craft. His hands lay to his sides, as he was propped in a half-sitting position. Frostbite had long since blackened the tips as they curved inward in a claw-like fashion. In the beckoning midnight hour, the mage’s blue-white complexion, and snow dusted head, gave him a ghostly cast that made the thrall avert his gaze back to the laughing throng gathered by the fire.
The revelry was dying down as the warriors were falling into drunken stupors. Two had already made bed close to the blaze, the fire threatening to lick at the thick furs they wore… Others drifted to and thro from open tent flaps, settling or retiring as the moon kept vigil.
The night would be long. He conserved the bit of warmth afforded to him when he was made to grovel as a lapdog while among the circle seated by the flames, begging for the scraps and leftovers of their gluttonous feast. But as the evening drew on, the fading heat would surely make this a shivering, restless night.
His fate was still better than his fellow prisoner… The thin sheet of ice that covered the harsh floor of the cage had spread to the surface of the mage’s ruffled cloak and sprawled out legs, making him seem as if he was a very part of the icy prison.
He knew not how long he stared at the snowclad boots of the other captive, but felt a sense of unease steadily rising as he lifted his head to level with the wraith-like eyes of the sorcerer, snapped open and fixed upon him…
Startled, the slave knocked his empty watercup with a harsh clang across the floor as he backed up against the metal grating.
Silent and expressionless, the mage was watching him; pinning him down with a chilling gaze that filled him with dread as he cowered deeper into the corner of the small cell. He wrapped the thick pelt tighter against him, as if seeking to protect himself, knowing how pathetic the effort must have seemed. An inaudible whimper escaped his winter scorched throat, deadened even more by the brisk breeze that had swept through the encampment. His fear was not for nought…
The mage’s eyes were obscured by a cold, lucent glow. It cast deep shadows in the hollows of his face, turning him into an icy revenant devoid of any remorse. As it intensified, he turned his gaze to the party of hunters that had all but grown quiet from their copious drinking. The thrall sensed the palpable malice of that deathly stare, aimed at the encampment. He sensed that their jailors would rue the injustice they had wrought… and he would be caught in the throes of that reckoning.
He shrunk even deeper into his corner… He needed to get out! … He felt the bars of the cage dig deep into his back as he sought more distance between him and the caster. But there was no escape, no escape… The air was alive with sparks of unnatural energies, thickening and thrumming in a chatoic coalescence of intricate spellwork…
His resolve shattered as he heard the rigid fingers of the the mage creak open in a twisted gesture that encased a dim, pulsating orb of magic. It flashed in a spectral lustre as cold vapour crept between his fingers to fall to the cagefloor in whispy tendrils that spread hauntingly across its surface. As it touched down, frost formed in haphazard fractals that sped in every direction.
Terror-stricken, the thrall leapt with a failing strength at the barred cagedoor. Numbed by the cold and his fear, his futile efforts availed nothing but the slightest rattle of the heavy metal. Ice had penetrated the lock mechanism, and he could only pleafully scramble at feeling the cold pang of power touch his legs as the spell washed over him.
He stared down forlornly as the sorcery spiraled forth, leaving behind dark and solid crystalline shards with shadowy traces of energy swirling in its depths.
He heard the moisture being drawn from the air as the mage’s spell crept though the bars, enveloping everything in its wake in a desolate frozen shadow and announcing its rampage in a hollow, breathless wail. As it raced toward the edges of the camp, it swallowed the warmth that was cast by the retaliating fire.
He struggled to breathe as the spell left its destructive path void of any air… sucking the essence of all it touched for its dark devices to come to fruition. He tried to utter a scream, a warning… anything to muster the attention of the drunken beasts whose lumbering revelry had left them open to the forces that they had grossly undermined.
The mistlike magicks ghosted onward, until it reached the first of its quarry. It snaked up over the marauder’s haunches, slowly coiling around his body. The icy creepers dragged itself over rapidly stiffening joints. He could see the huge body spasm in the submission to freezing energies that reached for his torso and froze his heart.
The frost doused the fire, snuffing out its embers in its cold fury, and spread to sleepers that would never wake from their slumber. The mage still watched as his spell stealthily spread the sorcerous genocide of his capricious captors, unmindful of the trap they had sprung on themselves.
Darkness settled in deathlike silence over the emcampment as it was transformed into a glacial graveyard; and even the breeze had died down as its breath was stolen by the icy conjurings emanating from the cage.
The thrall doubled over as a lancing pain bit like cold steel into his own heart. Bones threatened to snap as he crumpled into a violently shaking heap. His vision grew dark as the cold embraced him, cutting a numbing swathe through limbs that had long since lost the fight. Perhaps this was another mercy… A release from the pain he had so long endured under the now dead slavers that sought once to make his pain everlasting. His mind slipped deeper, deeper, and deeper into nothingness… and as his heart futilely fluttered with its final beat, he looked over to his angel of death…
A cold end dawned on the dwelling place of the mountain marauders. The snowy flats of the nestled mountainside was left haunted by the perpetual winter that froze the vengeful will of a rogue magician in place… a single pair of tracks leading from the bent metal cage that had meant to keep magic at bay.
She stared at the wreckage of the once proud ship, now impaled by the protuding rocks of the sheer cliffside. It rose like a wall of pikes, awaiting the unfortunate charge of tidal destriers that triumphed over these waters. And here, one of them had made its grave; its life snuffed out in one tragic and disastrous instant. Among the spiked outcroppings of slick black rock, with hull split asunder and deck shattered, the massive wooden corpse lay forlorn to be bleached till the end of days. And already the lapping waves carried its bounty, as flotsam and jetsam drifted hauntingly over a now silent sea. There was no life to these waters, now bleak, smoky and grey with the stolen souls that drifted silently through its depths…
She fumbled with the hazy images of awaking to a darkened cabin. And then the eerie lamentation of a hollow voice that filled the night… until the doom of their ship was heralded by the thunderous crack of floorboards and the spray of icy seawater.
On the deck she had found nothing but chaos. She was welcomed by an unforgiving tempest that battered what remained of her crew with gale-force winds, and pouring rains. She remembered locking eyes with a man swaying precariously in the wake of the storm, looking about him as if he had snapped out of a reverie. His eyes held the glimpse of unspoken terror, as if he knew the cause of this catastrophic offence.
…those fools. Those damn, godforsaken fools! She had no inkling to weeping. Her anger rivaled the storm that she had survived. And beneath the now calm and overcast sky, she stood as the only sentry on the shoreline. A man’s desire will be the ruin of us all.
This was no accident. She turned on her heel. Of it’s own accord, her feet stomped across the wet expanse of sand that lay before her. Except for the tattered rags that still clung to her, she was unscathed by the shipwreck. There was no use in scouring the wreckage. The deeps had long since claimed it’s due. But it had spared some things… She felt a relief at the familiar knock of her scabbard against her thigh. She rested her hand on the pommel of her blade, taking comfort in the cool surface that met her touch.
The seas would not be the only claimant of the damned this day… She too, sought her due.
Momentarily blinded by her rage, she nearly tripped by ways of a stray boot that lay extended across her way. Irritated, she sought to bend down so she could hurl the wretched thing into the water to join its master… until she saw that even he had not retired to the watery grave of his shipmates. The boot was attached to a leg. And the leg, attached to the body of a crewman who lay on his stomach, head turned to the side. Hidden behind a chunk of debris that must have been pivoted to the beachfront with the force of the impact, he lay there motionless. Only then did she see the marks left by a body that had dragged itself over to the spot of its final breath.
She kneeled down ever so slightly. Palor mortis and milky eyes evidenced with one look that he had parted this world and was beyond her aid. Perhaps the last survivor beside herself, he issued his last breath here. But how did he die? No clotted blood stained the sands underneath him, nor did it clung to his corpse. Judging from the furrows in the sand, he was at best exhausted and rattled, as she had been. But surely no closer to death?
The sight of him unsettled her. Life may have left him, but a terror still clung to those eyes that had widened as he met his end; the only clue as to his perplexing fate. And so he had remained. Frightened to death…
She rose from the chilling scene. She left him there, not failing to notice that he had drawn his sword before his untimely end…
She paced back in the direction of the wreckage… before turning to the cliff. She had noticed an opening. Hidden in the wake of a tide pool, the rockface opened in a slight menacing tear that was large enough to suspect a cave. It offered a welcome foreboding as she stood at its mouth, in a pool that had been severed from the sea by the low tide. Come the eve, the cave would likely be flooded as the sea reclaimed it for the night. Perhaps there were others… seeking shelter on the inside.
She waded onto dry sand at the entrance, and steadily motioned into the dank abyss… there was just enough light. Her eyes adjusted to the low ceilinged chamber and swept across the dark floor of the cave mouth for any… …
…there… The uneven walls were deceiving at first. But there, in the corner, she saw something. Propped up against the wall. She edged closer, using the little light that faintly effused through the cave… and then backed away in horror…
She swung around and darted for the opening. There she stood in the dim light as a cold sweat clung to her frame. By some primal device, her sword was already unseathed… and she clenched the handle with white-knucled force. She was panting… if fear had gripped her, she did not have the leisure to entertain it. No admiral’s daughter did. But to see a man’s face slashed like that…
She stopped her thought short as she prodded the ominous feel that had settled around her… something was not right. Her keen eye was drawn to the tidepool that was covered in large dissipating ripples; as if something had only just waded through it. And she had been in the cave chamber for too long to be its cause…
She stepped into the water, and her eyes fell on the tracks that she had left while making her way to the cavemouth… tracks that were now broken by deep wavy furrows; almost as if something had slithered in her wake…
A hollow silence filled the seconds before she heard the splash in the water, and the rush of something blitzing towards her from her blindside with guttural fury…
Instinct guided her blade sideways and up as she slashed the body that lunged from the water. She felt her blade bite into flesh as she ducked and avoided the chitinous claws that swiped through the now empty air where she had been. The creature landed hard on the shallow surface of the pool. The blow was not fatal, but she felt it bite deep… and she knew it would only enrage the siren who now met her steely gaze with its own evil reptilian glare. Those eyes flashed dangerously, augmented only by the rows of dagger-like teeth that was bared at her defiance…
The creature was imposing, she had to admit. She had made it angry. But she was angrier… It was fast, but nothing could escape the reach of a sword that dealt a calculated blow. She just needed to get close enough.
As she stepped forward, a low rising pitch rose from the creature’s mouth like a scornful lamentation. It pierced her ears in its dreadful melody. Its sharp notes cut through the air in off-key tremors that broke like glass against her eardrums. The sirensong…
So this was it. The lure that had baited an entire crew of men; baited their temptations of the flesh with a song that blinded them with their own desires. The operatic display that had run a ship aground and caused nature itself to aid in the destruction. A sound that had left men quaking in the moments before death… Those fools.
But she was no man.
Gathering her resolve, she took another step forward, only to be met by the taunting look of the creature that now seemed to beckon her assault… The tonal shift of its song left her with an eerie dread, as if the fortune that had become her in her moment of reckoning was now being defiled. There was an anticipation there, in the way its amphibious coils shifted position. The song was near deafening…
As she cringed at the heightened pitch, her revenge blow halted, she caught sight of a reflection in the water. A looming shadow that rose behind her in gravelike silence, with pale eyes staring balefully from a ghostlike complexion, as it raised a weapon…
And as she felt the frigid air part by the edge of a blade being swung at her neck, she knew that the sirensong was not meant for her…
Pain. Agony. His torment was sealed in the torn musculature pulled by the cement-like mud through which he waded. The rains had been plentiful. The wetland was a merciless force of torture… dragging his dreary movements two steps back for every one he planted forward. He was swallowed again and again by the sloshy footholds of the bog, sinking and rising irregularly with a land made unsteady by the torrential season.
He stumbled on, falling. Rising. Forward. Unperturbed and unyielding motions. Relentless, yet mind… relenting. His skeletal frame swayed haphazardly as he sought purchase on the peat. This body was no longer his… This vessel was void of the limits of his conscious mind that screamed at the bend of winter-kissed limbs. He knew not from whence the pain pulsed worse; the cold had long since stolen what feeling he had left to distinguish the source. He propelled forward, compelled by the running figure that scrambled desperately to escape him.
Erratically the creature scurried, slowed by the waterlogged maws of the marshy land that was tainted by the heavy fog of foreboding. He could almost feel sorry for it. But his pity was assassinated by the sting of frayed nerve endings, teared and trifled by the icy clench of the flooded land bathed in moonlight. He needed to catch it. This chase had to end… perhaps then, he could releasehimself FROM THIS… …
No sooner had he thawed the thought than his hapless hopes froze amid the last foothold of the hungry land.
There was no release. The shackle had shut.
Finally, his foot found solid ground. The soil was slick with the thin sheet of newly formed ice, opaque with the frozen impurities of this corrupted land. But the firm placement of his worn soles renewed the vigour of the chase. Strange, that he could feel this. Such a conflicting pleasure in his tainted purpose… The purpose to which he was prisoner. His disfigured frame drove hard in the direction of the fleeing prey. He pursued. Hungered, eager, agonising strides brought faster the concealment of this hellish hunt: a curtain drawn by the looming trees that welcomed him – the predator pursuing his prey…
But this was not his chase… He knew, as he shuffled underneath the black willow arches that steadily shrouded the ground, that the menace lay in wait – the grand orchestrator of this ominous eve.
He tried once again. With remaining strength, he willed the unfamiliar body backward, pulling at the last vestige of the vessel that once was his…to no avail.
Blundering paws thundered forward into the darkness. There was no release. He could hear the not-so-distant rustle of the creature; running deeper and deeper into his damnation. The pain propelled him; a lancing sensation that echoed the prodding will of the evil hidden in the enclosing shadows. It shot through him in languishing jolts that conjured a scream falling silent on unmoving lips. But he heard it. In the sanity that remained to him, he heard the suffering of his wretched soul. It did not blind his seeing eyes; it did not halt the weathered husk of his body. It did not make him stop.
…but the sight of terror-struck eyes did.
Awareness returned as his physical woe momentarily subsided. His sights were set on the doomed little soul that stared at him in terror. The rapid beat of its heart was palatable for any predator on the verge of the kill. The fear was a burning beacon threatening to melt the chill that clung to them. Only then, did he realise… he was edging closer. The soul whimpered in a crumpled heap against the rockface that had halted its escape. He could almost hear the poor thing chilling it’s own spine as it dug deeper into the cold smooth surface it was backed against… almost as if he could sink into it, away from this nightmare. This nightmare that was him, and not him.
This, was not his body. He knew as his own shadow bathed the helpless whelp in his menacing form. This was not his will. He knew as his mangled fingers closed around the supple neck to muffle a final tragic wail… He wanted to stop. He knew as his grip tightened around the soft flesh that gave way to unholy strength. Tear-filled eyes stared up at him. And in those deathless innocent pools that were being drained of life, he saw the ghoulish stranger that had overtaken his visage…poised to kill without a glint of remorse.
This was not his body. He knew this as he saw the tainted yellow gleam of another pair of eyes over his shoulder… The eyes of the puppeteer glinting from the reflected depth of the sad, luminous orbs of their victim.
But he was not there. His mind was a mere passenger to the hell of his body’s atrocities. This body, that was not his. The beastly fiend that hulked over its kill, was no longer him. It… was mindless.
…the unwilling pawn of the twisted puppetmaster, with its twisted grin from the shadow… the baleful baron of the black willow bog…
He stumbled amid the shifting obscurity of twisted shadowy boles. His breath was ragged with exhuastion; deep, violent intakes of air bathed his lungs in the suffocating fear of the feverish night. He felt his heart clawing to be released; the rising palpitations unleashing a pounding beast that could no longer be confined by the prison made bone and flesh. They were here, they were coming… How long would he be able to hide within a darkness that was theirs?
Body slamming against a nearby trunk, he felt his laboured breathing blazing a burning path through his chest. His eyes darted up to a hidden night sky, where a faint spectral moonlight emboldened the talons of the infinite forest. Eyes stung at the touch of the terror brew of sweat, blood, tears and grime. Blinking away the unfathomable fear, he looked around to find any escape. Any break between the thick bramble would surely give him a chance. He only… he only needed a chance.
The wood was thick with silent terrors that trod between the trees. No breeze dared wail this night; a night that belonged to them. A night where their dominion was heraled by their own nightmarish howls. He was an intruder. He was the unwelcome guest. His pulse upset the rythm of their unholy symphonies, and they would find him. They would silence him. They were coming…
…They were coming…
He shook off the numbing allure of the dark oblivion of his own thoughts and darted onwards to outrun the enclosing threat. His vision was suffused in the misty haze of an aching head that threatened to steal his awareness. The trees were becoming longer, the spaces between them ever more slight… he was trapped. Trapped like the unsuspecting prey that walks right into the maw of its killer. The pleas of his psyche roared to contest the crescendo of his racing heartbeat. Run you fool… run… Run… RUN… FOR GOD’S SAKE RUN!
He lost his footing.
The hellish root snapped in lieu of nature’s Machiavelian cackle, as it swiped his foot from under his plummeting frame.
The fall punched the hard won purchase of night air right from his lungs, and a pitched ring filled his forlorn mind as all the noise was siphoned from the night. The ring… the ring was maddening. It overwhelmed his senses in his rapid descent into the abyss… a screeching demon yearning for the ruination of all that was left of him. The world closed in around him. Dark tendrils stole his vision ever so slowly as the temporary tinnitus muffled the sounds of his final desperate scramble to survive. The ring… the ring. His sight swam with the dark silhouettes emerging from the shadows. Or were they the shadows? Everything was so indistinct now. The ring, the ring. Nothing remained. Overcome. Overpowered. Overture of death. The ring.
A narrative recall of events now past, that welcomes an indulgence into dreams, desires and days that once was. An enjoyable recollection of the tangible aesthetic of a moment captured in memory. A vivid reflection to the time elapsed in reading the world when it told a different tale.
There are a few facts that I have come to accept about myself…
Granted, calling anything a fact these days is basically akin to inviting a firing squad to pepper you with scrutiny. I gather though, that it is safe to assume that any insights you collect that pertains to the structure of your own personality can safely be labelled a fact – especially if you have spent more than a decade to put the validity of your self-knowledge to the test. I learned once, in developmental psychology, that you are considered an expert in a craft or field if you have spent roughly ten years engaged with the knowledge that underpins it. Well then, I guess at 27 one can at least confidently assume that you can consider yourself quite proficient in navigating your own idiosyncrasies.
What are these facts then? Well, they are the integral parts of the gestalt of deeming myself a wallflower. First, I am an introvert. Quite simply put, it means that I find energy from spending time alone as opposed to being charged by social engagement. Secondly, I am an HSP (a highly sensitive person). Closely related to introversion, but not to be used interchangeably, it means that I am one of roughly one fifth of individuals with a sensitive attunement to the world and that I become more stimulated by vicarious thoughts, feelings and overall experiences. Largely, this is because of a deeper level of processing. Thirdly, I am an idealist. Basically this means I am a dreamer: someone who gets hopelessly lost in the nuances of possibilities, creativity and imagination. As a fourth fact, I am a thinker. Whereas the previous facts may have alluded to this notion, it at best conveyed that I spend time by myself thinking, engaging in the hobby actively to make sense of what I experience – and that this thinking can become imaginative. But being a thinker actually implies that there is a joy found in the very thinking to be done.
So that makes me your average hybrid wallflower composed of recluse Van Gogh, nuanced Emily Dickinson, Shakespearen dreams, and Socratic pondering. They all break bread together 5 minutes before midnight keeping me awake a tad longer, and contemplate the poetic script that will paint my dreamscapes.
Nontheless, they shape my perception of the world, and leave a vivid memory in its wake.
This brings me to the fifth little fact that also boldly leaves its mark on my narrative. Sometimes, when I lay awake to wait for the supper of the greats to retire from the executive parts of my mind back to my unconscious, another uninvited (though always welcome) guest joins the gathering. It is the part of me that is undeniably what I would deem to be: a reminiscer.
And without it, the fabric of being a wallflower just would not appear to be cut from a different cloth…
On the Topic of Reminiscence
Now if you dabble in a bit of psychology, a little light reading in the field of gerontology (a study of old age and the challenges and developments that surround it) will reveal a great interest that has been evident in studying reminiscence since the ideas of a life review in old age was posited by Robert Butler back in 1963. P. T. P. Wong and L. Watt furthered this quaint investigation by seeking to establish the types of reminiscence that is seen in successful ageing.
Instrumental reminiscence looks at the past as a goal-directed continuity that strecthes into the present and holds answers to competent problem-solving.
Transmissive reminiscence (also a storytelling reminiscence) seems to harbour value in tapping into the cultural and traditional wisdoms of the past to inform the future.
Escapist reminiscence discredits the present to elevate the desire for the past and its exagerated value. It is also referred to as a defensive reminiscence to implicate its qualities in helping the indivual cope with present difficulties by applauding the past.
Obsessive reminiscence encompasses the intense rumination over the past in which one is preoccupied with thoughts of guilt and feelings of being unsatisfied.
Narrative reminiscence (also called informative reminiscence) presents itself as a simple recounting of the past to relate facts within the present, seeking to simply describe history instead of interpreting it.
Integrative reminiscence seeks the reconciliation of past events to yield a meaningful and coherent value to the present; it integrates and deeply interprets the spectrum of such events (good or bad) and ties it to an enduring personal process of finding purpose.
I believe that any proud reminiscer can count themselves lucky. The past, and history (to be more encompassing), is a grand scheme from which to make sense of, guide, and even predict present and future behaviour.
It holds an accountability over the problems that humanity has faced and most often created, and in so doing presents a framework of solutions (instrumental reminiscence).
It is a source from which to access proud traditions that allows you to take root in your cultural identity (transmissive reminiscence).
It offers a coping mechanism in the way it archives the pleasant memories of a time that may be in contrast to the present difficulties we face (escapist reminiscence).
It holds the key to tapping into the fount of our present guilt, shame or even trauma which likely shows us the need for healing – because it preoccupies us so (obsessive reminiscence).
It records humanity in all its detail, allowing us the ability to reconstruct key phases in our development (narrative reminiscence)
It helps us find meaning in a past rife with hidden wisdoms – insights that we seek to make part of our own compelling narrative (integrative reminiscence).
The Value of Reminiscence
Now, it all depends on your perspective as to the stance you would take on this matter. Many goal-directed individuals relentlessly busy themselves with the future, and surely have little use in looking back to old ways of thinking, feeling or even behaving. There is no use in applauding old achievements when new ones are to be made. Yet, these same individuals create an amalgamation of anxiety-inducing schedules and deadlines that siphon the joys they may have once held for their trade.
In comparison, those who dwell in past thoughts find great inspiration and encouragement for their present challenges, and even feel a fleeting joy at the longing they feel back to a time that may have seemed more prosperous. History is after all the custodian of all that is human. But these are the same individuals that often wallow in depressive pits because of their yearning to return to the way things were; doubting that they will ever relive those golden moments.
Whatever way you look at it, it feeds into the dichotomy of the feelings that reminiscence inspire (or that drive it in the first place). And perhaps I have lived on both ends of this dichotomy as I reflect back on a time when I felt all was well within my own soul, as it was in the world. Let me take you back into the nostalgic realm of the 90’s…
The Decade of Liberty
Yuval Noah Harari put forth a riveting statement in the first chapter of his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
By the early 1990’s, thinkers and politicians alike hailed “the End of History”, confidently asserting that all the big political and economic questions of the past had been settled, and that the refurbished liberal package of democracy, human rights, free markets and government welfare services remained the only game in town. This package seemed destined to spread around the whole world, overcome all obstacles, erase all national borders and turn humankind into one free global community.
Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons from the 21st Century, Page 11
Now sure enough, in the now tumultuous economic, ecological and socio-political climates that affect our time before the turn of another decade, it does indeed seem that the nostalgic 90’s held a large collection of pipe dreams. And it may well have been seen differently depending on where you were situated. Contextually, not all countries were feeling the momentum of development all at once. But in the wake of those developments that had a global impact, things were indeed coming along. America was a global superpower that managed to end its armed conflicts either diplomatically or without any escalation. In fact, the Clinton administration seemed more focussed on negotiating resolutions rather than fuelling disputes. It was not so much that wars never took place, but they did seem to end – such as the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq or the Black Hawk Down incident which saw the military returning home from Somalia before anyone knew it even became violent. Even the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 seemed to herald the dreams of liberation that could be held in the years to come.
Back in my homeland, South Africa’s political arena was also being cleaned up. The horrors of the Apartheid era gave its final sputtering breath, paving an open road which could be tread by new ideals of freedom and equality. The democratic era welcomed the inclusiveness of the collected strength of a rainbow nation, it celebrated the beauty of diversity, and allowed reconciliation, forgiveness and the building of a new generation that would move beyond the mistakes of the past. And heading this ideal was an icon of tolerenace, forgiveness and leadership in the immortal likes of Nelson Mandela.
Markets surged, the economy boomed, and the job market held enough opportunity to actually see rates of unemployment drop. World peace seemed to steadily ensue as years of conflict between groups of people dwindled away to allow a consideration of more peaceful alternatives. Technology was seeing an unprecedented growth that involved a steady shift in how people were living their lives and spending their free time. Household computers became mainstream by the end of the decade; the internet brought the world into a vast matrix of information and connectivity; and even fields such as film and music started revolutionizing entertainment. Then there was the achievements of science, such as with the launch of the Hubble Space telescope; till this day, it proves itself vital as an astronomical boon and research tool while in low Earth orbit. Institutional dimensions were not only building vertically toward their high-end goals of success and actualisation, but expanding horizontally to become more diverse.
An enduring message seemed to be echoed in the 90’s: a recurrent theme that was shaped by the outcomes of national and international strides toward liberty, democracy, development and creativity. Hope.
Tap into a bit of Eriksonian theory on psycho-social development, and hope is regarded as the enduring virtue in resolving the crisis of developing a basic trust over a mistrust of the world and one’s surroundings. In other words, the world could be seen as a safe and reliable space that provided consistently and met needs responsively.
Being a kid born in the midst of such soaring ideals and mindsets truly set the trajectory for the way I perceived the world. Vibrant messages of such hope valiantly prevailed over a past that people wanted to forget – a past that most had the luxury of remaining blissfully ignorant of, because the world was changing. So in effect, we didn’t need to be reminded of it just yet. History was a heretics harlem that one could now look back onto as a mere phase that finally seemed passed. And whatever the future held appeared nothing less than positive. If mindful engagement had become a coping trend in westernized contexts in recent years, then people were already doing it unawares in the 90’s. Everyone just seemed hyped and ready for the changes that were happening, and likely to happen. And most people were just enjoying it!
The testament of my 90’s childhood fell nothing short of the expectations that the decade allowed people to entertain. I remember being a fairly carefree kid in blue jeans and sneakers who expertly crafted pretend play to a legendary level. The hope infusing 90’s gave birth to the immortalised legacy of pop culture icons like the Power Rangers – a handful of unorthodox protagonists who were nothing more than a bunch of teens who accidentally stumbled upon the monumental task of safeguarding the planet. It reignited the hero genre for every bright eyed kid who just imagined morphing into a brave maverick to turn the tide against imaginary foes. Anyone could become a superhero, regardless of your playground reputation. Kids entertainment like this inspired a whole generation of millenials to be more confident than they actually probably were. Imaginary foes symbolised playground bullies. Super-selves were embodiments of the confidence that every kid had buried deep within himself. And that stick that had become a power sword during symbolic battles in the garden (at least until suppertime), became the pipedream of millenial young adults in the 21st century who kept on pursuing the fantasy that they could become anything they set their minds to…
The 90’s also saw the construction of the grandest scheme that could ever be given to the shape of any childhood with the Disney Renaissance. If the end of the 80’s signified this shift in giving a mermaid a voice, the 90’s burned a path of success in its wake in making a bookworm yearn for adventure in the great wide somewhere; allowing a street rat to discover his inner worth; reminding a king of who he was and what his destinty held; making two people from different worlds paint with the same colours of the wind; seeing a hero go the distance; or inspiring a girl to follow the duties of her heart. The Broadway- like musical stylings that remarried traditional animation created some of the greatest masterpieces in film and entertainment that would forever change the way fairytales were being told. It captivated all audiences with its expressive characters, its self-empowering songs, its heartfelt tragedies, and its relatable struggles that mirrored a spectrum of human battles that people were facing. And still it allowed the hero-complex to surge through its plot line to eventually skyrocket to a happy ending and a set of persevering life lessons in all its colour and song. It was these lessons that kids picked up on in all their 90’s driven, hope-fuelled idealism; and a happiness that people (me included) still recapture in quiet nostalgia with stay-in movie nights and the creation of restorative happy niches.
Fads blazed through childhood in a thousand different toys, collectibles, games or pastimes, making regular hobbyists out of a generation who would grow up to expand the field of work with their diverse interests. All manner of childhood stimulation was aimed at fun, innovation, marvel and imagination. Best of all: all these seemed to be progressively structured toward family involvement and engagement. There was more happiness to be created, greater bonds of love to be deepened… people were reigniting the inner flame of youth in all it’s excitable, laid-back and imaginative splendour.
And these same values fed back into a film industry that invested in glazed romances celebrating love in all it’s ridiculous, fantastical, and glorious themes.
Music echoed the applaud of this free and creative era, giving birth to genres that showed the diversity of culture, relevance, background, and artistic freedom. This was seen in anything from R&B, hip-hop, death metal and grunge. People were acclimatising and celebrating difference in unique, colourful and statement-driven ways. It left a firm and evergreen impression that would cascade right into the new millennium to witness even more individualised styles that have been shaping genre-blurring icons to overcome old labels and own their creeds.
The ideals of the 90’s did not translate in it’s full integrity into the new millennium. Events such as 9/11 sparked the horror of terrorism and threatened the tenuous peace that had seemed likely to spread as the decade of prosperity unfurled. Failing models like capitalism had disastrous effects on different households and families as it made the economy fall into the recession. Trust seemed a feeble construct in a world that was likely to harm you – a world that now appeared unsafe as new armed conflicts erupted along with civil wars; as people were displaced from homes to become immigrants and refugees; as careers were blindsided by monetary disaster; or as hate groups flared to spark hysteria in sporadic skirmishes of violence… People became more cautious and prone to suspicion and less likely to open up to one in earnest regard. And with the advent of social media, interconnectivity and authentic bonds between people appeared to be dwindling even more. The timing could possibly not be more off with a rising ecological and climate crisis that begs for the joint cooperation of a world population more than ever. Ironically, it appears to direct its plea for help to a population that is left disheartened and disillusioned by the dawn of the 21st century.
On all accounts, the situation seems grim. The question then begs asking: does it serve our purposes to reflect back longingly to reach for the fading memory of the decade that seemed to hold so much promise? Coincidentally, I came across a compelling statement made on the account, Shower Thoughts, on Twitter. Being a platform known for its blunt dissemmination of thought-provoking content that can be anything on the spectrum of humorous to shocking, a statement was left that was worthy enough to give anyone pause.
Powerful stuff. And taking a more careful look at the inherent implication that effuses therefrom, one could deduce that human ignorance seems to indeed be the preferred default to blissful existence and contentment. The world would surely seem more peaceful if we were unawares of the more covert shifts in global affairs.
If we take the argument back to the views on reminiscence, then such longing seems escapist at its core. The favourable regard for the past over the present may well set loose a chain reaction of retrospective thoughts and intense preoccupation with the paradise decade. What was mere defensive reminiscence steadily grows into an obsessive sort with the added unsatisfaction of not having lived life when it was seemingly at it’s best. Many might share this very same incentive; those who have come to bear witness to the unfolding problems of the modern era.
The View of a Wallflower
Yet despondency cannot exist with such ease. I recall a quote. As a lover of fantasy novels, I have at times been confronted with the criticism of wasting time on the unrealistic nature of those books filled with marvel, mystery and magic. However, a lesson I have taken from life was that perspective-taking is an invaluable tool in trying to understand a contradicting world. Seeing things in a different light comes near effortlessly for the wallflower, who mulls with their observations on the daily. Naturally, I would find great affinity to works of fantasy that portray very human struggles within a completely fictional situation. In fact, every work of fantasy in its essence makes epics of those experiences of humanity that seems so mundane in its run-of-the-mill occurrence. With this change in context, comes a change of view in the way we would have seen these grappling issues otherwise. In essence, books in the fantasy genre seem to portray wisdom very imaginatively.
So, back to the quote…
In the Fellowship of the Ring, well into their journey, Frodo comments to the wizard Gandalf on the nature of their mission and the burden that rests on him as the ring bearer.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1) – J. R. R. Tolkien
Consequently, Tolkien fictionally portrayed this wisdom in a time of writing, since 1937 till roughly 1949, when the Second World War was uprooting the lives of countless people. At the same time, in a part of the world that sharply contrasted the setting of a scholar, Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp trying to survive the experiences that would inspire his writings for Man’s Seach for Meaning. Within his set of ideas, was proposed a similar notion of not having control over circumstances external to oneself, but control over one’s reactions.
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
Both serve as priceless drops of wisdom; even today, as a drought of knowledgeable views appear to follow those contemporaries who are more likely to hold answer to alleviating the trepidations posed by the present problems of the world. And in the act of seeing this as wisdom, the reflection on these notions of the past could be classified as integrative reminiscence. Meaning is sought by finding the value of these past views in a presently unfolding life, essentially helping us to discover a purpose coherent with our own goals and aspirations. One might be as bold as to even say, although we do not wish to recreate the horrors of inhumane actions to inspire reflection, that we wish for more such moments of synchronised and momentary epiphany – where meaning is inherently found in the circumstances that are presented to us.
This means, that the past holds value. Instrumental reminiscence would then be evident in showing us that history has instances that ultimately mirror the present. Similar, but inverse in perspective. It can offer answers that may aid in solving the problem.
So, is there any real value in looking back on the 90’s as a great decade? Is it worth anything, that we even aim to long for it? A man named Clive Staples Lewis may hold the answer in his description of joy.
All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still “about to be”.
C. S. Lewis
Understanding what Lewis meant here requires a deeper understanding of the shape of his life – a life which led him to define it the way he does. But in essence, he defines joy as something that lies in the act of longing itself. And any thing that inspires longing typically assumes that it was first experienced at one point or another. So by that account, the 90’s – as the source of desiring (in this case) – inspires joy (understood as the act of desiring). Taking it a step further: if we look at the ideals of the 90’s, and what it emulated, then what we desire is the peace and prosperity that seemed to run through its many dimensions. What we desire, therefore, is the hope that underpinned all that the 90’s promised in its progressive nature.
Ultimately, in that act of desiring hope, we experience joy. Hope must have indeed then be something that enlivened many during this time when so much happiness was going around.
What we should come to realise, is that an enduring value is attached to the 90’s by our yearning for its more simplistic milieu. The longing for hope evidenced that people still, two decades later, believed that it was not a frail enough construct to exist. It was real. It was even tangible. More importantly, it was possible. Hope was possible.
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the 90’s is not a cautionary tale of idealism. To me at least, the message of hope seems to be a far more laudable lesson coming through in its confluence of feelings that it inspires through memory.
The Wayward Wisdom
History, in fact, is suffused in evidence of human adaptability that substantially fuels hope. Wars erupt as cold tensions finally thaw into fiery conflicts; yet, it burns itself out at great cost and leaves in its wake the ashes of deep regret – a regret which makes groups reconsider the shape of its diplomacy and openness to understanding. Perspectives narrow themselves to physical borders, egocentric group think, and cultural institutions. Curiosity counters such tendencies and drives humans to assume more labile points of view that transcends a mere foreclosure to tired ways of thinking. Logic, reason and pragmatism has proven to trump the limitations of emotional reactivity, effectively discounting our psychological authenticity by working according to schemas. However, unpredictability and creativity reminds us of this humanity, and how it is these differences in our chaotic natures that have made us truly progressive. Push and pull. Ebb and flow. The world has had its ways of restoring balance. If anything, the 90’s was a convergent point of all that the past attested to, finally offering a more global moment of reflection to how things can aspire to be. The 90’s was a balancing point.
And perhaps, this was more important than any of us ever realised. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950, which recognised his inspiring writings at the height of the Atomic Age, William Faulkner made powerful statements in his lecture that echo its truths even now…
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it…
…Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
… He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse.
William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1950, Stockholm
“The verities of the heart” … Faulkner calls to action the young minds of a generation to rekindle the connection with their innermost selves, and not look to their external world as the exclusive architect to their realities – should . Therefore, fear – even though valid – should be acknowledged to the extent to which it can finally be placed aside. This leaves open a mindful space of investing in the fundamental principles of belief that truly deserve our attention. It is a fair and beautiful statement of not only caution, but of hope; and it justifies perhaps our means of looking for these answers in an age when valued knowledge was more forthcoming.
The retelling of the 90’s is a move towards narrative reminiscence by regaling the shape of the decade. But in recalling its facts, we find that the acts of this reminscence becomes transmissive as well; once we discover that there is something to be taken from this time. In this sense then, reminiscence may also be instrumental. In the light of modern difficulties that have metastasized, then psychologically at least, there is a purpose in looking to the shared feelings that permeated the collective consciousness of societies in this period. The possibility of hope can be a galvanizing force that can work alongside the immediacy that appears to be required of us in modern times. Thus, by the very act of recognising hope as the recurrent theme throughout the decade, our past reflections have given us a likely solution.
Perhaps in remembering the 90’s, it may also be true that we seek an escape. But if what we escape to is in the act of reclaiming a lost virtue melded in the idylic patterns of the past, then its purpose for the sake of coping and resillience is priceless to say the least. Perhaps we may even obsess over the time lost to us in this decade with its unique feel, shape and energy that seems so impossible to recreate. But then again, this distraction posed by the decade may in fact tell us something about what we are facing right now… perhaps our yearning is rife with the clear message that what we are posed with currently is deprived of something fundamentally crucial to our capacity of acceptance.
If the 90’s taught us anything, it is that human conflict eventually paves its way to resolution. It taught us that we are in possession of an immense capability to restructure the faults of history to broaden and build on our perspective for the future. It showed us how the quality of hope shapes our views and memories, effectively transcending right into our deeper psychological structure. More importantly, it serves as a template from which to value the sixfold nature of reminiscence, proving that our reflective remembrances of the past can ricochet right into our process of meaning-making, mindful awareness, and act in the conserving the most frail, yet redeeming, parts of our character.
Reminiscence is much like a ship that tempers its hull against the tides of time, anchoring us in the harbour of preservation and by the docks of old wisdoms. We need only board it.
We are multidimensional. It is one of the only fair and truthful descriptions to afford ourselves. Sewn together from biological blueprints and structured patterns of thought; dipped into a cosmic mix of creativity; and left to dry in the light of undivinable uncertainties… all of it has left us a mass of contradictions that defies comprehension.
Yet, our curiosity ceaselessly drives us to achieve greater clarity on the human experience. Categories and mental tick boxes are the vows to a wedlock with sanity. Meaning: we basically need a way to structure our thoughts, feelings and behaviours if we intend to pursue a life with reason.
So, we satiate our sanity with a collection of patterns that help maintain that order. And what a delicate task this is. Thoughts tend to be sharp due to their edgy logic. Emotions are dirty little things that have a knack of leaving a stain on immaculate moral records. And behaviours can culminate into any number of consequences depending on their shape, reach, and influence. And in wake of such important realisations, we instill virtues that we religiously pursue, relating to the self: self-discipline, self-restraint, self-monitoring, self-control… reminiscent hammer-beats to temper the human spirit into pseudo-selves to present to the world. All to be acceptable. Who doesn’t love a stellar moral citizen that keeps their cynicism on humanity in check… Am I right?
What about wallflowers though? Oh well; they tend to be especially thorough in mulling through their cognitive, emotional and behavioral repertoires. Sideline bloomers are adept at staying out of a situation, remaining partial to the daily drama’s of our counterparts who prefer blossoming in the show garden right at the centre of life. Not to say that we never showcase ourselves, we are just a little less vaudevilean in our attention-seeking behaviours. That is, until we feel more self-efficacious in taking centre stage in the show. Other than that, we have some streetsmarts about blending in and prefer a soliloquy with ourselves as audience…
But every so often, a hitch works itself into our prospective schemas of steering ourselves – unnoticed – through a particular situation that involves people. As a wallflower, you may still be chilling on the sideline; you may still be busy intuiting a given moment that may possibly present itself. And for a short while, you may actually entertain the idea that you are riding the wave of a conversational flow, or sailing smoothly through a social gathering. There is no real need for an extemporaneous show of your social skills, just yet. That is until you are caught with your petals out of place in the wondrous little spark of cosmic unpredictability called the awkward moment.
An awkward moment is a beautiful little human catastrophe that worms itself into your self-representational sphere every now and then, offering its fair share of a little strife, existential dread and embarrassment. It’s a bit like engaging in a unintentional, self-destructive, social calamity, where even Karma thinks you are so deep in that she may need to give you a break during the next cycle of a Mercury retrograde. It’s so bad in fact, that your guardian angel files this in the backlog of messes you get into when they are on sick leave, because no amount of divine intervention can deal with that degree of perplexity. It’s a bit like your self-esteem stepped on a Lego brick. Its quick, its jabbing, and a 200,000 pain receptor volley worth of agony. Afterward, you recollect what is left of you in a measly little mass of melancholy and shy away to the nearest corner to close your bud for the rest of the show to suffer in silence. Oh honey, every awkward moment endured surely has to be an investment in a well-deserved peace for one’s afterlife…
Well…perhaps that is overdramatic. But the consequences can feel nearly as intense in my expert opinion.
So let us imagine the situation for a brief moment. Nothing quite saturates a description like a hypothetical little simulation. Maybe I dreamed this; perhaps I imagined it. Maybe this is stored somewhere in my private memory banks or in those relating to a friend (one that just led to a great deal of identification). Whatever the case may be… I recall a distinct example. So I am fairly sure this happened…
I was minding my own business at this party I had no real intention of attending…
As a proud introvert, I was probably stuck in the section which I would like to call, “The Island of Misfit Toys”, where people are too shy, drunk, stoned, or asleep to pay much heed to any need for actual mingling (I thought they were beautiful). But never you mind: everyone was thriving in their own way. There was a vibe going, and everyone was digging it. And there I was, just sipping away at my garnished G&T on the rocks, legs crossed, eyes cruising, and engaging in a bit of adult supervision over the playground of outcasts.
Now, one drink in, my observational skills were running optimally with all the customs of sobriety. To add, quite frankly, I was also too engaged in a sophisticated snapshot moment that felt much too sacrosanct to be overturned by just any bit of loquacious repartee (fancy little word for striking up a convo) with the commoners. The King was on his throne baby, and he was sipping from his goblet.
Soon though, my drink was starting to get a little low as my steady sips slowly siphoned away at the hours, and so I thought it opportune to make a prompt exit from this social hibernation to rectify the matter. And what a perfect little corner of the club to stealthily sneak in a bar visit without notice.
You see, after a highly stimulating week that had it’s fair share of interpersonal engagement, I became pretty stoked at the idea of spending the night in. But, if you are me, it is likely that your more gregarious circle of friends took it upon themselves to try and spoil the world with your demure presence. And it is not to say that their arguments for this little excursion is particularly convincing. It is just that their overwhelming energy needs to be dialed down to a malleable level for you to survive the night, so being agreeable just appears less taxing. Its a hard knock life…
If your an introvert that was socialised in a world celebrating the extrovert ideal, then you have become reasonably equipped to manage yourself effectively in situations like this. You just pop out that survival guide for the highly sensitive, own your best smile, and quietly plot your way through the superficial social gathering about to ensue. “Blessed are the meek”… or something like that. I just did not want to be bothered much.
So now I found myself at this party, mosied up to the bar, and busied myself in the recall of another one of my referenced short-form dialogues to politely ask the barman to whip up another little pop of inebriating magic. So not the drama… That is, until HE walks up…
Yes dears, this is yet again a story about a man…
One who had the exact same idea in mind by coming to the bar. Now, I was tending to my own petals when I caught a glimpse of him. He was a well-groomed charmer that totally seemed to have lost his kind on the other side of the club, because I could not imagine why he would come to cast his magic dice for a gamble on the dating scene here. And boy oh boy, was he ever ready for a mating dance. A classic pompadour hairstyle with a fade, buttoned down shirt, tight-fitting jeans, and a chest cut as deep as the Mariana trench; this man had aspirations. He was a strapping vision, with a jawline so square that there was no way of cutting corners around that mouth if he started talking. And he was about to wet those lips with a bit of liquid seduction before he started prowling the club again, I could tell. Opportunity was out there. Except of course, when opportunity was a wilting little wallflower just waiting to be watered with some whiz-bang seductions slowly served on the ice. And that was when he looked at me… and I realised that my casual observation had become a stare about two descriptions in. Damn it! I whipped my neck back to the front so hard that every reincarnation of mine would experience neck spasms from that moment out.
Oh, but if anything, that just gave him the warm welcome he would have probably taken himself if I was not so generous with my curiosity. So he pounced. That’s right, hang on to your cocktail umrellas ladies, because the bartop weatherforcast predicts a smooth opererator is about to blow you away.
Now god; you know, I could only venture a guess as to what any other wallflower may be going through at this particular point. But there I was – just a boy that sauntered his way to the bar to wet his whistle (with no intentions of using it for idle banter), only to have a strapping Adonis swerve in from Olympus for a weekend of introvert hunting. Clearly the gods are less busy these days… And damn! These deities get cheeky on their little earthly excursions. To look at him was something different altogether… He leaned on that bartop with such a casual flair that he shifted the whole perpendicular angle of every other object in that room. On top of that, his now steady gaze had its lazer focus direced on my poor and unsuspecting self.
Unsuspecting. Well, that was perhaps not completely truthful, considering this whole description was spiced up with a serving of acute predictive detail. But, I guess that a very small part of me desperately wished that the clear social cues would not lead to an actual fruition of his plan to interact with me. Wishful thinking, right? And what the hell was wrong with me in any case?! A hot guy just comes to burn up the stratosphere of my private little world out of nowhere – that is any lad’s dream.
Oh f*ck. Great. Confidence. Suave. Good looks. Undeniable sex appeal. And then that voice… with the smooth tang of an aged bourboun… I say that as if I knew exactly how to expertly describe whiskey, but I guess any bar rookie could probably describe bourboun as smooth for lack of any other description. Smooth? what did I expect, that his words were going to choke me?! The only thing I was struggling to swallow was my own sense of self-awareness. It’s all good Gernus, just offer a sweet and simple hello back. The man is waiting. “Hey”.
“I haven’t seen you around… Where have you been hiding yourself?” Oh, you know, hiding behind my forgotten and forlorn fantasies of a quiet night in while perching on the armrest of that couch there in the shadows.Damn it. He caught me at my game!
I was duly reminded of one mechanism behind this encounter from an insightfull little post that highlighted the four aspects of a stressor, as posited in research done by the Centre for Studies on Human Stress.
Threat to the Ego
Sense of Control
I believe this beautifully summed up the parameters of that particular incident that so gloriouly represented how real the struggle truly was. A new encounter…striking me from the blind side… to thoroughly draw my capabilities into question… in regaining a hold over my cool little sideline gig I had working for me so far. Yeah, it was rightfully labelled N.U.T.S.
Oh my sainted aunt… Just answer the poor man! He asked you another question!
“Well, where have you been looking?” Teasing smile, calm composure. Well done wallflower!Where did you pick that one up?! Have you been spending some time waiting at streetcorners during the witching hour? Because your flirting game is just enchanting! Maybe you’ll be ok after all.
[At this point, mental asides became a crucial coping mechanism… As you can tell.]
Crooked smile in response, and with eyes lighting up, he edged closer in this little spell I just conjured. Well, that just worked…
“Clearly I haven’t been looking hard enough.” Wow. Alright. He came locked and ready with a heavy arsenal of swoon-worthy artillery. He probably could have said about a hundred different things after that. But why would he need to? His eyes spoke a whole other language that shared volumes of insight to where his mind was leading him as he took a good look at me from bottom-to top. Ending at the eyes. Classy. we may just have a gentleman on our hands.
“Guess you deserve a drink for the recent victory then.” You see, this is when things started to go a bit south. Why did I say that?! He obviously liked that, but that little comment made me aware that I was on a slow departure heading right into a Humility Heights. I could not keep this up! I had set the expectation bar far too high!
Now look… I threw a perfect one-liner as rebuttal a moment ago. That didn’t secure me an effortless pass to this little back-and-forth with this fellow. He was a master at the game. I think I was not even worthy as a practice run for his best pick-up lines. Not to pull my own self-worth into question, but I knew that my capacity for social engagement was near depletion by that particular Friday. I was an introverted HSP that just needed a little recharge and a self-prescribed dose of alone-time.
But here I was: just living it up like the sex symbol socialite and nightclub high roller with the two-drink bartab that I clearly didn’t know was flourishing inside me till that evening…
“Sounds like a plan. What does a guy have to do to get a drink around here you think?” He nudged another teasing look at me. In hindsight, the cues were simple, obvious, and even without hassle. There was a simple courtship schematic to follow here, honestly. As a wallflower, I should have known that silence followed by agency would buy me a one-way ticket into the next leg of this conversational journey. My friend had just recently reiterated that actions truly speak louder than words.
But in that neon light the nuances disappeared into the netherworld of neverminded reactions, and that pesky little mouth of mine just adopted an altogether different mindset. My grandmother use to say that the guard in front of her mouth was gone… well mine just cashed in on an early weekend leave while I was left to deal with those lips that were about to move in all the wrong ways. So I answered him instead: “Oh…well…you can just ask the barman…”
“Ask the barman…”For f*ck sakes…Stellar answer Sherlock! Why don’t you just remind him to come back here for a refill when his drink is getting low!I am sure he would appreciate the info to make his life easier…
The regret was immediate. Flabbergasted, he gave an odd chuckle, his pace of approach completely broke, and the vibe we had going just slowly and torturously evaporated until a lovely silence lay in the void of a missed opportunity. If he was about to flirt, what in the name of Aphrodite would he say? God, I basically just dismissed him in the shake of lemon wedge. And boy, I bet it stung! Damn it.
Oh but there I was, still on the bandwagon to this sudden uncomfortable encounter, waiting with dire desperation that my drink would just arrive. I was triggered… I just shot myself in the foot after all. The humiliation was setting off a synaptic disaster in my executive brain. And I knew that the systemic overheat of grasping for another topic to save the moment was causing a blush that would leave any make-up mogul shook. The awkward moment had flowered in my garden… and it smelled of self-defeating shame, sounded like the nervous tick of fingers on a countertop, and tasted like cheap gin. Beautiful.
He tried his approach again as the barman magically appeared. No sooner had that drink made its landing on the countertop, when my hand shot out with a such a desperate need that the glass was knocked over… effectively spilling my coveted drink, my saving grace, my dignity, and the final hopes of walking out of this accident unscathed.
He tried to say something, but that was amid the full blare of deep house and EDM. It resulted in my repeated apology for my lack of ability to hear anything that he was trying to say. Honey, the walls of Jericho had already fallen, and blowing anyone’s horn was not exactly going to build up what we had going. You might as well give up. He was handsome. But neither his looks, nor the faint memory of my five seconds of competent banter could save what was futilely lost.
For a fellow like me, these awkward moments have a higher probability of occurring (at least to extent of my own experiences). Overstimulation, sensitivity to minute detail, excessive processing, and high reactivity are but a few of the reasons to why an introvert such as myself (that draws energy from quiet time) would stumble upon the awkward moment in social engagement. Even more so if you happen to process information more deeply (by being an HSP). The two traits mutually influence one another to create the perfect conundrum of dealing with difficulty – if your are not smart about it. “HSPs simply process everything more, relating and comparing what they notice to past experience with similar things,” says Dr Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person. So our minds are pretty occupied at times – perhaps too much to keep our mojo flowing in all the right ways.
In fact, our very perception of the present moment is tied to activity in a small brain region called the insula, that seats self-awareness – which has shown increased activation in HSP’s according to research by Bianca Acevedo and her colleagues. And taking to account then how a wallflower may process a given moment, fully in touch with their inner flows and feels, this seems to explain quite a lot.
But that is just the science speaking – it tends to help with those spurts of post-rationalisation that occur for nearly a decade afterwards…
However, I always believed that awkward moments were humbling. (Well, saying always may be a bit of an overreach… I certainly had my doubts in the past when my confidence sputtered like a candle burning in a hurricane). It seems to reallign the internal gyroscope of awareness, reset one’s attentive functionality, and even to reboot the set of social systems with which one operates. Above all, it negates the penchant to pontificate, especially because it makes us so aware of our humanity. Very, very aware… One often has a sit-down simulation with oneself to prepare for similar conundrums in future…
As always, turning experience into insight seems a beautiful route to follow here… So, in dealing with that cosmic malfunction called the awkward moment, remember this:
Eccentricity and oddity is the spellwork behind your inner magic; just as idiosyncrasy is the spellbook to your individuality. Wield it without woe, and be the wizard to weave your way amid your own quirks and charms.
Love and light fellow bloomers!
Images drawn from the amazing Classical Art Memes, that in their humour really managed to bring life to this tale. Follow them for a daily dose of legendary laughs.
Well, here we are: at the threshold of another deep dive into the recesses of our minds. And right there, tucked away beneath layers of reflection on the givens of daily life, lies your magic escape from the mundane. This is your inner world. Or, as I once aimed at describing it in Part 1, “a realm blueprinted from the dreams, ideals, and hopes of a soul in reflection, thriving on the creativity, novelty, and life-infusing forces of imagination.”
If you are reading this, it means you are in acknowledgement of your potential to wield your creativity. You are willing to use this long-neglected tool to build a mental fortress to withstand the siege of a near barbaric assault of anxieties, responsibilities, ruminations and societal internalizations. In part 1, a great deal of time was spent in dissecting the conundrum of the truth, and deconstructing the myths that we have so readily convinced ourselves of. And what you know, is that giving truth governance over your mental domain is the first step in laying the cornerstones of a mental retreat that can be an effective coping mechanism in modern living.
This is the truth with regards to your self: your holistic being – pieced together from your talents, your strengths; your character, your personality; your hopes, and your fears. It is the truth that pertains to what you not only desire, but what you essentially need. It is the truth that surrounds the thirsts of your mind, body, and soul. Regardless of where this truth is directed, your spirit understands the shape that it assumes and the message it conveys. And in acknowledging this truth, you create an imaginative realm that offers you substance in its security.
In this space, you chip away at those concerns that plague you within the real world. You make them manageable. Your inner world was never meant to be an escape, but a retreat. This space is, at times, a mere temporary fall-back when the battle cannot be bested. In calling it a retreat, you imply a return to the fight. But only after a cognitive reconnaissance. That means: you better make it count.
But how do we even attempt such a feat?
Freedom and Responsibility
Indeed, you may have triumphed over your habit of dishonest appraisal of yourself and your situation. You may have even come to recognise the complexity of your pedigree. You may have finally become more truthful.
Yet, in that act, you have set loose a host of horrors in your head; horrors uninhibited by the internalised blockades that is the brainchild of your socialization. A free flow of thought needs to be steamied before the stream becomes a torrent.
You may ask yourself: why would I seek control over my thoughts when I have worked so hard to obtain its freedom? And the answer would be to simply rephrase your own meaning of control as you have come to understand it. What you seek through that control, is to merely reign in your flow of thought to garner the chance to offer it guidance, lest it becomes overwhelming. Training your mind is no sin. The great injustice would only be enacted when you try to impress upon your private world the arbitrary expectations of a society you are taking a break from.
In sum: playing god in your own mental creation does not give you a kick-back ticket on the seventh day dearie. Your omnipotence is a shabby little thing, and you may need more time to tame the tides of thinking…
In the Eye of the Storm
So there you are, right in the middle of your mind scape. Meta-thinking is a bit like an oil-spill. Basically, you are watching chaos erupt around you in big, beautiful and shifting hues. Your thoughts are coalescing colours that sunder with the shifting viscosity and the nature of each idea. Sure, from the outside you had control. But in your head… there is no surface tension that keeps these musings level. So what do you do? Somewhere you need to be in charge of the ethereal movements of your thinking.
Wallflowers show a particular precocity when it comes to taming the tumultuous tempest that is their minds. They call it CALM. And surely this very term would spark unrest in its matter-of-fact simplicity, especially among those horses of a different extroverted colour. But before becoming your own raging nightMARE (you galloped right into that pun sweetie), let me explain how a sideline bloomer takes root in this almost meditative state – a little thing I like to call: The Serenity Cycle.
(C)ollect – (A)ccept – (L)iberate – (M)oderate. It seems simple enough, yet, it is a mindful and engaged process that requires your attentive custodianship over your own contemplations. Mastering the maelstrom is not easy. It requires a patient navigation through waves of unpredictability, and a gale of uncertainty that can steer you off course.
You Need To Calm Down
We love quoting subheadings from the hits of millennial music starlets…
You’re in for quite a session, so start off with a little Taylor Swift moment and marinate in her socially aware pop for a hot minute…
Now. Time to calm yourself.
Phase One: Collect
Collecting churning broodings in one place is a good start in cultivating an awareness of what it is composed of. From a truthful acknowledgement of your nature, comes the recognition of your doubts as much as your confidence. Collecting these in one place allows you to see the difference with greater clarity. Or else, you’ll be faced with a beautiful chaos that seems mesmerising in its shifting spectrum. Similarly, it allows you to distinguish your stress from your comfort, remove the barriers from your desires, and seperate the remaining myths and falsehoods from the truth you had so carefully curated.
For a wallflower, this is a patient endeavour to which they tend to with sustained focus, as the sideline bloomer is faced with a great amalgamation of information that they have processed since their last mental hiatus. Being highly sensitive observers, wallflowers perceive and test their present versions of self against an external world with a laudable opinion. Every experience is continually stirred into the cosmic collection of theories and feelings, awaiting assortment and comprehension. With a sensitive disposition, this means that situational input is intensified in effect, making them powerful ingredients to the mental mix.
Phase Two: Accept
Then comes the harder part: the unconditional acceptance of what you have regarded as your flaws. In the darkest abyss of your unconscious, where little light reaches the surface of your impulsive spirit (in its entirety) to reflect its blended beauty, lies repressed a deep shame of what in part defines us. We regard these as shortcomings, as weaknesses, as faults. Our shame has the consequence of leading us to the concealment of that which causes us discomfort. Thus, we repress it to a place where it can remain deeply hidden, and where we can be consciously unaware of its presence and influence. But these very parts of us that cause this shame is also rooted firmly in who we are as a core individuals. In our own minds, we are damaged deities seeking to build dynasties that magnanimously encapsulate our ideal sense of self. And yet, in that damage, lies our niches of improvement; our restorative spaces that allow us the opportunity to come to closer and closer approximations of the best versions of ourselves. But at that very moment, standing witness to the present image of ourselves in its complex mesh of virtues and vices, there is no immediate action that can fundamentally change our perception of who we are. It takes time. Therein lies the beauty of mindful acceptance.
To allow that present version of yourself to be. To see those flaws as realms upon which to improve, instead of areas as criticism. For in every passing moment thereafter, that version is reshaped, realigned, rewritten – and every developing narrative is based on what has come before as an experiential backdrop. Thus, THIS version of who you are – the version you struggle to come to terms with – is a necessary and invaluable stepping stone to a greater form.
Wallflowers have to be continually accepting of misperceptions that creep in among the environmental feedback that validates their strengths. In truth, these perceptions are dispositional and situational attributions. These attributions are bound by context due to the people we interact with, some who understand our need for quiet reflection, and others who misconstrue this as social withdrawal (situational attribution). Yet, these attributions also result from our delayed pondering on such feedback, often leaving us to question whether we are the ones that are in possession of some fundamental flaw that lies deep in our genetic weaving (dispositional attribution). So, we reconcile our views with a truthful understanding of who we are, accepting that such misperceptions will happen as we seek to find our place in the world. But it takes time and patient perusal, and the utilisation of a fitting context from which to draw energy.
Phase Three: Liberate
After this peace accord with your holistic self, comes the liberation of the negative energy that was harnessed in the self-reflected emotions and thoughts about who you are. The enemy at the gates is but a projection of our own mental imagery as to who can challenge dominion over your personal conceptualizations. In the real world, your fabrication of a public persona is a product of your attentions being paid to a collective opinion – a pseudo self, created for the purpose of affirmation and approval. And for adaptability within one’s outer life, this may indeed be necessary. But in your own mind, where you are omnipresent to your own flow of thought, your greatest crime would be to acknowledge such input when you are seeking a retreat therefrom. And in that knowledge, a blinder removed can often reveal that our greatest adversary is ever ourselves – distorted into a picture that we don’t recognise. It questions the reason as to why we pay heed to such an unrecognisable and unliked part of very beings in the first place.
For a wallflower, time is never wasted in the reflection over what they are posed. If opinion, critique, or feedback do not resonate with us on a deeper level, then giving it any degree of validation will surely cause dissonance and discomfort. It destabilises the foundation of the truth. It then becomes important to free ourselves of unnecessary burdens (false attributions, misperceptions, criticisms, self-inflicted insults), as they serve no purpose in the greater scheme of heavy cognitive and affective labour that we invest in constructing our inner world.
Alan P. Downs spoke of the concept of validation in his book, The Velvet Rage. Through our daily life, we vacillate between that which we are willing to accept and that which we truly need. What we need, is authentic validation, as it is crucial for our self-growth. In turn, this self-growth is necessary to combat these enduring areas of shame that we face with regards to ourselves (a topic he also addresses in his book). In our interaction with people, we sometimes settle for false or low-level validations. We are noticed and acknowledged, or else complimented on qualities that are vague, vapid, and most likely attached to the public façade we have pieced together in order to cope. Our high-level validations are flattering and boosting, and we attach value to them. Yet, even a compliment given with the intent of reciprocity will starve us of the truthful considerations that we need. Your inner world, now free from lies and untethered in its possibility, can not be anything short of authentic. It is there, where we have collected both our shame and pride, then accepted our shame (and now seek to liberate ourselves from its source) where we need to confront it with an authentic validation where it is most vulnerable. For only then, can we liberate ourselves from the parts that shackle us.
Phase Four: Moderate
We are then left with what remains. Having collected a holistic perception of ourselves, accepting the disparate parts that makes up that perception, and having liberated ourselves from those shame-bound views that offer no room for growth or meaningful reflection, the task is set to us to manage what is left. This includes the perusal of a unique blend of qualities worth appreciating: our hopes, our aspirations, our unfolding collection of life stories. We are left with our doubts: about our capacities, our skills, our core faculties – all tested through momentary blinks through our narrative. It is these that we seek to moderate, and reduce in their influence. We do not seek to cut off our awareness from the presence of such doubts, simply not to experience them at the level of amplification we were exposed to when we first confronted them in the zestpool that was our untamed meta-cognitive realm. When the storm abates and the wind ceases its howling inside our cranial caverns, we manage to focus with greater clarity on the resources that are available to build our realms of imagination.
Life is a constant act of engaged self-monitoring for a wallflower. Our introverted energies have lead us to seek control over our minds, so as to better police our ruminations. But in doing so we deny the very value in such deep levels of thinking. We suppress the vibrancy of our imagination or the intensity of the feelings that have allowed us the opportunity to reach useful epiphanies. Until we learned, that moderating the impact of such thoughts make it bearable. So we take our time and deal with our thoughts and its accompanying emotions slowly. In so doing, we yield the feeling without allowing it o overpower us.
Completing the Cycle
As your wellspring of good intentions are poured out into the world, the harsh, vitriolic, and unappreciative nature of some of its recipients will mould and distort the treasured thoughts from which they stem. The power of a wordly malice is a looming threat that drives our musings wild like cornered animals. The rampage is set loose as ruminations stampede through our minds, desperately seeking purchase. Retreating to your inner sanctum should leave you blissfully untroubled by the run-of-the-mill concerns that form the gestalt of your daily outer existence. Calming the mind is necessary, and acts as a boon to retake agency, and make your mind ringmaster to its circus of ideas.
Call it an act of meditation, a renewal of focus, or simply one of the ways of the wallflower… a state of CALM is a weapon to beat down the watchful dragons of our mental bounty, before they ravage the free-bound landscape that is yours to shape. Inner battles were never meant to be waged unchecked across the delicate peace of your private domain.
Serenity serves to steady the thoughts that soldier on through a mind at war.
An inner world is meant to be a space from which to confidently allow the voice of your intuition, and to discard the hesitations in choice that limit you in your outer world. Your goal is to broker peace for the fruition of your imagination…
Calm thee tender tempest, the greater storm The caged wail, echoing blindingly, As white noise settles to deafened ears and screaming eyes. Settle now the howling beast that in its freedom hunts sanity. May peace be the sentinel As thoughts unyielding Prowl the waking pondering. - Gernus Oosthuizen
Your very soul stirs the shift of a season... And in the winter of your absence... I find a comfort in the summer of your memory.
Adorned with the quality of awakening a sensation of pleasure, tinged with traces of longing and heartache. The description given to that indescribable mix of emotion that preludes the dichotomous state of heart.
He stepped out of his car in a sizzling vibrancy. The very air was permeated by his presence, and it felt almost electric. A high voltage of anticipation coursed through my frame. His intensity was tangible, even in the dark. The sun had long since set behind the high hill in the distance, and thus was lent a mystery to the way the night draped itself over our awaited encounter.
As he closed the gap of the few feet that lay between us – which but a moment ago still felt like a thousand leagues to gather myself in a single functioning piece – my ribcage nearly bent with the rapid pounding of my heart.
Get it together man! It’s just a date… Adjust your petals, and stop blushing. You’re not a damn rose…
But a rose by any other name could be as red… And as he offered a hand in greeting, I organically leaned forward instead to draw him into an embrace. Well done Wallflower… way to start it off on a good whiff of your savvy!
I could not help myself though. I was immediately drawn to him, and somehow I did not mind any awkward first impression at all… But he gave a playful smirk, a deep chuckle and then was more than willing to return the gesture.
He took a few steps into the alleyway leading to my front door as I closed the gate behind us. In that momentary solace where I had my back turned to slide the bolt back into place, I caught my breath and turned down the heat a bit to help me get through this not-so impromptu date. As a wallflower, my sensitivity to minute detail was functioning at an optimal level tonight, and boy… my feelers were just picking up all kind of wavelengths from this guy that I had not anticipated. He was on a completely different frequency than I was ready for, and his radioactive presence was unraveling the DNA of any cool composure I had hoped to maintain during the evening.
In the stairway light that illuminated the climb up to my first-floor apartment, I must have seemed all a fluster with a freshly formed flush and audible palpitations. Because clearly the episode earlier was not to be an isolated event! My feet felt like lead as I dragged them up step by step in the small perpetual ascent to what would truly be our first face-to-face encounter. The landing brought us to the kitchen, and as he stepped around the counter to stand on the side facing the living room, he turned and we locked gazes for the first time that evening.
He was casually clad in a windbreaker, a pair of blue jeans and a NYC baseball cap that shaded a playfully knitted brow and dark mischievous eyes; and with his slightly crooked smile that was a one-way ticket to my wildest fantasies, I knew I was in trouble. F*ck… this was going to be hard… He was all at once the man I would introduce to my father and the man I wanted my father never to find out about! A chivalrous bad-boy, with ambition and courtesy, who speeded across the spectrum of stereotypes and enigmas within the realm of dating types. It made me dizy and made any coherence to my free flow and façade evaporate in the heat of his wisecracks and warm eyes. I think I was so deep in the seductions of his sorcery that any resistance was futile from the get-go. And we had not even sparked up a flow of convo yet.
Now for a wallflower like myself, dating pretty much comprised of a careful and patient observational game. One develops a sharpened eye for bodily cues, the shape of social exchange and that overall intuitive feel of the other’s presence – rich sources of information that undergo any number of layers of processing. Paradoxically, your date is not an objectification of your interest, but yet they are an anomaly that is novel, different, and ready for exploration. So, metaphorical notebook in hand, one steadily soaks up the complexity of their character and prods their personality, testing how well it meshes with your own. And if by some divine providence or stroke of luck you come across a handsome, tall drink of water… you may want a refill of their company very soon. But being introspective, high-reactive, sensitive and perceptive, your multidimensional spirit becomes selective in matchmaking. You are open-minded to the nuances, yet at the same time you have a fine-tuned set of filters in place to simplify the great volley of observational input. Pretty empirical for a common game of courtship, right? Well, for a wallflower, the quest for love can be an over-stimulating odyssey, so having some way to map the matrix is pretty handy.
It was not about to work on this guy though… He was entirely non-reducible to a set of simple descriptive mental shortcuts. The great irony was that he was a pretty straightforward kind of shooter stitched together from an open-hearted and direct demeanour. And his judgment was undeviating and honest. Simplicity was certainly an architect to his pedigree. Yet, I had hardly met a man who filled me with a more complicated kind of reaction. And damn, I was so shy when he glanced my way… In his way…
I was possibly his opposite in nearly every aspect, but that merely bred a magnetic attraction that was steadily growing unchecked and much faster than my proud pondering self could keep pace with. I was certainly fast becoming a moth drawn to the flame of his wildfire suave; and I hoped that, whatever the consequence, I was not about to burn…
But I had taken a keen sense of foresight for such predicaments early on. I had a nice little DMC and sit-down with the Universe, and set the record straight as only a gay man could. She was not about to make my love life a divine comedy! That was simply not the constructive approach with me. She had to understand that the Karmic bus was going to require a renewal of her driver’s licence before she came speeding through my parade!
But I think my well-positioned pleas and plans got lost somewhere in that little spaced-out encounter with this guy. The tell-tale signs were rapidly becoming red flags waving frantically and it brought my soaring ideals in for an emergency landing. So I had to fall back on that beautiful prehistoric programming that imbued us with a deeply innate ability to navigate human courtship: instinct.
Little did I know that was like bringing fire near gasoline…
I had this little habit of downplaying emotional intensity with a little bit of humour (well… a lot, actually). I was a little queer (pun unintended), weird, imaginative… living it up in my inner world. I could throw a quip, even a little bit of playful banter. It just helped to steer the situation a bit and keep things lighthearted and amicable, while not displacing the topic.
The tables turned however, when the metre of his jokes seemed to match my own, and we realised that we had met an interesting predicament where we played set match on the sarcasm scale of our deflections, serves, and verbal volleys. It was like an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force, and the titanic clash left us with long silences which teased at our composed temperaments. The tension was tangible, and it oscillated between the small gap that separated us on the bamboo-framed two-seater that was digging into our backs through the cushions (he was too much of a gentleman to ever attempt to address that uncomfort).
God he was handsome… he drove me crazy, he drove me wild… and I wonder if he ever really knew that I had already succumbed to the siege of his smoulder.
Hours had passed in which we had carefully trodden this situation. Refined and reserved: that was my way of approach, but for all that was good and sacred… I wished so desperately for a misstep or a Freudian slip that would give away my patient game. And that got me thinking… why was I playing a game? Why was I so intensely focused on this process of self-monitoring?
A defence was but the delay of an assault, and I was clearly feeling heavily bombarded by this situation. I was myself, and yet, so unlike what I felt I wanted to be – around him. Some deep part of me yearned for him to see that the blossom was not the bud – that this wallflower was already blooming in the shadow of my own hesitations. He was living proof that chivalry was not dead, and yet he was an unapologetic bastard at heart (God I loved it!). A diamond in the rough for sure, but a priceless rarity amidst the mining ground of male eligibles. He was not about to overstep in any way, but the gleam in his eye spoke of a playful side that could take you for quite the spin on the playground. But did he even comprehend the precise allure of his personality? His charisma was a flame that licked at my defences and melted my cool exterior like so much ice. And perhaps, just perhaps, I was trying to futilely postpone his near effortless victory.
Another awkward moment seeped it’s way into the exchanges. Nearly every story ended with a deep moment of contemplation, a placid pause or an amiable look that left us both grappling for words. My mind raced desperately to look for another hot topic to play with, but he looked at me again and snatched my mind in another direction with that cheeky smile in his eyes. “Hey, what’s up?”, he teased (not for the first time). God this self-restraint was unbearable! And all at once the elastic tension that had stretched past its cue for the night forced some action, and finally snapped. I gave a final quiet laugh, amused by my out-of-character bravado which was making me turn toward him, and then lean over…
And somewhere during the evening, navigating past the thorny silences and the ridiculous amount of terrifying attraction, a kiss was planted that would grow to encumber any other hindrance to the inevitable affinity of our desiring spirits. My hard-earned strategems were undone. My petals were pried open. In all the ways of a wallflower, no hidden wisdom prepared you…
It did not prepare you for that realisation… that:
Among an infinite set of impossibilities, you will meet a soul – a being who will unravel the cosmic stitching within the fabric of your life. Your pattern will be broken. It will quake you to the core and force you from the toppling walls of your inner fortress. It will force you right into the arms of the most familiar stranger…
…and oh the force behind that collision. For it sent us both toppling backward and blind into the unknown ether of our unconscious wishes. “The heart wants what it wants” they say.
And when his kisses spoke of a requited desire to be closer, to feel more connected, and to break the barriers, I could not help but feel a surge of joy as our bodies talked with a similar cellular diction that made every nerve ending spark with excitement.
But a veil hung over the already rosy hue of the scene that had begun playing in all its intensity, and further obscured the logic that remained to keep those same hearts intact. It loomed at the back of our minds even as we allowed ourselves the sweet surrender to feelings we had long since forgotten. Beyond this moment of chaotic perfection – beyond this new impenetrable space created with one another – awaited an inevitable parting. It was this moment that was about the only thing we had foreseen before the dice were cast. Yet, we took the impulsive plunge into the depths of each other’s eyes. We drowned despite the warning…
He was not from here. This town was no longer his home. Long ago, he had sought out his adventure in the great wide somewhere. And we knew, that a goodbye was an imminent reality that neither of us could truly change. We knew we were lost amidst the oceanic vastness of this encounter, and if anything…we circumnavigated the Bermuda triangle of our denial in a desperate hope to be lost in that moment forever.
How exactly do you resist the call of passion, when it is crisp, clarion and clear. We sheathe our souls under layers of refinement, ego deceptions and self-doubt to ultimately restrain us from our natural affinities. So often, we miss the call of passion. We miss the chance to become ridiculously infatuated with all it’s beautiful and disastrous consequences. Consequence is, after all, a harsh, yet nurturing teacher; a teacher that imparts its lesson to a degree measurable to the act that preceded it.
We knew all to well the shape of the consequence that lay before us – me and him – yet the result was not one of immeasurable heartache. It was a parting made bitter by the very injustice of having to say farewell; but a parting tinged with the sweet knowledge that such a stir of emotion is, in fact, possible – even if rare. It imbues your outlook with hope. It is restorative to the cynic disbelief in an emotive magic. And it reawakens the romantic that you had long thought to be exiled from your forced maturity – a maturity validated among a generation that relentlessly strives to rationalise all affective repertoire.
We were caught in the throes of a bittersweet impasse that required of us to face the music; yet, the melody of this ballad was not about to end in the happy sentimentality of giving in to the truth. And the truth was evident in our electric proximity; in the many whispers exchanged within our bated breaths. I had once said, in another writing of mine, that the truth permits growth sooner than does misdirection. But to say we were in love… Now that was a truth that neither of us wanted to admit for fear of the hardship it would afford us. Whatever the lesson was, whatever the insight from this experience would be, neither of us wanted to deal with the hurt in reaching that epiphany.
But as love rewrites the self-imposed conduct and personal rules we set to ourselves, so does it rewrite the caution we would take in trying not to crack our own castles of glass.
This heart is a fractured melody... And in the soft chimes of the gleam That played on the prismatic edges of every crack Was the reshaped yearnings of a forlorn feeling. And as I teased at the old stir of memories, I picked up broken shards that had once been My impregnable castle of glass... That has so easily succumbed to the siege of your eyes.
“What did you do to me?”, he asked tenderly, echoing the thought that had crossed my mind so many times since that evening. The words had left his lips in a heavy sigh, reverberating with the deep tragedy of an attraction that would be tensed over miles in but the count of a few days. And as the weeks had passed, that moment had become a a crystalline memory that captured the tremors those words had sent into the small pocket of air that seperated us when we were together.
In the test of bravery those idle hours afforded – knowing that it would soon be time to say goodbye – I did not regret the dutiful response to my heart. The experience of love is not regrettable. The heartwrenching hurt of the farewell to the object of that love, is not regrettable. Our time invested in love, is not regrettable. What is regrettable, is the minutes wasted in giving stock to the suppression of love when our time to experience it is so finite to begin with.
Especially when the lesson from that love, is that you are not a bud to be plucked when you have not been permitted the time to bloom. And as a wallflower, you want to bloom unabashed amid the field of your lush vibrancy. You want to absorb the natural freedom emanating from your will, and then bask in the light of another who permits you the security and acceptance to express that energy. Love is a prototype to the tending we feel we deserve, lessened only by the perceptions of what we have been made to think we deserve.
And for a brief moment, he made me feel like I was the only one that ever mattered…
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
So what lessons are left to us in this near irreparable state of heart? Perhaps this: beware not the battle to be bested. Bitter may be the bravery in overcoming a broken heart, but sweet is the ballad that sings of its memory. Love in all its consequence allows us a divine brush against the best versions of ourselves.
Therefore, resist not the pull of your heart, as the tide does not resist the pull of the moon. Your attraction is a natural alignment of your celestial energy. Be one with the flow of your experience, and surrender to the lessons of limerence.
Freedom permits us a space that is rife with the possibilities to disassemble, break, and destroy, in order to remake, reshape, and realign. But the acceptance of such a faculty demands a great deal of vigilance from those who desperately sought it out in the first place. In truth, when we seek freedom, we do not often preemptively strucure our sense of agency and act with forbearance. We untether ourselves from any and all expectation. It is only then that an experience seems more visceral, more intense, more memorable. And that is a significant insight to reach in one’s musings. Why is it that we so seek to gain a heightened intensity from our experiences? Is it perhaps that we hope that the memory would last us longer? Or do we hope to obtain enlightenment?
Yes, these are the musings of a wallflower. For in the view of such a being, a surface level reasoning is simply not enough to kickstart the carousel of an adventurous day. To overthink, to ruminate and to ponder – these are the givens of existence for any proud sideline bloomer. And perhaps the best way to describe it, is by embellishing it with a “day-in-the-life” type of walkthrough while in the Tankwa.
So there I was…
A dim hum assailed my ears on my first awakening at AfrikaBurn. We were new arrivals only but the past day, and the morning promised a quaint little expedition for the bold. So well-rested and with a sparkle in the eye, I emerged from my tent ready to set forth on an unexpected set of adventures. The Tankwa was breathing deep and heavy sighs from an early hour, and the heaves of air sent plumes of dustclouds rolling over the Binnekring.
The plain was committed to testing its desert dwellers on that day with its myriad of dust storms. So I thought it fitting to don my Sun God apparel to see if I could contest the blazing sun through the almost opaque air of the Karoo landscape.
What do we say to the god of the desert? Not Today! This was AfrikaBurn. Valar Dohaeris! All men must serve (women too… and their children, their elders, their ancestors, their imaginary friends… you pretty much had to convinve everyone to share in the communal effort of making magic in the desert). Even when the elements converged to oppose you, no citizen should shy away from the rugged landscape that beckoned.
So I pushed my tentflap aside, and emerged with a suncrown proudly donned, a bandana or two, a scarf, and some other accessories to change into my first divine desert guise… but… I had to break the glory of the moment by going back a couple of times to readjust all the pieces.
The wind was pretty merciless, so having your paraphernalia flying around was not going to feel all that ideal. My fellow campers had the same challenge, and yet the degree of their actual struggle seemed completely masked by their near effortless navigation beneath the gazebo.
Afterwards, having mounted our steeds, we cycled into our street and off into the haze of the party… And it was literally a haze; the dust was everywhere. I was convinced I found parts of the Tankwa all up and between my bits and in places I did not even know existed!
Tankwa Town and the Binnekring was already fully awakened from its short hours of slumber, and so were the sleepless… aimlessly wandering across the barrens in search of some form of worldly orientation.
You basically knew you were at AfrikaBurn when your perception, of place, space and time was not bound by your accustomed celestial cycle. And tracing that day by means of the sun and its casted shadows seemed near impossible with the churning dustclouds galloping across the open plains as far as you could dare keep your eyes open. Yes, a watch may just have helped. But is keeping track truly ANY fun when the fandango is in full swing?
I was already entrenched in my inner world though. Any possibility of keeping track with the schedule of reality (even in a fantasy world brought to life, such as the Burn) proved futile when contested with my own unique knack of getting utterly lost in my own thoughts. It was a little comparative exercise that I had grown accustomed to – taking the multi-sensory experiences back to my minscape and seeing how it measured up to all of my imagined reality. Yes, even the magic of AfrikaBurn could not hold the right of succession to take reign of my imagination. And, obviously, in that imagining I realised that I had brought quite a list of expectations to this place…
So here was the conundrum. In TankwaTown an expectation was a bit like common sense: it is a flower that does not grow in everyone’s garden.
And for that matter, it was a flower that did not take root well once it hit the rock just beneath the topsoil of the Karoo. The very nature of the event and what it placed out for the offer was mutable. Your very next adventure was likely to be changing with the dynamic energy of the day, and you would be left sorely disappointed if you clung to fast-held notions of what exactly you would be finding next. And yet, there I was with my typical wallflower mentality – I was observing and hypothesising and making ungrounded deductions of what this day would offer.
So, this pattern needed to be broken. I was pretty much following this automated construal of the world 24/7 when I was back home. So something had to be different here, didn’t it?
We winded through all kinds of colourful folk until we reached a camp called Sonskyn en Wyn (Sunshine and Wine). It certainly seemed to be the perfect little spot, with a coy enough name, to convince me that it was meant to help us unwind and just freely associate. Thus, we were welcomed by a thriving little dancefloor bustling with gyrating bodies and beautiful creatures, and set ourselves the task of hanging out for awhile. We played a claw machine to get ourselves some styrofoam cups, gifted any of the extras to strangers in the queue, and set about to the bar to fill our bellies with some warm, red swill to induce a slight sense of inebriation and loosened inhibitions.
I started noticing some boys, so I guess something was starting to work…
I soon saw that dancing was not yet something I had developed a unique, extemporaneous talent for. I was not yet whipping out the Drunken Giraffe or Crazy Train for good measure (and if you don’t know those moves, then I may need to come over for some community service). So until we were ready to rumble our temples, we had some work to do before the Burner spirit was ready take the wheel of this dirty little joyride. Just loosen up sweetie… you’ll be living your best life soon…
Perhaps the day called for another impromptu adventure. So, a little way down the road, we found a new initiative called together known as the Vagabonds. And here we found our next activity for the morning: Silent Speed Dating. Now by all the Old Gods and the New, I was basically a demure maiden when it came to taking up arms in striking up a flirty connection with someone. Even with my suncrown blazing and reflecting my self-ploclaimed, novice Burner glory, I was still a pretty reserved, blue-eyed lad when it came to what constituted the theory of attraction. Though, something I ingested happened to leave me with a drop of courage…
The whole activity required of those present to wander around the tent and find eligibles to vibe with in silence for a straight two minutes. Mostly, this involved staring point blank into the eyes of your temporary date for what felt like a small eternity. And if you were lucky, you walked away having caught something in the depths of those big, awkward, luminous orbs staring back at you. Some just stared, some smiled, some initiated more tactile ventures of excitement… but we all were laid bare in some way or another. Fun right?Well, I walked out of that little gathering with my sunrays bent haphazardly in all directions, a disheveled bush of hair, and a fogged up pair of spectacles that seemed to betray my virtue and innocence. So I guess it was a merry little time…
Now I mentioned luck, but this ‘dating’ game was not really intended to create discomfort or even walk away with a soulmate. I admit though… Did I notice the raven haired, bearded beauty who graced that tent with his broad bare torso, and lively dark eyes; that man who had a smile that could be a beacon to any one lost on the dust-shrouded Binnekring; that excuisite fox who showed me the twin suns that he had shaved at the back of his head? Of course I did! And I still reprimand my inability to have sought him out thereafter! I remembered him perhaps more clearly than the rest. His hugs were especially thrilling! (by the way, if you are him and reading this, drop a guy a hint)
But it was besides the point. The speed dating was intended to break down reservations. The whole purpose was to find a vestige of some beauty in the presence of the other and, for that matter, to expand on our very notions of what beauty can comprise. I saw another wallflower who unfolded her petals in her quiet confidence; I saw a woman who had enough love to nurture the strife of the world; and a shy young lad who adjusted his crown as he tried to be a confident prince of pride…
And in all that searching, I wondered and teased at what I saw of myself – reflected back in those many strange cosmic eyes I had felt compelled to drowned in for the briefest amount of time. But I remember walking out there, feeling particularly… lonely…
Strange isn’t it? How you could find time for such a thing as idle mind-wandering and then feel lonesome in such an unconditionally accepting and immersive place created by 14 000 people. And yet, there it was. A small seed of awareness had started germinating the moment I stepped out of that tent. Though, it was not something I attempted at giving much thought to. That would just be way too meta so early in the Burn game. To think about your thinking.
And yet, the feeling would hit me like a freight train with a full cargo moments later…
When I became inexorably, hopelessly and disastrously HIGH.
Now a few more things did fill the gap between the late morning and the afternoon when this level of ‘fun’ hit home. My fellowship played some naked tennis. Then, we organically drifted into a tent or two to curiously check things out. Afterwards, we managed to send out our warm thoughts of love (and miss an opportunity to write my will and testament) on postcards for those back home…
And I think we may have had a drink and a bite to eat afterward.
But things started to take a slightly different turn a few hours later. I remember it starting as a unique burning sensation at my core, as though my solar plexus had decided to implode and then expand in a searing light that sought to beam right through my chest. And as that volatile energy sought to leave my body in a somatic ruin, it set in motion a chain reaction of synaesthesia that sought to rewrite every cerebral code that was keeping my mind intact.
Now, I was in for quite an unforgettable experience. Imagine this: sanity, consciousness, inner turmoil, and your body… all fragmented, coalesced, detached and collided together in a seemingly endless cycle producing a little asylum theatre for whatever audience happened to be present. Meanwhile, inside you’re head, you are just having the time of your life trying to keep all your dragons in their dungeon. Yes. I was tripping irrevocably and I think I plummeted right past Alice on my way down the rabbit hole… (the bitch thought she had mastered psychedelia…).
Visually, you felt like you were caught up in the plotline of The Pagemaster, about to be consumed by the colour maelstrom when the dome artwork from the rotunda melted.
You then fight to survive an audial assault as colours swirl loudly into a unique palette of oblivion. As you try to steady yourself by making contact with anything solid, your tactile turmoil kicks off due to the delayed fire of nerve endings. Eating anything was particularly interesting. The distinction between your palate, tongue and whatever you were ingesting seemed to undergo a molecular fusion with every chewing motion as particles made contact and then seperated in an indistinct gustatory puzzle. Time slowed torturously while your awareness and body seemed to be chasing one another in circles until they smashed against one another at unscheduled untervals causing tremors to contest the Binnekring loud zone. I remember feeling as if I felt like I was clinging onto rails on the edge of a playground roundabout – spinning uncontrollably before coming to an unexpected halt. Repeatedly.
Looking back, it is hard to say what exactly may have induced the buzz state where my mind was being scrambled like an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. Perhaps I inhaled too much glitter that had worked it’s way through my cortical folds to play havoc on my amygdala and substantia nigra (because we all love contemplating a bit of biology in rationalisation of our actions). That Vagabond tent was pretty crowded with a couple of shiny fairies, so the theory seemed plausible… Or perhaps I was bewitched by a dame whose love spell backfired. I mean, my t-shirt said “Wizzard”, but I do wish someone may have told her that her act of courtship was a move at barking up the wrong tree.
It could also be that my thoughts were just churning about so violently already that my mind just got sucked into that vortex of discombobulation . Or, maybe it was a UFO; one was making the rounds on the Binnekring Road. That was definitely it. I am sure. Damn extraterrestrials!
I mean, there were so many strange encounters after that cookie… it could have been anything really…
One thing was for sure: I lost myself in a kaleidoscopic blur, where iridescent hues melded in a wonderfully chaotic ruin, and distant melodies morphed into a tribal cacophony; my wild spirit never had a better cue to go and dance wildly in the dust…
And boy, some part of me sure was lost for quite a bit before it decided to come back; so that may just have happened. And the rest of me was left behind to enjoy a party for one in a lumpy little shaking heap of disorientation and a seesaw state of consciousness.
From witness accounts (only two, thank God), it seemed that I remained in a near catatonic cycle of rocking back and forth with my hands pressing down on my skull to keep everything contained. All sensation had slowed to a point where minute moments felt elongated, lengthened, stretched out, stretched thin, and even perpetual…
So what was really happening in that shred of consciousness that was left to me that day?
Cue a throwback to the Vagabond tent, with my little “lost-in-thought” moment and feeling of being lonely, and I realised I actually was tangent to a deep truth that I was maybe attempting to suppress. It was certainly something that was playing at the edge of concern that day. But in this very instance, that bleak little monster that represented that strange feeling was a dark, numbing wraith that wrapped ghostly tendrils around my inner defences… and shattered them. I was sure that spirits danced across the Binnekring when the ancient Karoo night unwrapped itself at night to reveal the mysteries that lay beyond the stratosphere, but I wondered what ghosts each Burner carried along with them. For I sure did not intend to encounter this kind of adversary in this magical place…
But what it was, what it represented, and why it was particularly isolated to draw my attention with such vehemence, remained clear.
It got me wondering, for weeks afterward, at what skeletons decided to snatch onto everone’s luggage when they decided to open their closets for packing. For if we all face our demons at some point, this was surely mine. And I was facing it now. And who knows how many others among the desert horde faced theirs that night as well. For in that altered state of consciousness, all else is stripped away, revealing the very darkest parts of you to be more clear and more vulnerable than they possibly may have ever been before.
And perhaps my acceptance of the perks of being a wallflower did have this small consequence: to get lost so effectively due my idle mind-wandering so as to be isolated in the barrens of the unconscious… where no one could join or tell me that they left a light on if I decided to return…
How many scars remain invisible and unacknowledged as they spread through our souls in our inability to give stock to our hidden desires and conflicts? As our daily hassles tax us; as our life struggles drain us; and as we are challenged to acknowledge more authentic versions of ourselves, how far do we go to escape the island of misfit toys – that self-created realm where we rationalise, over compensate, and repress to cope with our broken selves? And what is more, does AfrikaBurn become our metaphorical Kintsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”) where the history of our breakage becomes part of our enduring beauty? Was this one of the dreaded expectations that creeped its way into consciousness when one found oneself in a place that could offer some sense of healing. Did we need healing?
It did set in motion a little mental hiatus to engage in some reflection. In fact, the crucial importance of this period was almost sacrosanct in its significance; paramount to whatever I clearly needed to face. My preference for my inner world may have removed me too much from a place that required my presenence and mindful engagement.
The truth is that even a wallflower needs to unroot themselves from their mounted garden on the wall, especially when magic is being made.
But here is perhaps, the catch-22. Dismounting from your high horse and riding from you realm of comfort does not imply that you go seek out your dragons in places that you are not prepared to face them. I had posed the question at the start of this entry of our tendency to so desperately strive for the intensity of our experiences, and if we perhaps sought that this intensity would secure its permanence in memory. But as was said, reserving an expectation for an event such as AfrikaBurn was prone to lead to discontentment. So in other words, pushing too hard in a desire for novelty, change, and even healing was bound to be a staggering plotline that would leave you as the playwright sorely rattled and despondent. To state it even more simply, perhaps I had plunged to deep into my own ruminations… and the conduct I perused to achieve that dive set me into maelstrom of my own inner conflicts.
Most importantly fellow Burner, remember: just because a Bad Trip can be made to sound like an epic undertone to the Divine Comedy, don’t try this at home kids! Dante’s Inferno is not the only place where you will poetically discover that hell has nine levels!
For me, that confrontation stole close to half of that fateful day. It found me stumbling out of my tent to find the rose and gold hues of light glowing softly on the horizon. I knew I asked myself more than once why the sunset was in the wrong place? It was only after my companions discovered that their wallflower had drifted out on the street again, that some alarm spread through our little camp. I mean, I could have lost myself anywhere really… if I had not fully recovered. I could have just ventured on into our neighbour’s little boudoir, and they happened to be a tribe of lost boys already.
It was also after some gentle guidance that I was made aware that it was morning.
The loud zone of the Binnekring was an interesting little role player in this perception of time, as music never ceased through the night and continued right into the morning… a faint and distant rumble powerful enough to alter your perception.
All in all, I think I was broken in quite nicely if I do say so myself. Donning the guise of a deity, while hyper jumping right into my unconscious turmoils to face my abyss until the early morning hours. All before the crack of dawn! I would say this was shaping up to be quite the formative experience.
Rising like a dusty mirage out of the Karoo heat, there’s a city that many call home. It’s a manifestation of our collective imagination and the culmination of our collective efforts. It comes and goes, and ebbs and flows. It’s transient, temporary and transitory. It’s neither here, nor there.
It is real in its unrealness.
“Out of nothing, we created everything.”
The 1st of May marked a departure from the homes we knew – homes that were but shelters from the mundane routine, scheduled frustrations, and the carefully woven expectations of an everyday existence. Those patterns of living that were dictated by a norm-bound society. The heralds to this journey were two passionate souls who carried the memories of our country’s very own Neverland – AfrikaBurn. And with a cosmic sky still very much unfurled to reveal the early morning hour, we were about to embark on our very own flight past the second star to the right…
There was a city that had risen, founded not by one, but by many. Created not by one, but by all. And we were about to make our own impression upon this oasis that had shifted into exisence out of of the ether of a collective imagination.
My escort comprised of a beautiful, engaged couple. She was an incandescent desert blossom that flowered at the behest of the Burn’s annual clarion call – a Rose of Jericho that went against its nature, reviving itself under the beating desert sun instead of the rain. He was a staunch warrior of the open plain. Rocksolid he withstood the elements with a great anticipation to challenge. Reliable, and quiet in strength, his marvel at detail was as fluid as the very spirit of the Burn (he was often distracted, but so are the best of us).
And I was the wallflower (one of many, I was sure). I was an observer, a watcher in the wait… the world unfolded in its own beautiful and gradual pace, and I merely sought to be the scribe that could recount the memories of sensory ecstasy that I was bound to encounter in the place where wild things roam.
The road to Tankwa Town was littered with the characteristic traces of its many journeymen: courage, endurance, grit, patience… It was marked by surrealist anticipation, eager escapism, and a million dreams tempered into the 12 hours that encompassed the duration of the journey from my own home.
My mind was busy cultivating that keen sense of receptiveness to make this experience significant. AfrikaBurn appeared to offer a perfect milieu to transcend the borders for one’s internal and external limitations; though it did not promise it. AfrikaBurn was not a therapeutic orchestration to help tame your inner demons (god, it seemed more likely they would be let loose to roll in the dust than be reigned in!). It was a created space. More importantly, it was a space that you created. You were the Burner that in your expression became the Burn itself. What you received almost entirely relied on what you were willing to give. There was an element of universal reciprocity deeply entertwined in the potential value that AfrikaBurn held for its desert wanderers. Change and answers did not always result from active deliberation and purpose-driven seeking. Sometimes, it came from patience and an openness to unfolding events and circumstances. A surrender to the unpredictability of the universe, to state it differently.
Tankwa Town was a creation that phased into its nebulous glory from the communal effort of an ever-changing group of people. And AfrikaBurn was the event that called these spirited folk together from the different corners of the world. There was a survival guide: the Biblical guide of the avid Burner…and in this compendium was put forth the 11 guiding principles of this regional gathering (tracing its influence from the renowned Burning Man event):
Communal Effort – AfrikaBurn was a cooperative movement in art, expression and relations that promoted a unified input of a community.
Civic Responsibility – acting in accordance with both the written and unspoken laws that drive the order and maintenance of the desert community and those who participate in its many guises.
Decommodification – where the transactional and commercial culture from which all those gathered trace their lives, is replaced by a participatory experience that strips these past influences from their power to redefine value.
Participation – where the tangible nature of this new Utopian reality is made possibly through the active engagememt of its members who invest themselves deeply in the flows of work and play.
Immediacy – an important touchstone to the Burner spirit, the participant is coaxed to strive in overcoming their inner hurdles that withholds authenticity; to disperse the mists that cloud their outer perceptions; and to break the barriers that keeps them from a connection with others, and then to mindfully engage in the intensity of each passing moment.
Gifting – a commitment that is an extension of a decommodified interaction, the unconditional practice of standing in the offer or acceptance of a gift forms a valuable system by which each Burner shares their material and spiritual prosperity.
Leave No Trace – the immediacy of our connection with our surroundings include the natural world, and a striving to maintain the environment by leaving it untarnished from our activities fuelled to run a magical realm.
Radical Self-Reliance – a principle of encouragement to tap into the wealth of one’s own inner resources.
Radical Self-Expression – a powerful entreprise that allows the Tankwa wanderer to gift the community with their unique and actualised individuality, by impressing their creative presence upon the dusty plains of freedom.
Radical Inclusion – Afrikburn envisions the world anew, and in this semblance of a more connected sphere that seeks to rid itself of the injustices and imbalances of discriminating and disrespectful systems and institutions, every stranger is welcomed to find a home.
Each One, Teach One – We are keepers and custodians of the sacred happenings that embody the Burner culture, and in such, we strive to open this knowledge to others who seek an enlightenment of these ideals.
As soon as our wheels bit into the ancient dust leading to the gates of the event, the reality of the unreal already began to take root into the virgin soil of my Burner spirit… Pulled off to the side was a convoy that was transporting another set of rare denizens to the hidden town, all of whom were gesturing embraces for our arrival to the final leg of our journey.
The last hour and a half to Tankwa Town was an unforgiving gravel road that dug its claws into your nerves as much as it did your tyres. The metaphorical troll under the bridge, the dirt path was merciless to the unprepared and impatient. Fair to say, that none was however so tested as the driver of our small trio. Steady, attentive and mindful, his penchant for safety and awareness eventually brought us to the promised land where many awaited to gain entry. The Karoo city edged into view through the whitewashed blur of the horizon, as the towering clan sculpture (symbol of the collective) cut a mark on the troposphere, surrounded by the traces of a new civilization.
And at the gates were the first whimsical wanderers weaving their way between the newcomers. Three things became readily apparent at AfrikaBurn before we truly even nestled ourselves at its heart:
Personal expression transcended your wildest ideas of visual representation…
Boundaries were blurred, reshaped and reworked in a perpetual cycle as your exposure to novelty was set forth…
And that any of this, from the people, the places, and the placement…was anything less than multidimensional. Reality did not have a singular way of manifestation here. It really was woven from the very disparate and unique parts a large collection of minds.
What struck me the most was that I was not taken aback by the clear childlike glee, wonder and curiosity I was starting to feel. It was more akin to a natural state. It felt like a comfortable means of wordly interaction. In fact, it was a mindset into which I slipped so easily, that it was something I remained unaware of during most of my time at the Burn.
After the administrative entry into the event, it was tradition to hit the tribal gong that acted as the waypost to the first street into the ethereal city. With a deep, sonorous and resounding vibration sent through the late afternoon and across the dusty plains, I missioned ahead with my companions to set up camp.
The streets bustled with the commotion of settled Burners, many of whom had long since adorned their nude apparel and traded in other miscellaneous pieces of clothing for unique adornments (against which common office policies would clearly hold some reservations – they were thriving). A lone wanderer adorned with leggings touched by Midas kicked up dust through one of the turns in the road, with an unbuttoned waistcoat made of faux leather hugging a sunkissed torso. Wild offspring dotted the pathways on another turn, with sagelike souls watching on as the sun was being drawn across the sky to kiss the west…
We winded almost aimlessly through the streets branching from the Buitekring, and finally procured a temporary spot to settle into our camp. The event was a survivalist gathering at its simplest when it came to entrenchment. The nearly inhospitable Tankwa did not offer any of the creature comforts one may have grown accustomed to. Food, water, and shelter were not a given of the gathering; it was crucial to be self-reliant. And with millenia of hunter-gatherer knowledge lost to the ignorant and modern mind, preparation was key in order to ensure you were able to enjoy other opportunities to connect with a more intuitive inner vestige of your primal self.
After the work was done, we ventured forth into the beckoning twilight. We brandished a couple of backpacks, drinks in hand, and found our footfalls marking out a path to our very first temple burn.
The setting sun and stretching shadows were awaking all manner of desert spirits from their sheltered abodes on that night of our arrival. Young and old were being drawn like moths to the burning edifice on the the Tankwa open plain (dubbed ‘the playa’). The Temple of /Xam was alrighty set alight after three years of gracing the Burn. It was an artistic tribute brought to the space by Kim Goodwin and his team, the Dandylions, in 2016 – in honour of the rugged beauty and enduring culture of the Khoi-San, the First Nations People of the Tankwa. It signified the memory of a people that has endured despite the onslought of time, much like the hand-woven wattle structure had withstood the severe winds and schorching heat of the Karoo for many years. And in its burning, it too became a memory in all its symbolism, with the burn a silent tribute to the dignified strength and the lasting power of an ancient culture that it sought to emulate.
As embers drifted up toward the sky to spark the kindle of twilight dreams and evening lustre, the impermanence of it all was moving… Eternal structures were reduced to a memory by mortal hands, and ash soon layered itself among the old dirt of an eternal plain. For a moment it all seemed in reach, and then it was destined to forever be unattainable to generations that would build upon the memories burned upon the playa.
And then came the longing: invoked by a consuming desire to rematerialize that lost piece of manmade wonder that had never once occupied my mind in the three years of its desert vigil. For truly, it was not the structure, but what it represented in its endearing beauty… a beauty by which many Burners had passed with idle footfalls and attentive marvel, and with thoughts only teasing at the deeper meaning intended by the artist. And as smoke drifted into dark, and the dark drifted over the plain, the night came alive with light and music as Tankwa Town set its sights to howling at the many promises of another desert night. For even tributes of silence reach their end, much like a cacophony of artistry eventually seeks its silence. But the party had only just begun!
In that madness we saw the moon kissing the earth…
We saw an angel kneeling in the dark…
And in that humble benediction where celestial bodies play in the dust, we were annointed with a deepened awareness of the vivacious nature underlying that wild exploration of the world, where the seeking of magic guides the attention through softly illuminated tent openings, dimly let corners, and in and among the mysterious creatures breaking and reforming their gatherings – all at the whims of the ethereal magics swirling amidst echoing noises and flashing lights.
After tapping into the beautiful disscord of so many shifting sorceries, we eventually headed back to camp after a long day. Nestled into a quiet little street, far from the loud zone and the Binnekring where the desert fandango remained eternal, we were taking care of our vessels in the preparation for the the many adventures of a dawning day. Eventually our small company would soon drift apart for the night. Our noble diver turned in, and the last of our company turned our gazes to an open and undimmed star bespeckled cosmos. Among the stars we traced the now forgotten words of brilliant philosophies, life-changing epiphanies and the million pipedreams that filled our kaleidoscopic minds…and in those acts of complete mental surrender, we hoped that AfrikaBurn would give purchase for our wild imaginations to take root.
Love and Light fellow Burners. Until the tale from the Tankwa continues.
A courageous state of challenging the status quo and internalised perceptions that keeps one enthralled to a certain creed, mindset or way of living. A liberation from the self-imposed hurdles and personal fantasies that staunches growth and development. The emancipated position of assuming responsibility for one’s own choices, the acknowledgement of truth, and picking up the cloak of self-authorship in moulding one’s own narrative.
The air was reverberating with the gentle chimes of porcelain, steel and glass. In between those melodious waves drifted the steamy whisps and ambrosial aromas from hot baked bread and confectionery. Sunlight streamed through large paned windows that made browns seem golden and whites appear silver. And words flitted around the room in kaleidoscopic poetry without thread or meaning. It mingled with bell-like laughter, deep sighs, shifting timbres and deafening silences…
“.. Gernus could tell us a little more about that. “
“Oh, not here at all” my friend commented teasingly as she touched my arm and looked knowingly at the others. I knew she was referring to my absenteeism in conversation and my idle mind. She looked at me again with a half-teasing smile. “You are quiet today… We were talking about that film you watched this weekend.” Oh, still just that? I thought we had changed that topic?
I was lost in thought again. Or had been. This was not an uncommon occurrence at this point. My friends already had a partial understanding of this. Being lost in one’s inner world and all… Or rather, them losing me inside it.
Of late this was more frequent than I had myself anticipated. I think I was perpetually untethered to the flow of the mundane routine that was playing out around me. Chats and banter just did not stimulate me enough any more to keep my attention. But in admitting that I probably seemed… haughty, maybe even vain.
And yet, I could not bring myself to assume that description. Because these talks I found myself engaging in, this company, was not lacking in depth or in fascination. I was just not present, not really. So that would just make me susceptible to mind-wandering. Perhaps it even made me lost. And once I may have felt guilty due to a misguided construal of why I was feeling that way, but not any longer. One should not be made to feel guilty for lack of attentiveness to the immediate situation. It simply means that attention is invested elsewhere. And surely that space must be more important.
Though, regarding the place my mind did take me when out with friends, being mindful of the ambience of the restaurant certainly did not seem to be the crucial task at hand here. And yet, in that moment I felt it to be the most important task to set myself in escaping the thoughts that were actually lamenting for my attention. And these thoughts were trapping me. In fact, that scene of daydreaming was but one of many variations of me trying to lose myself in streams of thinking that coursed away from harder reality.
I was in a bit of an impasse. Much of my life had felt fabricated (yes, I use this word very deliberately) according to a very specific formula that I believed was truly working for me… and I felt my pedigree attested to that. The cornerstones of my personality were patience, commitment and self-control. And I firmly believed that consistent effort directed toward the attainment of a goal was key to success – in my career, my relationships and my mental health. I may have been a bit of a prude…
I think, back then, I believed a lot in that which kept me in line with a very “blue-eyed, golden boy” label that was attached to me. And what I have learned is that labelling serves as one of the many jailors to one’s perceptions. But there was something else. There was an influence that seemed more intrinsic in nature and firmly seated at my core. Its dark and numbing tendrils often reached out to play havoc on my amygdala. And though it was susceptible to outside influence – where it was either being reinforced or alleviated due to the flow of my surroundings – I knew that it was rooted within me primarily. Fear.
Thomas Hobbes had an interesting thought on the whole concept of fear when reasoned about in society. To him, fear was a kind of binding element in people. Because of the sordid reality and complicity prevalent among human predispositions, we aim to escape this by revoking the crippling power that it holds to a civil society to maintain the order. So, the fear is localised in an institution, such as the state. And so holds a social contract tradition…
But let us rework his theory. We agree that human nature has great potential to cruelty, brutishness and loneliness, and that does invoke distress. But such behaviour is bound to manifest in us as well of we are not careful. So, we surrender to more careful perceptions; we foreclose ourselves against the unknown by regressing to what is well within our scope of knowledge; and we nest all too leisurely within our very own comfort zones. We surrender that power of fear to something we believe we cannot change – perceptions. And thus, we withold ourselves from truth.
Now this is significant to understand. This page has talked extensively on the topics of truth and its link towards taking greater stock of personal potential and worth. And it has done so in the premise of knowing what your position of strength is an honest appraisal of your personality and disposition. And standing firm in those confessions when in interaction with others.
But the truth was: I was lying to myself as to what was truly making me happy. And to add to that truth, I could discard humility for but a moment to admit that I think I was too smart to lie to myself as to what was truly making me happy. Was I really going to add self-deception as a core skill to my resume?
Here was my thing: fear. It was a cage. But it was also a familiar space. Somehow, it was a space that I knew as well as my own inner thoughts. In that familiarity, it felt safe. It felt safe, because it felt known. It was a space well explored, with boundaries drawn out. Hypothetically, it was most possibly the lesser of two evils: remaining within a limited space as opposed to venturing into the unknown.
In fact Luvvi Ajayi captured perfectly what I had intended to say for the longest amount of time. Where we need to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable and to say the things that need to be said. Doing the very “anti-me” thing by going against the grain. In this case, I was allowing a false truth to protude through the sense of a more direct honesty that I knew was what I needed to hear. And what I needed to do was say the things to myself that I knew would be hard to hear.
She also talked about realising that you may be the most powerful person walking into a room to admit to certain perceptions, and that the realisation thereof may be important to effect change. But we don’t admit that, do we? And by doing that, I was denying what was possibly a primal kind of power that could pull mountains from flat stretches of land. What I was denying (among so many other traits) was my imagination. And more importantly, the extent thereof. And I realised this when I started writing. But we are reluctant in admitting to our own core potentials, and thus converge on mediodcrity as a default.
In fact, people and systems count on our silence to keep us exactly where we are. Then we keep ourselves there as well. Because of fear of what a broken system might afford. Its the whole conundrum of uncertainty, and that is just too much stimulation. And a wallflower facing this predicament has a particularly acute difficulty in dealing with this plight. High-reactive temperaments and sensitivity heighten our receptiveness of the consequences of unfamiliarity, and so we feel highly insecure by venturing into the world. But then… I cannot claim the role of narration for the lives of my fellow bloomers. I just knew that my own petals were closed in a tight bud against the uncomfortable realities of breaking the mould of all I knew. But something was prying it open with force.
Suddenly that cage I was in did not feel safe any more. In fact, it began to feel more like the barrier that it was in reality. And I needed desperately to break free. These old mantras were no longer effective. These old perceptions did not seem as wise. And this fear was beginning to feel more like frustration.
You could say I was in a bit of an existential crisis. And it seemed pretty holistic in its scope. In terms of my career, I had relentlessly invested hard work and effort to try and reach a goal that no longer seemed to be the dream. Socially, I was beginning to question the tangent points of interests between me and many of those I called my friends. What is more, my romantic views were becoming ever less tolerant of the excessive hubris that reigned among potential suitors. Cognitively I was filtering through views that seemed to cause me more dissonance than inspiring any sense of commitment. And spiritually I was yearning for something fulfilling, but that was unbound by the doctrines (no matter how open-minded they seemed) of the belief systems that abounded in society.
A hot mess, right? The inputs of others were not exactly relieving me of much of the confusion I was feeling either. Attemts to share these ruminations often resulted in very matter-of-fact replies. What was hurtful was that these replies sometimes came from those I invested trust in to remind me of the very truth that I knew I needed exposure to, but was blindsided from due to their careful perceptions maintained in order to solidify a sense of security. “I am glad you are finally taking this route. You need to do what makes you happy.”
What was more, these views seemed often shared in a presumptuous manner, as if these truths were insights I should have become aware of long ago. “I knew you would find your way. I always knew that you would eventually take this route once you experienced a few things. But I did not want to impose. But it is amazing how you came to discover this all on your own.” My oh my, thanks for caring… No… Really…
If you have been reading these blogs for awhile, then you know that these reflections hardly ever come without an attempt to extract a lesson to share with my fellow bloomers. And even though a few have made themselves evident, let me at least highlight something from the last mentioned points. Though respecting the freedom and independence of your friends is a show of great respect, withholding perceptions or sharing half-truths with them are not. You are not being helpful when you feel the need to pose a warning, but decide against it for fear of imposing. You are not being wise by withholding a sense of meaningful guidance by thinking that it is best discovered by an individual themselves. You are not empowering anyone when you have a valuable investment to scaffold an effort, but leave someone to their own devices. You are not being a good friend, partner, lover or any significamt support in another person’s life by digressing even a slight bit from your unique view of their situation. You are not taken into confidence (as someone meaningful in another’s life) to share a view that they would have likely convinced themselves of. You are there because you challenge it. You are there because that challenge initiates growth. You are there because your truth is valued. And that truth needs to be told. The fact remains that advice is something we feel inclined to give regardless if it is actually wanted. We should not attempt its denial or suppression. We could simply adapt a mindfulness as to how we convey it to those we care for. Besides, just because it may be good in perspective does not mean that anyone needs to stand in agreement thereto.
If you have a wallflower to tend to in your life, then you can be assured that they are fully present to whatever energy you are presenting to them at a given moment. If your role is then shaped toward the assumption of a guiding influence, then feel free to allow this expression – whether it be out of concern, or care or even a confidence in what you believe. If your inkling is to give advice, then you were likely pressed to provide it because of some perceived cue. But you may be met with reluctance from those who stand in reception of your views.
I have been a prime example of someone who despised the (what I regarded as) arrogance of another to prescribe my actions. I was quick to regard any advice as a direct display of another’s entitlement to my own life choices. And though such individuals certainly exist to test one’s patience, perhaps I was unfair to many a friend who only sought to offer help. From this I offer you another lesson. Always listen to the advice offered by another. You may not choose to follow it, but just pay heed to the degree of value it may hold in your life.
Once more, I knew where this frustration in accapeting guidance came from. It felt like another trap set to snare me. It felt too much akin to the other boundaries of mind that was in place in my life… It seemed too much like the cages I was already rattling to escape from. While, in truth, these may have been keys dangled in front of me to unlock my mind to different possibilities.
Wow, what a process to reach a meaninful insight to life…
Just like advice, opportunity had the same penchant of presenting something desirable that we need not pursue. We could consider it, but we need not accept it. And a display of such freedom seemed brazen in a society that valued a grateful stance toward opportunity. Or rather, that valued the opportunity to grow and develop. And though such pursuits are noble, whether in one’s career, social life or even spiritually, grasping opportunity that goes against the flow of your own intuitive direction is not a display of open-mindedness. It is a surrender to normative behaviour. And allowing oneself to be guided by intuition is not a surrender to fear, but instead an honest appraisal of one’s wants and desires. A greater move to a sense of joy.
The sollution is simple. If something is not making you happy, then you should not be interested in expending your attention, energy or time therein. And sometimes a sacrifice is not just a means to some more divine ambition. There are times when a sacrifice of one’s energy to more dilligent effort; one’s time spent on a virtuous amount of patience; or one’s attention directed to the apparent sagacity of others, are no longer a means to a greater end. Sometimes, that kind of sacrifice is simply just a loss. And the question that is posed to us (to you or me) is this: how much more are we willing to give up before we decide to break the shackle?
Love and light fellow bloomers. And have courage to rattle the cage!
A quality of an increased receptiveness to one’s surroundings, heightening the intensity of sensory experience and moment-to-moment thought repertoires. It prescribes a finer finesse to the mindful reflection extended on the moulding of perceptions, and thus an increased vulnerability to the nuances that abound in abstract encounters.
The room felt alive with the sounds of the night. Beyond the sliding door the concerto of cricketsong melodiously intertwined with the rustle of trees that busied themselves in adjusting their crowns. The timbre of midnight musings gently caressed the ears, alongside the touch of the evening breeze that was chill to the touch. The moon cast its light from somewhere in the sky, diffusing softly between the bedroom drapes that was the only veil against the night. And steadily that pearly hue rolled over crisp white sheets, and refracted against his marble figure as he lay there silently on his back, with muscles rippling beneath skin that had been kissed by the sun on many a rising of day. But tonight he was bathed in silver, a sheen that hugged the curvature of pure physical power embodied in his form. And in that silence that seemed deafening in its serenity, was the deep and vibrant breathing that made the air around us shudder with the rise and fall of his chest.
I was in the nook of his embrace, with head resting where his shoulder met his arm, and I remember a distinct comfort in the warmth that radiated from his fingertips, from his caress, and from the gentleness of his hold that was betrayed only by his massive frame with clearly hidden Herculean strength. This magic seemed so completely untethered to reality in that private moment. And yet… nothing was private, with the night so intertwined in its enshrouding presence.
I remembered the safety I felt in that moment frozen in memory; that crystallised sense of security that was tangible on every physical level, but also a cushion to the feelings that were constantly roiling beneath the surface and demanding of my cognisance. Somehow he stilled that tempest, and he brought me to the eye of the storm. And yet, he was a mere visitor to my narrative. Forever a guest to my future reminiscence, and only someone who was passing through my life story. I knew it then, laying there next to him. I knew it even before I met him for a casual drink that night. But then, I had met few people I could trust with such reckless abandon of my reservations. I had met few men who wielded so much raw force to their spirit, yet were masters in taming that energy. I think, that night, I had met a sage. And god knows they were scarce out there.
As his fingers played through the strands of my hair, his deep whisper broke the silence that had settled momentarily between so many other drifting philosophies that had occupied our minds through that balmy night lost in the memories of late summer. “You are a very gentle soul. You have this tender spirit.” He looked at me slowly then, his grip tightening ever so softly. “There are two types of people you’ll meet: those who would cherish it, and seek to protect you, and those who would seek to misuse you for those qualities. You need to be very careful.”
It was a scene that joined many of my other vibrant recollections. There seemed to be so many; and I could not fathom how to be honest. ‘Life’ surely had an abundance of experiences awaiting me in its treasury. I was, after all, still in my 20’s: young, starry-eyed, naive, distracted, lost, intense… wise did not seem to be in the line-up of those descriptions very soon. And yet, I felt the slightest brush of the quality in my narrative. I felt it in single moments that stood out in their scintillating flashes of people, places and picturesque gestalt. I felt that my memory was filled to the brim with moments of reminiscence, and from each was taken something of considerable value.
I felt heavy with those memories. I still do. I so wished to quiet those ruminations and remain quiescent in thought. Yet somehow my mind was constantly floating high amidst so many amorphous musings, and the Florence Welsh lyric from a Sky Full Of Song seemed to bounce of the inner walls of my skull to capture my mood, “Hold me down, I’m so tired now.” At the age of 27, is it possible for your spirit to feel weary?
It appeared to be one of the signs of being an old soul. And perhaps in understanding the transient nature of one’s reality, and the limits that it imposes, perhaps I was deliberately collecting these moments in time. Perhaps, I was deliberately paying attention to how the milieu of these moments were pieced together in pastel imagery, olfactory nostalgia… in tactile desires, and in phonic harmonies. Perhaps I was desperate to make permanent the memory of the ambience, for a desire to recreate such character and impression to satisfy the longings for such memories that would arise once it was played out. Once it too, had passed. Perhaps there was something to this disposition of mine… that of sensitivity.
In his psychological expertise, Jerome Kagan would have undoubtedly placed me in the category of high-reactives when it came to temperament. This greater mark of sensitivity to the cues around me proved to be more than enough stimulation to push me into persistent bouts of withdrawal. Typical of my introverted nature, I needed to collect all environmental input and process it. I needed time to mull through its many meanings. But managing sensory information was something altogether different from the management of emotion. And when you are sensitive, you run the risk of great personal harm when those emotional projections come from people that have a particular flavour to their intensity.
In that line of reasoning, I knew that my gentle nature was perhaps a residual manifestation of my sensitive orientation to the world – that world so filled with bright colours, assailant sounds, perpetual movement and powerful feelings. I really did need to be careful…
But then, I was convinced that there was a mastery to be attained of this sensitivity. Yes, it presented a dichotomy. On the one hand, it intensified perceptual experiences to the degree that simple passing instances of one’s day was painted with such vivid character that one was really made to feel alive. So what others would regard as a mere lovely autumn day for example, would for me become a masterpiece by nature’s hand. I would be intensely aware of the soft textiles that hugged warmly against my frame: a metaphorical fortress to the discomforts of seen and unseen chills of both heart and mind. Why did a simple scarf feel like a defense against the greatest of tragedies? How did these soft fabrics provide so much comfort on contact? The sun would shyly wink between cotton clouds and illuminate earthy treetops in a thousand goldens shades that seemed to lend its warmth to the day. The very boles of the trees would sigh in tired anticipation of their winter’s rest, while the wind carried the crisp lullabies of forgotten seasons to sway the earth to hibernation. And I would wonder, how it was that I could hear the light refracting through molecules in chiming melodies; how I could feel the texture of the shifting season by its earthy colour… I was enveloped by this synaesthesia and by the composition of the day, and I was lost within it. Yet, audience to it as well. This was how I saw the world…
It was as if Demeter herself was steadily becoming aware of the impending sorrow of bidding her daughter farewell for another half-year (the Greeks really had a beautiful way of explaining the changes in season). Autumn became devine, the day become a meaninful reflection of that divinity, and I was relishing the million idiosyncrasies that presented itself in a million different variations. This was truly what was meant by the savouring of experience.
And then there were people… God. Now here we had an altogether different conundrum. Vibrant beacons flitting through the already occupied spaces of sensations around you. Each a light or shadow sewn together from so many misunderstood feelings and perceptible falsehoods. Each a construction of architectural beauty with visible loose strands of chaos. Did anyone really understand the ‘lonely’ child? Was he not preceived as the most sociable denizen on the playground by keeping to his own devices in conjuring fantasies overflowing with imaginary company? Was anyone truly looking at the old woman sitting at the corner coffee shop as she was gracefully swaying her eyes across the social sea that churned around her? Could no-one comprehend the acts of this wizened goddess in her exercise of reminiscent recollections because she was wealthy through the bank of her own memories? Or was anyone catching whiff of the pervading desperation that clung like an odour to the social wolves within the night club – those prowlers who wore their confidence as a pelt to ward of the chill of the slightest posssibility of rejection? Was anyone, ANYONE, really seeing any of this. And what of I? What did my embodied self communicate? Was my off-to-side positioning truly seen as shy? For I knew this as a strategic position from which to observe with even more vigilance, and assimilate greater meaning to my experience through other encounters playing out around me. Was my arm-crossed demeanour a gesture of defensiveness? For I felt a comfort in metaphorically hugging my concentration closer to my very being, to keep myself attentive and fortify myself from distraction. Was my stalwart expression and stern cast to my face really seen as discontentment or even anger? For I was merely immersed in a crystal focus on the ecperience at hand. Why was I seeing a sensitive thinker, when some saw a lost antisocial? Was our world really structured to this kind of ignorance to intensity? Perhaps they were protecting themselves.
For yes, on one hand of sensitivity lay experiential immersion. But on the other lay a susceptibility to the dangers held in the self-preserving pursuits of others. In such cases, that keener awareness and heightened reaction to experience proves burdening. For in their hardened state, people have become reacquainted with inherent cruelty. And I was a deer gently grazing in the headlights of many social predators. I knew this, because I felt unsafe nearly half of the time I would reveal myself to the world honestly. I knew this from how hard I took criticism to those qualities I regarded as strengths. I knew this from the false interest people took to my thoughts, only to talk over my vocalisations of them. I knew this from the genuine interest I had in sharing my version of the beauties I perceived, only for others to take no real heed. I knew this from the backlash people offered when they did not have a constant stock or grip of my mind. I knew this from my interactions with family, from friends, from lovers who moved on, from passers-by. But their mistook grip on my gentleness was not a fault of theirs. It was not an everlasting point to highlight as guilt-inducing criticism against a lack of their virtue. Not at all. It was a mismatch of energies; and in understanding such energies, I was merely being directed unknowingly to be in greater acceptance and understanding of my own.
At 27, I have come to learn that sensitivity is an art. And like any art, it takes practice. Boy, does it take years to just even realise that it needs practice: to expertly lay down the strokes of one’s complicated views on the world; to create with subtlety, to weave with nuance, to understand such executions to even begin with! And then, to survive it in its most primal unabashed form when enshrined in people, or abused by them.
In fact, for years this very quality was frowned upon in the face of the very hypermasculine communities I had the ‘privilege’ of growing up in. Gentleness was an affront to robustness; emotional intelligence was seen as an overcomplication in “trying too hard” ; and sensitivity was seen as a reactive response rooted in insecurity. It was seen as weak. But what I saw was a quality that, with its risks, still posed an immense asset to the enrichment of experience. It was a trait that kept me in connection with my emotions. It was a quality that I could not begin to imagine in its subdued form, much less its absence.
At 27 what I learned, or rather… what I realised, was this: that a resonance to the tone of the world is a sound that most would mute for the sake of a faith in their secure sense of sanity; that the truth of perception is a sharp arrowhead that is feared for its accuracy, and the value in the shot would most likely be evaded. That complexity would be bartered off for the first offer of simplicity, merely because of an ignorance in how intricacy is used. And that sensitivity is a craft that humanity is beginning to lose, because of a culture of disconnect and defensiveness that stifles the creativity of savouring experience.
Sensitivity is not frailty. It is an oculus that looks past the fickleness and denial of emotion; that reshapes the aesthetic of one’s surroundings; and that teaches a navigation of the world through emotional agility and poetic brilliance.
At 27, sensitivity has become an architect of my pedigree.
A stern rebuke of non-negotiable standards and conduct, that meaningfully administers a warning to the culprit of such actions. A denunciation of harmful beliefs and practices that serves to reprimand the wielder or agent of their actions. A harangue that firmly draws boundaries and makes another attentive to their disillusionment.
Let’s talk openly for a minute (or perhaps a couple – let’s face it, these posts get a tad lengthy). The wallflower has been tending to memory, and a few stories have been brewing in that garden. And one among them, calls us to be frank. So lets get to it then: Men…
Ah yes. How are you doing Mars? Going in retrograde soon? Because your sons just need to calm the f*ck down on old Big Blue next door… They are becoming a bit brazen, and we are not living for it!
Alright… we totally are. I mean a little bit of self-certainty and attunement to desire goes a long way to tickle our fancy…
… but toning down that extra bit of assertive self-confidence and blazing sex drive might actually give the rest of us a damn breather from the Spartan directive.
Now, this is not meant to be hypocritical. I mean, I am of course a man myself. And perhaps (if not without doubt) much of the critique that can be launched towards the typically rough, untactful male in his prime is surely returned to me in certain instances. I can pretty much be a ‘typical’ male at times too…
But for the most part, I would love to think that I am successful at evading the brunt of male stereotypes that many men heroically assume by choice. So let’s jump right into one. The beautiful little phenomenon called: The Bro Code (also referred to as Guy Code).
I’ll leave you a little educational tool to help you. Here you go…
Perhaps you prefer such wisdoms as shared by Barney Stinson (any How I Met Your Mother fans?)
Basically, men have a mutual consensus as to the proper form of conduct by which their construal of the world is conducted. These rules of etiquette, or ‘the code’ as contemporary lingo now addresses it, is the cornerstone of the unwritten understanding between men from all walks of life. It guides their perceptions, scaffolds their interpretation, and thus their actions show fealty to the sacred oath imparted by an ancient blueprint. And women have their own version too (or so legend holds).
It’s comforting right? Knowing of a few key life hacks that could calibrate that gender compass so you rock the boat (or the bed) in all the right ways… Well sure. Mainstrean society has not really given their full investment to the whole “gender fluidity” bit. Our minds prefer schemas and wrestle with spectrums, so if something is not one thing or the other – male or female – then we pretty much have a bit of difficulty keeping up. So, the gender codes are still pretty fierce in relevance.
And, oh… you know. They work just swell and all… until you’re pretty much a straight guy expecting your fellow raging homosexual to abide by the same rules. Yeah, things hit a snag then, and the issue becomes a bit thorny.
So yes, I was this raging homosexual. Well, raging is a strong word… perhaps a bit extra even. Its not like the pride flag is refracted in my iris. But rewind the old clockhand to my early years at university, and I was just an innocent young lad that had to learn many of the basics of an altogether different code: the gay code. But we’ll leave that to another blog.
As for the unwritten contract of my male counterparts who grew from more heteronormative roots of thinking, I was already an expert as to the ways of the “straight” male think-tank. I graduated the class honey; but like a good graduate candidate, I am applying next to none of much of that knowledge in the real world!
I received that rude awakening one evening when a friend of mine was fuming in his quiet rage in the passenger seat of my car. I naively asked him if he was angry, adressing the obvious tension that was hanging so thick you could cut it with a knife. I did, after all, consider myself to be empathetic and caring. His response was a cold lash of words that whipped me into attention of the crime that I was culprit to: a violation of this Bro Code…
And to be honest, I did not even now I was at fault and thus at the mercy of the jury from the heterosexual pantheon.
Lets backtrack a bit…
There I was… all cool and collected on a quaint little evening, getting ready for a nice and relaxing dinner with friends. Perhaps I was dressing a tad ‘fancy’. But we were uni-folk sweetie. ‘Dinner with friends’ was not exactly one of those hobbies and interests we listed on our resumes – we were working on a budget! But even on a budget… we were about to fan out our tail feathers. So I straightened out that button shirt, slipped on that chino pair to give a little love to those assets, gave those boots a quick polish, and conjured a bit of spellwork with a haircomb. To me, grooming and dressing was just plain fun. This was not fine dining, but we weren’t doing drive-thru tonight! Lets work with a little TLC. So this was all fine, but nothing compared to my housemate and his get-ready efforts at the time.
So down the hall, the sacred ritual of male heterosexual prepwork was unfolding… queued by the fog of Axe bodyspray and ceremonial 90’s boy rockband music alternated with 2010’s rave club remixes – about sweating bodies and sex. This was not even embellishing it with exaggeration. That spray can opened, clicked, and dispensed so many times that a new Texan-sized hole in the Ozone was forming. Environmental NGO’s probably lost sight of our location in the dense mist. And then there was little old me, feeling like I was just winning at life by rocking a little scent of Eu de Par-Moi (smelling like myself).
I mean, I really wasn’t getting this. We were about to be four people, just eating out for the night. Us two lads, and two girls that were sort of becoming friends. But clearly I was missing the cues of straight-male impression building. The slaughter of subtlety that was occuring down the hallway could probably be allowed. And I am sure the hetero gods, now appeased by the acts of their acolyte, looked proudly upon their son that strutted out of his room: with upper shirt buttons loosened, hair that traced its heritage to the super sayans, musculature peaking through all the right places… and the whiff of raw masculinity that was testament to Darwinian theory. “Lets go!”, he said like some superhero catchphrase, as if epochs of his great feats were about to be written. Oh god…
So we drove over to the girls. They met us in the driveway to their house, decked out in a little casual wear and paid some attention to the detail in their glam. They were pretty by all standards. And me being me, gave each a nice and friendly sideways, one-armed church hug.
But my buddy, well… he drew them in for a full-on chest-contact moment that just oozed of desire. He and the dark-headed gal were getting real ‘friendly’ of late… so perhaps my hetero gene had just been in stasis for too long to recognise the so-called cues. But… I was caught up to a degree…
So off we went, and on arriving, we grabbed ourselves some choice seating and started a chat.
The topics of that banter escapes memory. I guess we were batting around the idle pleasantries, the adult-novice life theories, and the odd jokes that you only question afterwards. We were just being university students. But then I distinctinctly remember the subject of dating arising among the present company. And here I knew we were treading though some dangerous waters. No seriously, I was actually close to having an angina… and uttered a few private benedictions for the peace that had been maintained at that table.
Because: we had two girls here that manifested as amazons at the slightest misstep to their honour, and a guy who truly believed he was God’s gift to women in the making…
Now, my housemate was really of that special breed of man that believed in the dating coach biz. Basically it came down to the whole belief that dating is a game, of which the rules require ownership by the player. As a guy, you can basically be trained to talk to, hit up, and date any girl that you like with a few key formulas of conversation, demeanor and self-beliefs. Thus, women were reducible to quite a couple of key traits that needed to be understood, navigated, and managed. This was not to be confused with social-skills training, which is a mode of therapy all itself. What I was dealing with was a classic case of PhD level guy code, which manifested in very unique ways within the male-female dating dynamic. I later realised that I understood this according to a different curriculum within the gay code, something we happen to do in gay-man undergrad called, emotional intelligence and women. To us, it is about circumnavigating female emotion, which we then realise is actually pretty similar to our own. So then we pass that school with the understanding that it comes down to ‘feelings’ and that it is not a gender-bound thing at all. So we drop the bigotry, chauvinism, and robust male emotional exterior and realise that it is all really about not being an arse. And voilà! History created the camaraderie between gay men and straight women that has been mutually beneficial ever since. All because of that enlightenment. But our relationship and symbiosis with our own sex has been a bit slower in the making. We can just all blame toxic masculinity right now’ and leave that as discussion for another day.
So back at the table… there he was: geared with his strong perceptions surrounding women, about to drop the bomb with some far-out views on how girls in the dating scene actually operate, and how guys tend to approach them. And, call me a rookie, but I was not sure that guy-code actually prescribed that you reveal some of these ideas that are bound in the holy book of man. I mean I thought this sh*t was like sacred! But there he was, sharing some pretty unforgiving ideas with the subject of conversation gaining some intense momentum. In fact, it was turning out to be on the brink of becoming a fully-fledged bloody war! Our friends were not exactly impressed by his views, and you could get ready to place some saucers of milk in front them, because they were about to get catty! He was on the tangent of making a point that women are graced with a rating by the divinity of male specimens that roam the dating field. Based on a couple of physical traits and a few environmental clues, women were deemed worthy of approach and as target to flirtation. A woman’s natural beauty (basically her looks), her body shape (meaning her weight), her social standing (how popular or well-known she was), her accentuated features (her grading of ‘sexy’), and what she did for a living (how interesting she was to talk to) determined how coveted she was by a guy on the prowl. Then there were added bits like a best friend who acted as gate keeper; and how tactics needed to change when her rating is particularly high (because she can get any guy she wants). Basically, his whole premise was not built on what he personally found attractive (which no one can be blamed for if they have their preferences), but rather on a male pack-mentality of what is socially deemed as more valued in their small microcosm. He was laying down his truth as if the two women (did I mention we were trying to build a friendship here?) sitting across from us were the naive little underlings in the dating foodchain, and as if he was doing everyone a favour.
He then loaded his crossbow with a killshot bolt to quiet the table the f*ck down by saying: “Girls who are anything lower than a 5 or 6 have no chance of really scoring a guy out there.”
Yeah, the brunette looked about ready to have at him across the table… And I remember thinking that Girl Code must be really legit if it evoked that kind of gleam in your eye. We are talking about a look that threw daggers!
Now, if you knew anything about warfare, you knew that a crossbow needed some time to reload in battle. That was exactly when the girls verbally charged his defences, and basically started to rip him apart. And f*ck… I mean I had to spectate. I don’t know if the fumes of his ritual chamber back home had scrambled his chemistry of logic, but I knew better than to come up with all these screwed-up hypotheses. Damn bro, did you you want to be blood-eagled by a shield-maiden! (because it may just be the little dark fantasy moment any proud woman would have on dealing with a man who think they fell from heaven).
A battle of the sexes was taking place at table, and my mate was being forced to swallow the foot he was putting in his own mouth. I was audience to a tirade that was reaching legendary proportions, and they were going at him where it hit hard: right between his cerebral knockers, effectively putting an end to his fertile imagination that was spewing disillusioned creeds (though I actually think they insulted his equipment as well). He was outnumbered, but he didn’t feel he was alone (as I found out in the drive back home). Because there was, after all, another guy at the table. Oh… he meant me. My sincere condolences for your thinking old sport…
So cue my reaction to this whole spectacle, and what you found was the heathen to the straight religion who was finding this ‘playful’ exchange a bit of a joke. I mean, everyone was surely not taking all of this too seriously… right?
He was clearly very talented at saving face during this whole debacle. He did not flinch, stutter, or halt his advances even once. So I was like: he is a big boy, he can handle his own little mess he made. And for heavens sake, you know… I did not come for this little ego show. I came to eat. So while everyone was clearly busy, I was paying heed to my meal like a normal little human being struck with famine and a dash of awkwardness, while the rest were clearly engaged in a bit of loquacious repartee spiced with sarcasm and gender-tinged innuendo. And I had to reiterate: no one was really taking each other that seriously, RIGHT? This was all good fun?
Well, I might as well have been put to the cross or some other torture for believing that. He was resolute in his conviction to the date-hunter subculture, and he was setting back the women’s movement by 50 years. This was clearly so the drama! And he at least, had one clear expectation from me – one he did not share though, but clear in his own mind – be a bro, have your bro’s back, honour the code. Well how in the all encompassing f*ck was I suppose to know that?!
Cue the moment back in the car, and this entire reasoning was presented to me in a little heated speech he had clearly been working on since the first time I snickered at one of the biting remarks by the girls. And boy was he pulling some straight old-fashioned scolding on me to clearly impress his male authority. And how I clearly failed at honouring the call of having another man’s back. I was, flabbergasted…
… because… first of all b*tch… how the hell do you call for the enactment of the guy-code in that situation? You were basically preppeing yourself to be roasted!!! Second of all, when your damn rulebook says anything about women, you are basically signing up for dismemberment and decapitation when you want a gay guy to be your wing man! And if some manage to actually learn the trade, then my apologies, but asking me to be a wingman is like moulting your soaring chances of ever actually finding happiness. PERIOD.
So this brought me to really reflecting on the issue at hand here: The Direwolf-Fallacy. Haven’t heard of it? Oh don’t worry honey… it is my little invention, aptly named because it encompasses a wide array of character faults that should be extinct, but have survived the millennia to manifest in those textbook larger than life alpha-types. It is a key trade of robustness and primal instinct tied with man since age immemorial. This should-be extinct collection of traits is revived in the fantasies of certain social circles on the belief of superiority held by certain males for their dominant virility. It is singularly associated with those ambitious hunters in the courtship realm, that includes characteristics of misguided cunning, brute approaches, stereotypical attributions, misjudged rivalry, and a dissociation with the realities of conveyed social cues. And a label proudly assumed by some men for its defining capacity in their lives, guiding action, diction and thought and their personas in the their social relations. Basically you are an egotistical narcissist snapping your maw in the wrong wilderness. So my friend here was believing he was howling at the moon…but darling… he was barking up the wrong tree by blaming my ignorance of his ‘sacred’ code. Quite frankly, I was getting bored with his little rant…
My younger self was, however, clearly livid at this injustice. And I was about to lay down some proper gay retribution to force him into a bit of humble penance! No one told him to go full-on alpha in the conversation, relaying his personal fantasy of prehistoric courtship practices. That was all him. And besides, he was asking me to choose sides to a debate I really had no personal investment in. I really didn’t care. The pain he felt was not my stab into his back, it was him falling on the point of his own f*cking sword!
Lets lay down the obvious truth: I was not about to be a proponent of an unwritten residual practice of hegemonic masculinity. His strong views on the male privilege to harbour such ridiculous views on an entitlement to brazenly classify a women’s worth by merely her appearance was basically unacceptable.
But above that, I was a f*cking wallflower! I came to bloom and relax a bit, not be planted squarely in the crossfire of their heteronormative drama. What’s more, how did he ever expect me as introvert to willingly enter a conflict situation with guns blazing (putting aside the point, for now, that any idea put forward in support of his views was basically social suicide to begin with).
In short… If the Karmic bus was not about to hit him square in the balls, then I was about to take the f*cking wheel and make sure it did!
We have talked a lot on this… it’s about expectations, the art of simplicity, and giving some stock to inner truth. All contracts have loopholes sweeties, especially when they are unwritten. Do not align your actions with a request that was not vocalised or shared, nor do so if such wishes asks you to grant faculties that you are not willing to invest. If the drama is not yours, then do not add to it by becoming a playwright to the scene. And if the wolf comes howling at the wrong moon, then eclipse his misguided belief and make him see a different light!